The thing about being in Paris is that when you wake up in the morning, you're in Paris, which looks like Paris. And then it just continues being Paris all day. I'm sure there are situations in which this is not at all desirable, but I am not experiencing any of those situations and, as such, I am ridiculously happy.
For several weeks, I have been in places where I do not speak the language, where people--seemingly all people--speak excellent to flawless English, and have been nothing but helpful, but where, nonetheless, bus stops are unpronouncable and I was obliged to meet all conversational openings with a vaguely apologetic smile. Then--poof--as though the window through which I was viewing the world was no longer tinted, that was no longer true.
It is relaxing to understand. Not only what is being said, but what is going on. To know already how to use the metro; or that to get into the building, you need to enter the code, but to get out , you need to push a button to release the door; to be able to distinguish among the 10,000 kinds of yogurt available in any grocery store; or, once I've made my way to the Seine, to be able to walk without a map to a bar I once liked. To be able, occasionally, to jay walk. This is not to say that I don't get completely turned around every time I step out of the metro or, true to form, instinctively walk in the wrong direction, but of everywhere I've been, I still feel most at home in Paris.
In the spirit of honestly, I feel I should admit that currently, I am prisoner of both torpor and the accursed washing machine, so it's not all rose-colored glasses. It is nearly 7pm and still about 90 degrees out, which makes me far more interested in going to sleep than A) writing this B) taking a shower C) going out to Participate. Additionally, I don't feel I ought to go until this stupid duvet cover has made it successfully through the wash cycle and is recuperating on the drying rack, but, though I pressed the button that should have shortened the wash cycle by an hour, it appears to have doubled it at the very least. As of this moment, this one article of bedding has been in the washing machine for 2 hours and 16 minutes. (I know because having learned a thing or two about washing machines in Amsterdam, I decided to time it.) Why is that even a possible setting? What in the world could be that dirty? Tomorrow, I suppose I'll need to get up at 6am so I can wash the towels before I go and still make my 11:30am train. [It clocked in at 2 hours and 28 minutes. I don't even know what to say about that.]
I arrived on Bastille Day, which, strangely, I think I've never been here for before. I nearly missed the fireworks, still finishing dinner at 11pm, when they started, but hastening Seine-ward in a happy glow primarily induced by hastily quaffed Sancerre, I came upon a group of people standing more or less single file in a diagonal line across a courtyard. I realized that by orienting oneself just so, la Tour Eiffel was visible between some trees and the corner of the large building right in front of us. Not perhaps ideal, but since the large building in this case was the Louvre, I thought it was fair enough. My camera is in no way capable of capturing a rather distant firework display, but you can believe me when I tell you that it was magnificent--sparkling showers shooting out from and spiraling around the tower, which itself glittered as though diamond encrusted. Vive la France.
From there I went to the Bal des Pompiers, which is an annual celebration hosted for the public in firehouses all around the city. Basically, imagine a nightclub, only it's a firehouse courtyard and only five out of 500 people are not smoking. This, unsuprisingly, is another atmosphere beyond the scope of my camera to capture. Generally: crowded, jubilant, loud, smoky.
I was excited to be there in that it is both quite a famous thing and also not a thing that I'd be likely to attend, but after an hour or so, I had to admit that it was not a thing I'd be likely to attend because I don't really like that sort of thing all that much. There's only so much dancing alone with other people's cigarettes in your face that is strictly required to say you've done a thing. So I left.
When I got back to the apartment about 2am, I heard about Nice. I will touch on this very briefly as respect would dictate, but there is nothing I could possibly say about this that you wouldn't imagine I would say. Horrifying. Yesterday, I went to a photo exhibition of Syrian refugees at the Institut du Monde Arabe, which left me feeling similarly helpless. We are in a mess the world over.
At the Pantheon, the flags are banded with black and cannot fly, except the one at the top, which is at half mast.
There is no good segue from tragedy to frivolity, so please enjoy this flower shop. I did.
The next day, I made my usual pilgrimage to Mariage Frères, which is the best-smelling place in the world. I go to the ruinously expensive tea room because I am a grown up lady now and I can. I ask the waiter's advice and he guides me though a labyrinth of Choose Your Own Adventure style questions. Black, white, or green? Flavored or natural? Spice, fruit or flowers? Red, orange or exotic? I no longer remember the name of the tea we arrived at, but it was delicious. I also ordered the two most expensive madeleines in history, one fruit and one rose, topped by a tiny flake of gold leaf. I ate these with a knife and fork though I have never in my life eaten a madeliene with a knife and fork. There is an atmosphere in Mariage Frères that demands one's best behavior. Had Christoph, my beloved post-colonial historian, been there he would have had some other reactions to this atmosphere, which could also be described as one of truly indefensible colonial nostalgia. I laughed actually, to think how much he'd hate it. And then, in a state approaching bliss, finished my tea.
The sales are on in Paris and this has awakened in me a fiendish desire to purchase things. This is not new. I always have a romantic idea that I will buy some perfect dress and then be able to say quite casually, "This? Oh, I got it in Paris." because I am not at all above that sort of thing. The problem is that not only are things still very, very expensive even on sale, they are also, for the most part, very odd. When I see women walking around Paris, they look perfectly normal, if not indeed, gorgeous, but I don't know where they are finding these clothes. I have now personally touched hundreds of Parisian garments (in stores, not, like, on the metro) and many of them are difficult to even identify and the rest made of disturbing fabrics. Today I did try on a thing that was definitely a dress and definitely made of cotton, but it was ill fitting and 300 euros. And so another dream dies.
I did however muster up my courage and go into a very tiny lingerie shop where I bought a designer bra. No, you may not see it and yes, it is perfect. Only later, browsing the internet, did I discover that I had purchased this bra directly from the person who had made it. I had taken her for a salesgirl, when in fact she is the artiste. Would that I had behaved in a slightly more elegant manner and said fewer things about how the knickers were a little grandma-esque on my current pastry-feuled lower half. Merci, Odile de Chancy. I will not be able to say "This? Oh, I got this in Paris." to so many people as I would with a dress, but perhaps I'll get to say it to someone. If not, I'll still know and that will be enough.
Beyond that it's a little flurry of sidewalk cafés, kirs cassis, perfect buildings, and walking, walking, walking, toute contente, apart from my right ankle which has had ENOUGH of this vacation.
Tomorrow, I leave for Provence where it will be 100 degrees every day and I will first become very red and then, in all likelihood, spontaneously combust. That will be a pity, of course, particularly so close to my birthday, but, on the bright side, my ankle will stop hurting.