If you go to Paris, go by bike. The overwhelming mystique of the mostly flat city (with more than 260 bike paths and an excellent bike share program) will unfold before you in a more manageable way. If you’re on a budget, as I was, there is no better way to save money while experiencing the Parisian culture and terrain.
My second go-round in Paris, John-Scott was waiting for me on the platform at the train station. Big hugs, like nothing has changed, just time. He seems a little surer, a little more in his groove. We met with his girlfriend Marii and went to Le Comptoir Général, an African-themed, activist, chic warehouse, one of the more interesting places I’ve ever been. Among many things, it is “an art museum dedicated to ghetto culture: the result of creativity that springs up in poor or marginalised places all over the world.” It’s also a coffee shop, a bar, a hangout for creative types. Think: retro suitcases for coffee tables; vintage posters and photographs; and the quiet, soulful tune of the Mississippi Blues. We biked alongside the Canal Saint-Martin and spent the rest of the night with red wine, reminiscing.
The next day we biked to the Eiffel Tower for a picnic, speeding past the sights and weaving between masses of tourists and busy locals. I was happy to be out in the world, seeing how everything was connected. Traveling by metro is quick and convenient, but you emerge from the depths of nowhere and arrive so suddenly. On a bike, the scenery is a product of your discretion. Every mile is earned, and your location is not merely a point on a map; it is hard work of your own doing. That night, we biked to La Plage de Glazart, a beach-inspired music venue, for a free, garage/psych concert and a few rounds of foosball or, as the French call it, “baby-foot.”
On another day, I treated myself to the museum at the Centre Pompidou. Man Ray and Picabia made me do it. Something about surrealism always puts me at ease. I find myself seeking it out whenever I’m in new places, as a way of getting my bearings, of knowing that things are still beautiful and bizarre in every part of the world. I went alone.
In the Marais district (known for its vibrant Jewish and gay communities), I found a damn good falafel and made a spot for myself in the Place des Vosges. The grass was covered with picnic blankets, recumbent bodies, and an air of nonchalance. In France, the month of August is reserved for relaxation, and it shows. It is common for most to have a month or two of paid vacation. Businesses close, people flock south, and those that are left in the city are here, in parks, lazing, loafing, enjoying each others’ company. In August, the French lose a bit of their momentum in exchange for rejuvenation.
The next morning I spend lounging in pajamas with Marii–listening to music, consulting Google Translate, getting to know each other. When John-Scott comes home, he makes a hasty pot of paella and pours 3 glasses of wine. How divine. How lucky I am to be here–to be warmed and welcomed by so many good people. I say to John-Scott, “I feel like a queen.” His reply: “Get used to it.” And we pack up our bags for another adventure. This time we are playing Pétanque by the canal, the French version of Bocce ball.
After the game (Marii was victorious), we pop in to the People’s Drugstore for chess and fine beer. Soon after we arrive, the owner offers us cookies and a piece of his baguette. “Just tear a piece off,” he said. Feeling bubbly and failing at a stony chess expression, I easily strike up conversation with the older Danish woman next to me. She talks to me about living abroad and the 4 years she spent in France, her white tresses attesting to her wisdom. Working as a Danish teacher, she had the opportunity to live in Paris for 3 more years, but eventually she made the tough decision to return home.
She told me, “You lose your racines–your roots–when you are away for too long,” and immediately it had me wondering about the course of my life. In a year’s time, will I feel the need to go back home or will I want to keep exploring? If I travel for too long will I lose my roots? For now, all I can do is trust my journey.
Days later, flying eastward over Paris, the tops of puffy clouds are highlighted in a cool magenta. The ever-changing, ever wondrous landscape of the sky is why I pick the window seat, always. The sun is setting in Europe as I make my descent to my new home in the Czech Republic–my new roots.
Disclaimer: My camera broke on Day 2 of my second stint in Paris, so the only pictures I have are from a picnic at the Eiffel Tower. Repairs and more pictures coming soon.