I Love Paris in the Autumn
October 16, 2007
This is a completely indulgent post, brought on by an evocative sentence by New York Times wine writer, Eric Asimov, where he described walking out into a warm, misty evening in Paris. As I read his words, I was transported back to a particular evening that has, for whatever reason, stayed with me all these years.
I was 20 and had just moved to Paris after spending the end of the summer at school in the Loire for a last-ditch, this-is-all-you’re-gonna-get month of French grammar and culture courses before starting classes at the Sorbonne. It had been my dream to live in Paris and attend the Sorbonne from the time I was ten years old, in fifth grade. I used to read French novels for extra credit, I chose Tulane because of their rigorous French program (you had to be fluent to be one of the 15 accepted into the Junior Year Abroad program). I was a bona fide Francophile at a very early age.
But my dream had tarnished a bit during my first few days in Paris. As the first communication student in the Tulane program, I was let loose in the university system (the university system in Paris has colleges scattered all over the city) and told to find my own classes—ones that had to count towards my major . . . and yet I couldn’t enroll or pay, since I was officially enrolled at the Sorbonne. So I literally had to go door to door at each applicable university and try to find course schedules and professors and set up appointments and beg them to let me audit their classes. It wasn’t the welcome I had hoped for and I was feeling frustrated, overwhelmed and very much alone.
That evening, the one I remember so clearly, I put on my running shoes and popped INXS into my Walkman, wound down the spiral staircase that wrapped around the old-fashioned grate elevator in my building, and stepped out into the streets of Paris. It was that time of day the French call “entre chien et loup”—between the dog and the wolf—when the sky seems to pulsate with the last rays of light, even more so when back lighting the autumn fog. As I ran towards the Jardin du Luxembourg, the streets grew dim and the statues loomed in the mist like specters. “The Stairs” was playing on my Walkman.
In a room above a busy street, the echoes of a life.
I turned back towards Boulevard Raspail. As my heart pounded, windows illuminated one by one under the Mansard roofs of Boulevard St. Michel.
There are reasons here to give your life, and follow in your way. The passion lives to keep your faith, though all are different all are great.
I was amongst a city full of strangers. Yet as each person returned home and flicked on their lamps, they were lighting my way too.
Climbing as we fall, we dare to hold on to our fate. And steal away our destiny, to catch ourselves with quiet grace.
The damp air literally seemed to glow around me.
Story to story, building to building.
I opened the heavy door, crossed the courtyard and climbed back up the winding staircase to my room.
Street to street, we pass each other on the stairs.
I walked to the window and looked out at the shimmering, golden Paris night. And then I turned on my own light. I was home.