Monday, February 6, 2012

A year in hindsight

For me, 2011 began not on Jan. 1st, as Gregory XIII had intended, but on Feb. 6. This was the day I set out from Montreal to Paris to begin what I've since then referred to in my head as "My Great European Adventure". I remember those first days in Paris with the kind of heightened sense that only nostalgia gives. The grey skies, the humid air, the not-quite-winter-nor-spring state of things. Of myself, even, in a way. We had our first snowfall in Oxford this weekend; all but the last dredges of snow have melted by now and it's back to drizzles and mildly chafing winds. The weather today reminded me of Paris. Although 'reminded' is a rather weak word for what I have been feeling. The drizzling grey skies didn't just cause me to recall the early days of my Parisian adventure, it positively transported me body and mind back to the dirty Beaux-arts-lined streets of the 15th Arrondissement, as one dashes down the street to pick up breakfast from the closest bakery before running off to fight the early morning metro rush to class.

The following scene is forever seared into my mind:


A girl exits Maubert- Mutualite station, chocolatine in hand and a lost expression on her face. She is trying to the find the way to her school, Universite de Paris II Pantheon-Assas, and probably took the wrong exit out of the Metro. She turns 'round the corner, past a bistrot-bar where a lone waiter is cleaning and closing up.  As she stands at the foot of Rue des Carmes, staring up the slight hill and wondering who is evil enough to schedule classes at 8am...she suddenly sees. Straight ahead, above and beyond the rooftop chimneys of the Hausmannian buildings lining the street, the imposing dome of the Pantheon sticks out like a beacon in the night. The Pantheon, final resting place of great French men (and one Franco-Polish woman). Across from the Pantheon lies the Place du Pantheon building, site of the old Ecole de droit de Paris. (She knows this because she checked on Google Street View.) "Liberte, egalite, fraternite" are emblazoned on its walls. This is where she is meant to go. She is no longer lost.

I sometimes think that Paris imprinted too strongly on me, and wonder whether it is a good thing. It's as though I was a blank page, upon which those first experiences were written with such a heavy hand that nothing coming afterwards could hide their marks . Paris was a time of many first's: first time living alone, first time living abroad, first taste of travel adrenaline, first ad hoc constructed and then deconstructed in situ circle of friends. I had a grand time in Paris - "time of her life" wouldn't be entirely incorrect. That is incontestable. I just hope that it hasn't spoiled me for all that is yet to come...although quite often, especially as I sit in my cold kitchen eating a mediocre millefeuille and trying (still!) to grasp the concept of the semantic bloody sting, I fear that it has. Terribly, irrevocably and wonderfully spoiled me beyond redemption.

Happy one-year anniversary, Paris la jolie.

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