Paris, the Drug
Updated: Aug 20, 2018
Over-stimulated. What other word can describe the feeling that floods both my heart and mind each time I step over the small metal ledge of my building entrance and onto the sidewalk--that border between productivity and all that Paris has to offer--which is beacoup?!
Take today as an example. Determined to make some progress on the new novel, I resolved to stay in and write. Because I have learned that when I plan, say, a two-hour excursion out into the world as a break between writing in the morning and writing in the afternoon, that two hours easily becomes four or five. By the time I get back, it's evening, I'm tired and I get distracted by thoughts of dinner and messaging my husband and friends back home who've now been up for a few hours and are probably having lunch.
I was determined to not let that happen today and you'd think it would be an easy enough thing to do. I am in absolute control of my days now, aren't I? The only "to-do" I had was to go buy milk, bottled water and a baguette, and so I built in a break to run over to the Monoprix nearby on rue de Temple after I'd meditated, had breakfast and done some morning writing. This errand would take me 20 minutes tops, then back to the apartment for lunch, more writing and--if I'd accomplished enough--I'd reward myself with an Aperol spritz and a tapa or two at the La Tour du Temple Cafe, a friendly little place I discovered yesterday.
But about that baguette... Why would I buy a baguette in the Monoprix when I was in the Land of Baguettes and could just as easily google the best baguette in the third arrondissement and go procure it? My stay in Paris is much too short to eat subpar baguettes! Grace a (thanks to) Google, because up popped the Tour Autour du Pain (formerly 134 RdT), not only renowned for its baguettes (recognized as having one of top 10 baguettes in Paris several times in recent years), but it has also won the best croissant in Paris prize. And it was only about three blocks away!
You see where this is going. The bottles of water are heavy, so best advised to go to the boulangerie first. As nearby as it is, it actually involved turning down two streets I haven't yet wandered. And what lovely, quiet streets they were! The clamoring exuberance of Republique seemed far away on the rues de Beranger and Turenne, though one left turn and there I'd be. The streets were lined with little boutiques, a fancy schmancy chocolate shop, art galleries--all closed, because....August. I even came upon an incredibly charming cafe called Cafe de la Poste, which struck me as an awesome place to write when I want a quiet place.
After peeking in windows and a quick survey of the chocolate shop, I found the boulangerie on rue de Turenne easily and managed (just!) to get out of there with only a baguette (traditional) and an almond croissant. I'll be back many times, I'm sure, for other croissants, other baguettes, sandwiches, salads... In the meantime,I was proud of myself because that was relatively quick! Now all I had to do was head back the way I'd come, zip into the Monoprix for water and milk, and voila, I'd be done.
Not so fast. Feeling more and more confident about getting around the neighborhood by now, I decided to take a different street back toward the supermarket, another street I hadn't been on before. This meant the usual slower progress, checking out the epiceries and the caves a vin and the restaurants, as well as the windows of clothing and jewelry stores or whatever else came across my path. The curiosities on Parisian streets are endless, from the door knockers to the curbside gasoline pumps to the discovery that workers come and actually sweep the streets clean with green brooms (in addition to the street cleaning machines).
And then up ahead, I spotted racks of postcards out on the sidewalk. As those of you who have been following my posts regularly are aware, I've made quite the investment in postage, so I'm always on the lookout for cool postcards. The racks of cards were great, as were the racks beside them of pocket folios of famous authors--all in French, of course. I'd happened upon the Librairie L'Acacia, a quaint bookstore that invited me in and wasn't going to take no for an answer
But whatever do you mean, you don't have time now? L'Acacia said. Your day is yours to spend as you please!
L'Acacia said, A few minutes is all. No one will know.
I don't like to disappoint, especially not sexy little bookstores.
The majority of the books were in French, naturally, and I thought perhaps I would purchase one of the small folios, something by Balzac as he's one of those French authors I've never read, embarrassing as that is to admit. The idea was that trying to read a book in French would reinforce my learning of the language, but though struggling through Balzac would certainly teach me things, it was unlikely to help me much with modern spoken French. I remembered then being told about the formality of written French, especially the classics, and how French as it is written in books is not necessarily how people speak (verb tenses, for example). Not to be deterred from my basic idea, however, I poked around and found a novel from 2017 called Un Appartement a Paris by Guillaume Musso. A ruffle through the pages of this "thriller extraordinaire" revealed long passages of dialogue, and this, I thought to myself, could be really helpful. As if that weren't enough, the book's epigraph is a favorite Camus quote of mine:
"Au milieu de l'hiver, j'apprenais enfin qu'il y avait en moi un été invincible."
In the middle of winter, I finally learned that there was within me an invincible summer. Man, that Camus really had a way with words. Not to sound judgmental, but if that doesn't touch you, there must be something seriously wrong with your heart.
How much time did I spend in the bookstore?Je ne sais pas (I don't know), but it was somewhere between too long and not enough. I bought my book and a few postcards and wished the young woman behind the counter a bientot (see you soon) because I'm sure I will.
Blinking in the sunlight....um, what was I supposed to be doing? Oh, yes, water and milk! I switched my reading glasses for sunglasses and got back on track to the Monoprix, incurring more whiplash as I took in everything on both sides of the street as I walked--and yes, this is when I thought about how my exhaustion since arriving is not just about my ongoing insomnia, but also all about the unrelenting stimulation. Don't mistake me, I love it, but it's exactly this reveling in every sight and sound and smell that's wringing me out. How much stimulation can one person take in in a single day, day after day? It reminds me of New York, another highly stimulating place, but one I was born in--because whenever I see those tourists who look like they've just been plucked out of a cornfield in Nebraska and dropped into the melee of Rockefeller Center at Christmastime or Times Square at any time, with all the crowds and the noise and the bright lights, you can see in their bulging eyes and their gaping jaws their struggle to process everything quickly enough through their five senses.
I like to think I take Paris in coolly on the outside--keeping bulging and gaping to a minimum, I hope--but inside of me, there's an amusement park operating 24/7.
In case you're wondering, I did make it to the grocery store. I got my milk and my bottled water, and a few minutes later, I was back in the apartment. I'd been gone well over an hour even though I didn't go any farther than three blocks away. So, another late lunch.
I've been eating that lunch while writing this, by the way. A lunch comprised of that prize-winning baguette (formidable!), Serrrano ham and St. Maure de Touraine cheese (both bought at the Aligre market the other day), and sweet cherries. I don't even want to think about how I'll survive when I go back home in November and have to eat a sandwich of canned tuna. Blech!
Paris is a drug. That was the sentiment that triggered this post, and I've only convinced myself of that more thoroughly in the course of writing this. But if I have to check into rehab when I've taken in all I possibly can of this city, so be it. Je ne regrette rien.