I went to Paris in June of 2003, as a very generous birthday gift from my parents. My father was working there for six weeks. I hadn’t been working at all, having been diagnosed with a chronic illness, and without their generosity, I would never have been able to see the city that has since figured so prominently in my life and my writing.
I didn’t always have an interest in France. As I’ve written previously, about Simone de Beauvoir and about French authors, my abiding interest was sparked by a Philosophy of Literature class. I read Sartre’s La Nausée, and Edmond Jabès’s The Book of Questions, and Andre Breton’s surrealist novel Nadja.
So, though my French language classes in elementary, junior high and high school were lamentably poor, and my grasp of the language shy and shaky, I was off to see the City of Light with my own eyes.
I arrived on the 15th of June, having flown Calgary via Montreal to Paris, landing at eight-thirty in the morning. Yes, I remember…. because I wrote it down. A friend of my mother’s bought me a journal for my trip. Exhausted, my mother and I took the Air France bus into the centre of the city, alighting at the stop nearest the Arc de Triomphe and hefting our bags for the walk to the apartment just off the Avenue de Wagram.
Later that morning, I had my first café crème. Not the most exciting of things to report, but it was a revelation. I’d had coffee before, of course, including cappuccino, espresso and the like, but the taste of this café crème was like nothing else. It came in a white porcelain cup and saucer with a paper-wrapped lump of sugar on the side and a small spoon. It was delicious.
I remember the morning being pleasant, sunny with a light breeze. The café we’d stopped at had been crowded with the Sunday brunch crowd and our table still had dishes from the previous occupants cluttering it. Compared to at home, the service was slow, but it didn’t matter. Through my tired daze, I was already fascinated with this new city, so different from home.