Living or staying in a small arrondissement or area has it’s advantages; you tend to favour your favourite boulangerie, buy last minute items from your local Epicurerie, and you have your favourite, bar, cafe or tabac that you frequent and a relationship develops. And of course, there are your neighbours, whether you know them or not, you recognise the familiar faces of your area.
When I had drinks with The French Historian last night, he told me he has his favourite tabac for having a beer, his favourite cafe, where he can sit, in peace on a Sunday and read his newspaper. It’s normal, probably universal.
What is not normal in Paris, is to run down to the local Milk Bar in your tracky dacks. For one, the Milk Bar doesn’t exist and being seen in track pants, unless you are jogging, would be the biggest faux pas you could make.
So if for example, you have had a rough night but want to get up before sunrise, to take some photos, and that would be around 8am in the winter, you cannot just nick out, in what would look like your pyjamas. Same goes, if you want bread from the bakery, it must be bought fresh, otherwise you need a hack saw to get through it the next day.
What this means; is that the quaint neighbourhood, with the baker, the corner store and someone you might run into, turns the whole concept, into a little less quaint. A bad hair day, looking a little pale around the gills, or un peu fatigué, just doesn’t hit the mark.
Of course, there is the supermarket, where, as long as you can get there, without being noticed, you can be grumpy with the best of them, but do you want to put yourself through the agony and waiting until at least 9am and queueing.
When I headed out early this morning, it was still dark. Council cleaners were sweeping and hosing down the streets, delivery trucks, delivering fresh goods, with a beep beep beep as they backed down tight alleyways, cherry pickers on the Rue de Rivoli were taking down the Christmas decorations at BHV department store, before the city woke up.
It is a wonderful time of the day in Paris. Unlike Brisbane, where the sunrises and the birds start chirping, in what seems like only minutes after your head has hit the pillow. In Paris, it is similar to being in a restaurant full of Parisians. There is a quiet, gentle hum. Commuters walk swiftly but quietly through the streets, parents taking their children to day care or school but all the while, there is a sense, that the city is still sleeping.
Judging my timing incorrectly, I was facebooking friends and it left me a little short of time. As I rushed out into the cold, dark morning, up to Rue Nicholas Flamel, to take some early morning shots, I hoped the council workers had already hosed down the cobbled street, for a glistening effect.
Trembling both from the cold and the fear of missing the early morning light, I swung my new tripod into standing mode and off I went.
Even although, I had not showered, had a bad hair day and not un peu, but very tired, I decided the morning light was too good to miss, and ventured over to the Isle de la Cité.
The manége, or merry-go-round was locked up and the ice rink desolate, as I passed through the square in front of Hotel de Ville.
Passing cafés with their chairs and tables stacked up, the floors being cleaned for a brand new day, I noticed, it wasn’t the tourists who were lining the bridges, snapping up photos at every opportunity, but cyclists and commuters, pausing to admire the rising sun and capturing the morning sky on their mobile phones.
As I was leaving the right bank, for the dead centre of Paris, Hotel de Ville, rang it’s first bells for the day. The traffic, starting to build up, but still, with a gentle hum.
By the time I reached the Notre Dame, the quietist I had seen it since the morning with The Stranger, a haggle of tourists had began to queue, to climb to the top. Apparently the collective noun for tourists is a flock, I have recently observed tourists in flocks and more accurately; droves. This was a haggle, an optimistic few, hours ahead of time.
By the time, the sun was too high, to take the photos I wanted, the city of Paris had sprung into life. The traffic thickened, tourists were pouring out of buses, the dank dank dank of the music was getting ready for the throngs of skaters who would shortly hit the ice-skating rink and people, running late for work were rushing to the metro.
Bread and milk was all I needed, milk was an issue, I scanned the fridge, at the boulangerie, which, had probably been installed for thirsty, passing tourists, not a milk bottle in sight. Fresh bread and black tea it had to be.
I mustered up the best cheery Bonjour I could manage and noticed a mother and two children behind me were Australian. Good, I will put on my best French accent and get out of there. Now I had, not only bad, but wind swept hair, I managed a – flat, un baguette, oh and un croissant. Glad to get out, as I left the shop, I could hear the Australian with a perfect French accent, ask for UNE baguette, that is right; baguette is feminine, I wasn’t fooling anyone. I punched the key-code on the door, and was glad to take my un-showered body and bad hair to the safety of my apartment.
So why is it, that I had no difficulty chatting away, for what was, my first experience of facebook video chat, with friends in Australia? Showing them around my unkempt apartment and out the window, to view my neighbourhood, all the while, munching on my breakfast of omelette and UNE fresh baguette, bad hair and tiredness to boot. They did comment that I looked tired and I agreed, yes I was.
I wasn’t going to, but I needed to, hibernate today and that is what I did. However, eventually, I had to head out, I couldn’t bare another black cup of tea and some how, miraculously the milk I bought, when I first arrived, only went off this morning, when I most needed it.
My local Epicurerie, was open by this stage and is only a hop, skip and a jump away, what harm could it do. It didn’t pass my attention that my mate, of many late nights in the cellar, wasn’t working as often as he did last year, so I took the risk he wouldn’t be there and ventured out for milk and water. Wouldn’t you know it, he was there. He had recently given me a hard time for speaking French too slowly. OK, no English, all French, make it snappy. This is simple. In and out. I can’t find my favourite bottled water, I need to ask for assistance. Badoit, my favourite water, have a special festive red bottle, I was searching for the usual green bottle. He wants to chat. I want to get out. Doesn’t he realise, my bad hair and tiredness was as good as a pair of tracky-dacks. He wants to kiss – Bonne Annee – it’s normal, I just want to disappear.
If you want to be in a quaint neighbourhood, where the people are friendly, some more than others, and you strike up a relationship, you also have to be prepared, for bad hair days.