Four years ago when I dragged my broken heart to Paris, I was empty, raw, disillusioned with life and I was regularly seeing a counsellor.
My counsellor, a warm and wonderful woman, assured me that it would take a long time to heal my aching heart but gave me hope.
The betrayal I suffered was immense and my trust in human nature was shattered. My counsellor told me to think of my heart as a series of jigsaw puzzle pieces, some large some small. Each and every piece of the puzzle makes up who I am.
The past events in my life, whether they were good or bad, will never go away but some will shrink into insignificance, some may stay large or get slightly smaller but nothing can be erased.
What’s done is done and nothing, short of a lobotomy could change this. (they are my words – not hers)
It helped me to understand that the pain would never leave me but it may eventually shrink a little. I don’t know if I am slow or something but it is taking a long time to heal and shrink.
The thought that my ex-husband can go about being happy, create a new life for himself, while he walked away, leaving me damaged like a train crash, hurts.
I was only six months into the shrinking jigsaw puzzle when I arrived in Paris on that snowy Christmas morning, four years ago.
My luggage was lost for two weeks out of my four weeks stay but I think I was too numb for it to effect me and in a way, it was liberating.
Having my hand bag, it’s contents and camera ‘liberated’ from me this year, has dragged up some trust issues again. The past four years has been a long journey to regain my trust in people and allow people in.
TODAY a little piece of the puzzle shrunk a little.
I met a wonderfully kind, warm, engaging, knowledgable and educated woman.
That might seem like too many adjectives to describe a person but I am probably being leaner than you might think.
I paid the price for taking every surprise around the corner last night and this morning I was feeling a little worse for wear. When the alarm went off, closed eyes, I found the annoying sound and shut it down.
It took another hour to realise that I had an appointment this morning.
Upon this realisation, I was grateful for long hair. Barely dry, I bunched it up into a bun and rushed out the door.
My Paris Greeter was already waiting at our rendezvous point when I shakily arrived for our meeting.
Paris Greeters is a fantastic initiative and I highly recommend it. A volunteer based organisation and free of charge, although I do also recommend that if you undertake a walk, you donate, and generously.
Not enough money could compensate for the day I had today.
An elegant Parisian woman was waiting for me at our designated meeting point at Nation metro.
When my proposal initially came through to explore the 12th arrondissement, I wasn’t too keen and nearly declined in favour of another area. I thought it would be boring and there isn’t really much to see, how wrong was I!
With the fear of knocking her out with my breath, that probably resembled a brewery, I tried to explain that I farewelled a friend last night and I was a little worse for wear, an understatement but my message filtered through and she proposed a coffee.
Whilst sipping on a cafe creme; Therese asked, how much time do you have, I shrugged my shoulders, I have no plans, I am free.
From there, our journey began.
I love showing people around ‘my Paris’, pointing out things of interest and sharing what knowledge I have tucked away somewhere deep in my brain but today, the roles were reversed.
Therese’s knowledge of the 12th arrondissement is intimate and extraordinary.
We began at the gates of Nation, formerly known as Place du Trône. What I learned from Therese, that the massive twin columns were a tax entry into Paris. They were designed to be evocative and grand, to entice outsiders to pay to enter Paris.
I also learned that a lot of the architecture around the 12th is Art Deco and the main thoroughfare, was designed to allow the King of France an easy journey from his palace in Vincennes to Paris.
Poor Therese had to deal with a number of people unimpressed with my excited photography, the first when she took me into an Art Deco school and another when we came across a meat wholesaler delivering carcasses of meat.
This was when we arrived in the aptly named Rue du Rendez-vous, where I learned it was so named because this is where the hunters gathered before the chase, when the area was once a forest.
Sadly the meat wholesaler understood we were making fun of him but in fact we were admiring his ability to work hard and heave weighty slabs of meat on his shoulder.
At every corner and every instance, Therese had an anecdote for anything that unfolded during our walk.
We visited her favourite coffee roaster, where he is one of a select few in Paris that still roasts his own coffee. Call it weird, but I bought some lovely tea from the enchanting specialist shop, all the while, Therese taking her time and teaching me about the unusual, speciality products on offer.
She lead me through wide boulevards, tiny narrow passages, giggled with glee when she knew something interesting, unusual or entertaining was lying ahead.
Her love of architecture was clear, pointing out the finer details, some people could miss.
When I wish someone bon voyage, when they are about to travel somewhere new, my tip is always, don’t forget to look up and look behind.
You can miss so much, peering in shop windows at eye level and forget to look up and the perspective of where you have been, as opposed to where you are heading can be so different.
Therese offers the same advice but in French it is Marcher le Nez en l’air.
She said she is continually tripping up because she is so busy doing this, with her nose up in the air, gazing at architecture above. This, I could understand about her.
About 3 hours into the tour, she asks if I am hungry and do I want to continue, yes but I am hungover and starving.
We buy a baguette each, which in hindsight, I am entirely embarrassed about for not offering to buy for her, as we sat on the steps of a school.
While we were munching away on our baguettes, of course Therese had a story, we are not sitting on the steps of any old school but a school donated by The Empress, Eugenie.
Empress Eugenie, was offered a generous gift of a jewelled necklace, instead of accepting, she refused, but instigated a school.
When I commented that the school appeared to be small, Therese presents me with an arial picture, the school is large, enormous and in the shape of the jewelled necklace that was presented to Eugenie.
Inside, a painting depicts Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III, presenting a gift to the orphan children, she had especially built the school for.
What I didn’t realise at the time is that we were only half way through our tour and our combined appreciation of architecture would present itself as we continued on.
Therese’s genuine love for her city, the area where she lives was undeniable.
Voila! She exclaims, look at this magnificent building by Falp right at the end of this street.
He loved his wife and daughter so much, he ensured that sculptures of them graced his buildings.
Approaching the building, we discovered more and more detail. We spent quite a while, exploring the façade and admiring the sculpture work.
How would I have known this if Therese was not there to enlighten me.
By the time Therese lead me down an alley, that was once lined with ateliers, I could see her passion and personality and love of her area, oozing out of her and completely trusted her guidance and choice of each beautiful building, quirky or unusual item, school garden, narrow passageway or whatever it was, she wanted to show me.
I am a details girl and I think I can very safely say, so is Therese.
Each of us pointing out details as we wandered around was fantastic. I had the sense that I was sharing Paris with a long standing girlfriend instead of a woman that I had met around four hours earlier.
Both of us marvelling at strange and unusual buildings, I commented to her that I didn’t feel like I was in Paris but somewhere else and in hindsight, the thought that I could have
traded her in for somewhere more interesting could have been the biggest faux pas I had made since arriving in Paris.
Arriving at La Promenade Plantée, I couldn’t quite understand her fit of the giggles.
She had presented her cousin with a bottle of water for New Year, labelled Water of Paris.
I didn’t understand what could be so funny about this remark. Later we joked about it for the rest of the day, when each time I opened my bottle of water and ssshhhh, the gas was released.
She led me to a modern fountain within the park, thoughtfully, with two clean cups tucked within her bag.
This is only one of two places, where you can get not only still, but also sparkling water from a fountain in Paris.
I joked with her, trust the French, they can’t just have a water fountain that provides, delicious tasting water from a river but you have the choice of flat or sparkling!
Now I understood the joke … she had presented her cousin with a specially labelled bottle marked Eau de Paris, water of Paris.
Although I have walked some of the 4.5km stretch from Bastille to the Palace of Vincennes along the Promenade Plantée, I had never before noticed the detail of the magnificent architecture that can be viewed from high above.
Promenade Plantée, is a disused railway line and viaduct that has been very smartly transformed into a park and walkway, above and the viaduct underneath into stylish galleries and stores.
Therese jogs here and never tires of enjoying the view and the architecture of her much loved city of Paris.
Her fit of the giggles again and something about Russians, I didn’t quite get but once I spotted the building, I understood.
A very strange building, graced by rows of sculptures of men, lifting their tops, I joined her in her laughter.
I decided that perhaps the architect was gay and wanted to be surrounded by many men, lifting up their tops. I am so glad she laughed at my poor jokes.
By the time we reached Bastille, six hours later, Therese informed me, this is where we will part ways.
At first I thought that I was imaging that our steps had become slower and slower, escargot pace, as we neared Bastille but I think, I would like to hope we were both delaying our departure.
Although it had been a long day, the time flew and I felt like we were breaking up!
I didn’t want to leave this absolutely charming, distinguished woman, who I learned during our discovery of the 12th, attends lectures about architecture once a week.
I can only hope that she appreciated my love for architecture and appreciation for her vast knowledge about the multitude of beautiful and elaborate buildings we passed by today.
However, somehow, I think she understood that I did. I don’t think she would have spent an entire day with me, as we both gasped in awe at some of the beautiful, unusual and extraordinary that she introduced me to and giggled in unison at the quirky.
While we were lunching on the steps of the Maison Eugene Napoleon school, the school Empress Eugenie named after her son, she said that now that she is semi-retired she decided to share her love of architecture and knowledge by way of taking strangers, like me on a walk through her neighbourhood.
Most importantly, I was honoured to learn that I was her very first Paris Greeter Guest.
Last year I walked with a Paris Greeter through Pere Lachaise, it was wonderful but the walk I experienced today was quite extraordinary, fascinating and so much fun.
Therese is a warm and gentle person, her passion palpable and helped me to understand that there are still, kind, generous and caring people in the world.
Paris Greeters – official website in English The way it works:
- Email Paris Greeters with your preferred dates and interests
- You will receive a proposal and email from an available greeter
- Accept or decline the offer
- Make an electronic donation via the website