On my first day in Paris, there is a ritual I undertake. I stand on Pont Zero, the brass disc in front of the Notre Dame. There is a belief, that if you stand on this small brass disc, you will always return to Paris. Three days had passed, and I had not done this yet.
Since arriving, I have had a sense of lacking some sort of rhythm. Whether you interpret the world is going to come to an end or more so, the world as ‘you’ know it will come to an end, played on my mind.
My only plan for today was to rise early, before sunrise, stand on Pont Zero and take a photo of the Notre Dame.
Sunrise in Paris in the winter, can mean 8.30am, but I was eager, I got up at 6.30am. Much to my disappointment it was raining again. I wasn’t going to let this stop me, armed with a flimsy, cheap umbrella and my new tripod tucked under my arm, I walked the quiet dark streets. Apart from a few commuters and the council cleaners, it was just me and Paris, a drizzle of rain and the fresh cool air. It felt good.
What I encountered upon arriving at the large square in front of the Notre Dame was not the usual Christmas tree but a temporary structure, come stadium, celebrating 850 years of the history of the Notre Dame and a lone, homeless man, whistling.
Searching in the dark, I was nervous that the city had built the structure over Pont Zero and I would not be able to perform my ritual but my fears were quickly put to rest. When I placed my feet upon it, I could feel something underfoot, a 20 centime coin, I scooped it up and popped it into my pocket, a sign of good luck.
Apart from the whistler who continued, never losing a beat, the square was deserted, it was pitch black. With at least an hour to spare, I explored the stadium and moving behind it trying to work out how I could photograph the Notre Dame, without it obscuring the view, the wind picked up along with the rain. This plan was beginning to feel pointless. I came across a telescope, part of the exhibition. Peering inside the view finder and seeing nothing, I heard a voice.
A sole passerby offered a bonjour and something I didn’t quite understand, I asked him to repeat and he broke into English. We chatted for a while and he invited me for a coffee.
I said yes.
Recently I watched a movie, where the main character made a point of saying ‘yes’ to everything that was offered. What harm could it do. I needed to kill about an hour and given the rain and the temporary structure, I wasn’t sure if the photo was going to go ahead. We wandered for a bit until we found somewhere open and stood at the bar (it is cheaper this way) and ordered a coffee.
The tall, handsome stranger, said he was heading to a swimming pool and produced towel and goggles as proof. Telling him of my disappointment about the rain and the structure and yet another lost photo opportunity, he asked if I would like to walk.
I said yes.
We ended up at the Louvre. Here, I discovered, I could stand out of the rain, under shelter of Cour Napoleon, the courtyard of Napoleon, and photograph. Apart from the odd jogger, there was not a tourist in sight. Wet and cold, my fingers feeling like they were almost ready to snap off, I used my new tripod for the first time as the sun rose behind the pyramid of the Louvre.
We continued to walk the streets of Paris, as the city slowly swung into daily life, the rain got heavier and my umbrella slowly, yet surely, started to fall apart. Drinking coffee along the way, we bar hopped and at some point, took refuge in the Notre Dame.
Later we decided to head for the Carnavalet museum, where it would be warm, dry and free.
As we wandered around the museum, discussing the history of Paris, debating architecture, all the while, warming ourselves near the heaters, I felt slightly suspicious, and questioned myself; should I be doing something else, but there was no schedule, no plan. He invited me for lunch.
I said yes.
After lunch, he asked if I would like to see the library at the Pompidou Centre, it is dry, warm and free.
I said yes.
He showed me how I could borrow audio guides to learn French. He read the news on the internet. Some niggling feeling gave me the sense he was homeless, when I pointed out there appeared to be a few homeless people in the library, perhaps taking shelter from the cold and rain, he seemed uncomfortable. Was it just me being suspicious? I wasn’t sure, when I said it was time for me to leave, I have a dinner to attend.
He said he would stay.
We both agreed it was a lovely day, neither of us offered to meet again. I left him, in the library of the Pompidou Centre. Was he homeless, was he an electrician as he said, was he lonely, or was he just being spontaneous?
Walking to my apartment, I couldn’t help but wonder; who was the stranger, I spent an entire day with, walking the rainy streets of Paris.
Later this evening, I was to encounter another stranger. I had recently discovered a company, that, for a fee, you can dine in the home of a Parisian. I had read reviews which were favourable.
An email, earlier in the day informed me that her telephone was ‘broken’ but included directions, the door code and at what time I was to arrive.
The directions were simple and on a direct route from my apartment. Although I had paid my fee, I still felt the need to take a hostess gift and bought a nice bottle of wine on route.
Easy to find it was and only a hop skip and a jump from the metro. Feeling apprehensive but at the same time excited, I punched in the code for the door. Waiting for the familiar sound and ‘click’, as the door releases. There was nothing.
I tried again. Nothing.
After a half hour of pushing and pulling at the door, entering the code, one time after another, standing on the other side of the street, hoping she might put her head out the window to see where the hell I was.
I even considered tossing my lucky coin to the second floor window, as lovers throw pebbles, but I left the coin behind and there were no pebbles to be found.
Deflated, hungry but at least with a decent bottle of wine in my bag, I took the metro home.