It is three days shy of exactly five months since I few from London to NY – and it is great to be back in a place where cars are small, Starbucks is considered bad rather than good coffee, people treat you indifferently without trying to fake otherwise, and the word “historic” means at least several centuries.
This morning I had a brief stopover and change of planes in Dublin and then landed in Paris a couple of hours later. I took a metro to St. Michel, valiantly ignored Gilbert Jeune (probably my favourite bookstore in Paris) for the moment, and got myself a small room with a tiny balcony in a hotel right next to College de France along Rue des Écoles. I’ve got quite a few friends in Paris right now so it will probably be some rather busy time for the next couple of days catching up with all of them.
However, I do have one specific memory regarding Paris – from the first time ever I was here, what must now be about 17 years ago. I was in Paris only for one day, from sunrise to midnight, having snuck in without a visa from Netherlands. I ended up walking the whole day. By nightfall I was resting my sore feet somewhere along the Boulevard des Capucines and then suddenly saw an older man with gray hair and in a red sweater sitting in a restaurant across the street. He was alone, reading a book that looked like poetry, and on his table there was a big bowl of mussels and a bottle of champagne in a cooler. That sight really struck me, as on the one hand, drinking champagne alone at night in a restaurant in Paris somehow feels an incredibly lonely thing to do. At the same time this man didn’t look that way at all to me – he was alone, but not lonely. I have had that picture very vividly in my mind and although I don’t have a red sweater (or hair quite as gray yet), I DO have a nice book of Lorca in my bag and it somehow feels just right to put it in my pocket, walk over to the Boulevard des Capucines, find a table and order a bottle of prosecco for the night.