It’s just before dawn when I wake to complete darkness. Someone loudly climbing the stairs in the hallway has disturbed my deep sleep. I can hear voices. Completely disoriented I wonder “Why are there French people outside my door?”
Then it all comes back to me. I am not in my room on Cornelia street in Chicago, I am in a small studio in Paris.
In the darkness I grope for my memories of the last 24 hours. I recall the storm that delayed my flight from Chicago. Racing through the Dublin airport to catch my connecting flight to France. The ride into the city past the Arc de Triumph, down the Champs-Élysées. Spotting the Eiffel Tower in the distance and feeling it was all a dream. In the last few months I’ve dreamt of my arrival to Paris many times, but this time it is real.
My host family is as kind as Paris is lovely. The family is comprised of Madame et Monsieur (as I shall call them here), their two daughters Grande Fille and Petite Fille, and the youngest, their son Petite Garçon. Madame and Petit Garçon warmly welcomed me at the airport and drove me back to the city. Madame takes the most scenic route and happily points out museums, monuments and Louis Vuitton, I only dozed briefly on the flight over, but as we approached the Paris I felt completely awake. When we turned the corner to the family’s street, we saw Monsieur in line at the Boulangerie, waving to us. He has a wide smile and a friendly, open disposition. Les Filles are still on summer holiday in Normandy, where we will join them next weekend. Back at the house we all got acquainted and prepared lunch.
Lunch was steak (very rare) and potatoes, followed by a salad course and finally fruit and cheese for dessert. Fresh bread from the corner boulangerie of course. As it was a celebration, we also indulged in a glass of red wine. Madame speaks mostly English to me, but Monsuier often addresses me in French. I think this is his way of helping me learn. I understand more than I can say, so I answer in English, but use French when I can. Next week I will take a placement test for my language course (I can spare them the paper and just be put directly into beginner), and classes will begin at the end of the month.
After lunch we bring my luggage back to the little studio I will be staying in. My place is about a five minute walk from the family’s. Its a cozy studio located at the top of a charming building in the seventh arrondissement. The family was kind enough to supply me with anything I might need; sheets, towels, table and chairs, shampoo, cereal, a teapot. They even stocked my little fridge with fruit, butter and milk. I am overwhelmed by their consideration and generosity.
Once I am freshened up, I return to the family home to join Madame, Monsuier and Petite Garçon in a walk. They take me past the language school I will be attending, just a short distance from my studio. They point out old hotels, famous Haussmann buildings and large department stores. We make our way towards the Seine, and I see the Pont des Arts, famous for the thousands of locks that sweethearts leave to commemorate their love. We pass kiosks selling souviners, art prints and postcards. As its a bright Sunday in August, the path is busy with tourists. Madame et Monsieur, though Parisian, have brought along a guidebook and consult it every now and again to give me the correct history of a monument or building. We we make our way to the East, I see Notre Dame looming ahead in all its gothic glory. I am completely breathless with its beauty. Everything people say about the light and perspective in Paris is true. I take pictures for Instagram knowing I won’t need a filter, its lovely enough already. We stop for ice cream before crossing back over the river.
Monsieur is directing us somewhere with a big smile and finally I see where he is taking us. In my interviews, I mentioned how much I wanted to visit the famous bookstore Shakespeare and Co. Ever since I saw the documentary Portrait of an Old Man as a Bookstore, I have wanted to visit the shop and purchase a copy of the complete works with the trademark Shakespeare and Co. stamp. Monsieur gallantly finds the Shakespeare section and purchases a copy for me. He saves the top of the reciept for a souvenir. I am moved by the kindness of the gesture and grateful to have found such a warm family. I do not know how I got so lucky.
We return, eat another lovely delicious meal, put Petit Garçon (who looks like a real-life cherub) to bed. I make my way back to my studio, past the cafes and shops, and though I’ve spent the whole day with my French family touring Paris, I still can’t believe I am here.
Today and tomorrow are set aside for errands. Monsieur is helping me obtain a Metro Card, phone plan and open a bank account. I’ve only just finished unpacking. Unfortunately not sleeping for 35 hours and walking for several more did nothing to help my chest cold. Hopefully after a full nights rest I will be feeling 100% again.
There is so much more to write about. How different everything is, from the language down to the light switches. How excited I am to meet Les Filles and visit the family’s weekend home in Normandy on Friday. For tonight, I have to rest.
Bonne nuit mes amis!