Monday, October 31, 2011

L'histoire d'amour continue

It was about this time last year I was sitting outside a Rue de Rennes cafe one crisp, autumnal Saturday morning, contemplating my then-forthcoming move to Paris. Sipping coffee and nibbling on a fresh croissant (I know "fresh" makes it sound like just-harvested mango rather than artery-hardening pastry, but...) I began writing a love letter of sorts that eventually took me forever to actually post.

The letter celebrated all the things that were drawing me to the French capital, deliciously buttery baked goods, amongst them. It took me until mid-January to actually post the thing, mainly because between that October breakfast and finding half an hour to actually do something with it, life became consumed by, well, life, and all the ups, downs and dramas that come with preparing to start a new one in another country.

There was another reason for that letter remaining 'in development' for more than two months: like any good love letter, there's always more you want to say, and either don't have the emotional vocabulary to express it, or the confidence.

It's very easy to become blasé about one's surroundings, and yet we dismiss as smug those who quit the rat-race to declare life's wonderment from a beach bar in Thailand. Paris - I can confidently say after even just ten months - has lost none of its lustre.

Perhaps it's just me: perhaps I'm just one of those people for whom childlike enthusiasm for the simplest of things doesn't wear off easily. I still hold Mr Bean-like excitement for air travel, despite being a fairly frequent air traveller for most of my professional life; the moments before a band comes on stage and strikes its opening chord are the minutes that remind me why I love live music to start with; and even after thirty years of walking up the Fulham Road on a Saturday afternoon to see Chelsea play, I'm still buzzed with the same degree of expectation I experienced the first time I visited Stamford Bridge well over 30 years ago.

So don't expect the stupid, loved-up grin to leave my face any time soon. A year ago my commute to work involved a gruesome two-hour train ride terminating in a town I would always have struggled to come to love. Now, I have a ten-minute ride by rented Vélib bicycle which takes me across the majestic Pont d’Iena, the Eiffel Tower rising before me like some colossal alien astride the Champs de Mars.

Gustave Eiffel's seventh wonder is a constant companion throughout my Parisian day: it towers over my office and then, as I fall asleep at night, it is there, less than a mile from my bedroom window, it's mad LED strobes glittering away every hour, on the hour like a Christmas tree on speed.

The tower's searchlight beam may scan the night sky like The Eye of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, but the sweep of its light provides Paris with a fulcrum of reassurance, a giant iron guardian standing over a city of intoxicating, almost excessive beauty. It is this which enables Paris to combine the normality of daily urban living with an ethereal, dreamlike experience whenever you venture out into its streets. No wonder poets, writers, dictators and romantics have fallen under its spell. And me.

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