With the start of a French class required by my visa, I have started to taper off my unsustainable lifestyle of getting enough sleep, having plenty of time to explore the city by day, and basking in the freedom to go out with friends or stay in with my journal at night.
Now, I get up a little after six a couple of days a week and jog through the dark Paris streets before the city (and myself, really) wakes up.
I know, I am crazy. But I just like running. One thing I could have added to my list of things I miss about Minnesota is sidewalks that are wide and empty enough to run on without threatening to knock other pedestrians into the street. After forcing myself awake one dark morning, I finally found just that, along with a completely new way to explore the 8th and 17th arrondissements.
Here is a rundown of my typical mid-dawn in Paris:
6h00: Alarm goes off. The snooze button on my phone is promptly tapped.
6h05: Alarm goes off. Snooze again.
6h05 – 6h15: I somehow wake up, me brosse les dents, and descend the spiral staircase to the courtyard. I step over the international edition of the New York Times on the cobblestones and unlatch the heavy doorway to get onto the street.
It looks just like it does at night: shadowy, but pretty well lit from yellowy street lamps. The overhead glow from all of the city’s lights has dwindled, and the sky is at its darkest. At first it seems deserted, but a few silent moments reveal footsteps not far off. Runners skirt the streets outside the park, which does not open until 7. Ready to join them and to shake off the almost-cold October air, I start jogging.
6h15 – 6h30: In a city of so many people, it is freeing to feel like one of the few out at this hour — but in reality, I am one of many. They’re just harder to find than normal. After cutting across a few still boulevards (no need to wait for a green walk sign now), people start to emerge all but unseen. A man leans against a railing on the sidewalk, smoking what might be his first cigarette of the day after getting his small white car out of a courtyard garage. He moves slowly and I do not see him until I’m a few strides away. The street lamps make everything a dull yellow-brown, and without moving, he blends in with the parked cars behind him.
Avenues that are normally packed with piétons, pedestrians, are clear, their wide walkways all mine. Familiar routes are welcoming even in their emptiness. I follow Rue Poncelet to what is normally a busy market street. It is the most populated place I pass at this hour. Men in puffy black coats are talking as they unlock the storefront cages and unpack crates of fruit and seafood. They get up this early every single day and bicker in the road where no one but their compatriots are listening. Their bustle warms the dead streets, but I feel like I am intruding as I pass though.
6h30 – 6h45: I cannot tell if it is easier or more difficult to get lost when everything is deserted. I duck down a dead end with an old hotel at its center, doors wide open and warm with light, as if they were waiting for someone. I turn around and pick up my pace, now on the second half of the run, retracing my route while trying to take different roads. The sound of my shoes slapping the sidewalk echoes through the dark. The sky has not gotten any lighter.
I feel something wet on my shoulder and look up. A woman is watering her window boxes from an Evian bottle. She does not see me. I try to figure out if an intersection I had so often passed in daylight is the one I was coming to now.
I pass cafés and brasseries, which are just starting to open, a solitary bartender arranging glasses or unstacking chairs. These places look exactly the same as they do on a dreamy night, but void of customers. I pause by an inviting window, look at the vintage movie posters on the wall, and try to decide whether I would like to go in and sit down someday.
On a bridge by Boulevard des Batignolles, I pass a train station with a field of tracks curving around it. They are dark and sooty, and the old bridge lets out rattling whooshes of air, almost like breaths. I admire a courtyard I had stopped by during the day when it was closed off. Now it was open for anyone to walk in.
There is trash everywhere. The garbage collectors are on strike, and the bins are overflowing, plastic bags stacked in piles around them. The streets smell a bit rancid. Even with fewer cars out, there’s a lingering scent of exhaust in the air that gets stronger on major streets.
6h45 – 7h45: Back in the apartment’s courtyard, I read stories off the first page of the international New York Times. I try, as always, not to make too much noise on the stairs going up. I shower, make some instant coffee and eat bread and sliced cheese, and head out to the métro. The park is now open and full of still-early walkers, and the sky is just brightening over the rooftops. Windows that were black a half hour ago are dotted with pale light. The white tiles and florescent lights inside the métro are especially harsh after all of the dim lights and dark corners. But it feels good to be around lots of people, sit down, and let the métro take over the transport.
Other shots that were taken at night but capture the dark mystery of a 6 a.m. run