Sans direction

You might remember when I said that somehow, everything was starting to be normal here. That was almost three months ago. Now, Paris is slowly coming back to normal again. But it feels strange.

It also feels strange to have a winter without snow.

Last Saturday, I had nothing to do but babysit. I left my apartment in the early afternoon and took the metro to Porte Dauphine, jogging away from the station and into the trees of the Bois de Boulogne.

Every time I go there, time slows down. I get lost. Jogging through the trees, on paths that shrank from broad asphalt roads to natural footpaths, I gradually lost track of which direction I was running in. I reached a denser area where little paths crossed in different directions, under fallen trees and a single-thread spider web that got caught on my faced when I crossed it. I started to walk, peeling the thread of silk from my face. I looked at the yellow and brown paths covered in leaves heavy with old rain. Where am I? I thought. Yes, were am I in the Bois de Boulogne, but also, in general — where am I?

I have lived here for three months, going from marvelling at details as small as how people use umbrellas here to to having all that romantic stuff turned on its head when terrible, world-shifting acts took place, and then somehow celebrating Thanksgiving. Now, finding myself on the other side feels strangely calm. I feel weird, to be honest.

This state of mind made the small decision of whether to turn around on the leaf-covered path or to keep going though the woods into a long, reflective thought process. I had reached the road. I could just cross back past the spider’s web and head home.

I settled on going a bit farther. I spotted a gold-edged gate up ahead. Now that I did not know where I was, I could let the Bois work its magic: it always managed to show me something new.

I made it to the gates, where a sign told me I had reached the Parc de Bagatelle, where « jogging est interdit » — jogging is prohibited. So I walked. As soon as I got on the path with its ceiling of dark pine branches, I felt like I was somewhere totally different. A huge mound of earth spiralled up from the ground like an oversized Hobbit house. I turned into a clearing, where a blue and gold Chinese-style gazebo sat in the way-too-early start of the 3 p.m. sunset. On the grass, something big and electric blue prowled along. I got closer. It was a peacock. Its feathers glimmered all colors in the sun as it bobbed forward. I turned. There were two more sitting on the roof of the gazebo.

Hold on, now, I thought. Have I ever seen a peacock? What … the … .

I crossed the clearing into the trees, passing middle-aged couples watching waterfalls spill into otherwise still pools of water. I stopped to watch the water tumble off some rocks, and realized I was face to face with a soft white cat. It sat at the very middle of the rock shelf, staring at me like I was encroaching on its territory. Something stirred to the right. It was another cat, this time with a black coat. The two kitties sat still and watched me, shifting their little feel on the brush over the rocks until I walked away.

I spent at least an hour in this park in the middle of the woods, the encounters going from strange animals to beautiful little buildings. Passing back under the pine ceiling, I climbed the huge spiral mound at looked over the huge valley. From here, Paris was just a few buildings, and there was so much more in sight.

« Cafe Américano, tall, sur place »

Now I’m in Starbucks. Again. My neighborhood’s location has clean glass windows on multiple sides and I am sitting next to the glass looking out on the church St. Philippe du Roule. Christmas music is playing. More specifically, “Mele Kalikimaka (The Hawaiian Christmas Song).” Just like at home, Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald are sharing sound waves with She & Him’s hipster-cute Christmas album.

I hate the fact that I have to come here and pay three euros for a red cup full of bland caffeine and internet access. What a waste of resources. (Speaking of resources: I spent a day at the COP21 site at Le Bourget last week. More on that in a later post.)

In line, I asked for my usual « tall café Américano, s’il vous plait, sur place. » I get it because, tied with black coffee, it’s the cheapest drink. But unlike the black coffee, it’s drinkable. Behind me in line, a man asked in English for a coffee, and said he’d pay for mine. “Thank you, that’s so nice.” I said. I asked him where he was from. He said Chicago. He’s here on business with FedEx. I told him I am from Minnesota. We talked a bit. I wished him a happy last week in Paris. Then I took my coffee to the window and set up shop.

Though I am far from home, I am constantly meeting people from so close by. And I’m finding that people are kind — both there and here.

Photos from outside of the woods and Starbucks

A statue of broken handcuffs honoring a French general who was a relative of Alexandre Dumas, the author of The Three Musketeers.
A statue of broken handcuffs honoring a French general who was a relative of Alexandre Dumas, the author of The Three Musketeers.
My friend, Ana, made us risotto the other night. "It's easy," she said. It took an hour, but an effortless one for her.
My friend, Ana, made us risotto the other night. “It’s easy,” she said. It took an hour, but an effortless one for her.
Hot wine simmers in the Champs Élysées Christmas market.
Hot wine simmers at the Champs Élysées Christmas market.
A structure showing the hashtag for COP21 in the climate generations area of the United Nations climate conference.
A structure showing the hashtag for COP21 in the climate generations area of the United Nations climate conference in Le Bourget, just outside of Paris.
I finally captured photos of the Fondation Louis Vuitton. Hidden in the Bois de Boulogne, the cultural center was designed by architect Frank Gehry, who designed the Weisman Art Museum where I worked in Minneapolis.
I finally captured photos of the Fondation Louis Vuitton. Hidden in the Bois de Boulogne, the cultural center was designed by architect Frank Gehry, who designed the Weisman Art Museum where I worked in Minneapolis.
A mechanical fairy hovers over a Christmas display in a window of the Galeries Lafayette in Paris's 8th arrondissement. In front of the windows, there were elevated wooden walkways for kids to get a good vantage point.
A mechanical fairy hovers over a Christmas display in a window of the Galeries Lafayette in Paris’s 8th arrondissement. In front of the windows, there were elevated wooden walkways for kids to get a good vantage point.
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