A perfect day in Paris

It’s been exactly two weeks since I arrived in Paris for the summer and I often have days where I forget I ever lived anywhere else. It’s so easy to slip into big city life; I catch trains all over the city like a local, eat French food most days (pastries, baguettes, the whole bit), and wander around this very walkable city on my own two feet. I try to speak a little French but I can hear and read a lot more.

Rue de Bellechasse
My street, Rue de Bellechasse

My pretty chambre de bonne is in the 7th arrondissement, right behind the imposing Musee D’Orsay and very close to the Seine. The 7th is actually rather posh, because it’s right near the National Assembly. So it’s very quiet here and not as many tourists about (aside from around the museum), but there are no laundromats and necessary conveniences like that. Other than that, I love having my own Parisian apartment, and I wake up every day feeling happy here. Though at the moment I also wake up in the mornings feeling tired because of too many late nights in a row!

So much has happened that I’ve barely had a moment to catch my breath; yesterday was Bastille Day, as we foreigners call it (the French don’t call it that), so I had the day off from classes and a break from the usual flurry of activities that fill up my days…though there was a lovely soiree in the evening where we could watch the fireworks from the balcony.

I have loads of thoughts and commentary about Paris, including less than positive impressions I’ll get to later, but for a change from my usual introspection I thought I’d recap the 13th, which was a truly epic day and 24 hours I’d happily live all over again. Writing, eating, analysing, reading, dancing (at a fireman’s ball)…a whole lot of joy out of one small day.

I started the day out writing poetry…I haven’t written poetry in years and was never really into the form even then. I recall reading aloud a rather bad poem I wrote (it rhymed), at the Poetry Tent at Glastonbury in 2002. The writing course is expanding my writing horizons and proving to be extremely challenging, and it’s actually making me realise that this whole wanting-to-be-a-writer business is a big deal. Do I have what it takes? I’m still not so sure about that, but I think it might be a case of “feel the fear and do it anyway”.

Student reading at Cafe Universel on Tuesday night
Student reading at Cafe Universel on Tuesday night

Yet at the same time it’s enormously inspirational as well; and I find myself wanting to study English and not creative writing, and really gain some additional tools with which to appreciate literature. The teachers are fantastic and there’s good camaraderie among the students. I would totally recommend this course to others. Here’s one of my poems that I completed yesterday, just before I went to a two hour class on creative nonfiction:

Puppet show

Our argument this morning, similar
to ones we’ve had before.

You spoke to a marionette life-sized,
waving her arms in the air.

This revelation should be no surprise,
you stared like I was a stranger.

Maybe everything that was said
was by others not quite us.

Afterwards, on an extremely cold summer’s day, I went off to have a long boozy lunch with old and new friends at a two Michelin starred restaurant called La Bigarrade in the 17th. Kate and I are good friends from back home, though she left for Perth then London before I moved to Thailand, so it’s been a while and it was quite a way to reunite — over our mutual love of food. Also joining us for lunch were two of Kate’s friends; one visiting from Oz, and another who lives in Paris, training to be a chef, who found this place for us. Below is a photo essay of the different courses in our degustation lunch — and that wasn’t all, because my battery went flat during the last few courses of dessert! I don’t know if I can even describe what we ate but suffice to say the food was heavily Japanese-influenced, with delicate flavours and textures and the wine was excellent. The wine was so good in fact, we ordered a second bottle.

Pinot noir
A light red for a long lunch
Bread and olive oil
Breaking off warm bread, slightly fried, in the sweetest olive oil imaginable
White bait and lemon
Lightly battered white bait with lemon
Mussels with mustard sauce
Skewers of mussels served with a Japanese mustard sauce
Octopus with flying fish eggs
Octopus with flying fish eggs and hissop flower
Barbequed clam
Barbequed clam
Raw quail egg with wakame
Creamy raw quail egg with wakame
Squid with ink and cucumber
Squid with ink and cucumber – conceptual!
Eggplant, rockmelon and other lovely bits
Eggplant, rockmelon and other lovely bits
Chinese-style lamb
Lamb with a Chinese twist
Lamb with green tomato
Well-cooked lamb with green tomato, cherries and other flourishes
Cheese plate
The cheese plate contained the creamiest ‘chevre’ I’ve ever had. The goat’s cheese in Paris has been a revelation.
Rockmelon granita
Rockmelon granita with coriander seed garnish. Superbe!

After lunch, I headed off to a fiction workshop I’m in with half a dozen of the students, and we discussed the writing of two of our members — including mine! I’ve turned back to fiction after years of not trying, and it’s been enormously liberating. I’m writing a short story that I will be working on intensely over the coming days because on Thursday it will be dissected by my fiction class of almost 20 people – gulp.

And then the pièce de résistance…the fireman’s ball in the 1st. In short: as awesome as it sounds. The concept surely belongs to France alone…good luck to anyone whose house has been on fire the last two nights! Many moons ago in Chiang Mai, my friend Sylvaine recommended that going to one of these parties was a must. Following her advice, I had the best night out I’ve had in a long time. I got 7 girls along with me and we joined thousands of others at one of the many fire stations that opens its doors to raise funds for a night of drinking, dancing and singing — all at the same time.

The band at the fireman's ball
The band at the fireman’s ball

We bought a bottle of champagne and poured it into our plastic flutes while the band played old French songs and a variety of American pop music from decades past. Some of the girls danced with random French men who got a bit too friendly, while some of us ended up in the warm embrace of a large circle of people, which was quite a feat considering how packed in we were. Later on in the night, I danced with a very spunky gay guy who was half of a couple, after we had already sang effusively at each other “I love you!”

And speaking of love…I love the way my time here is so unpredictable, with the day not usually ending the way I anticipate. One thing leads to another and suddenly I’m eating a nutella et banane crepe at 2am with two of my new friends, before walking home alongside the Seine to the sound of street-drums on the Right Bank.

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