The first thing I notice about Paris is that it sounds different. The morning after I arrive, I’m jolted out of a heavy, jet lag-induced sleep by a cacophony of church bells. I’m disoriented for a few seconds, then more sounds start filtering in through the window along with the morning light. There are voices, jabbering away in French, and the sound of high-heeled shoes on cobblestones. I can hear dishes rattling, scooters buzzing down the street, and somewhere, someone is whistling. Paris sounds alive.
As I leave the apartment, there are three things I’m most looking forward to experiencing. The first two – drinking a café au lait and eating a croissant – are obvious, given my weakness for espresso and nearly any food falling under the category of “baked goods”. A little café, tucked unpresumptuously into the corner of a twisting cobblestoned street, provides both of these things. The croissant and coffee are whisked onto my tiny sidewalk table by a heavily moustached waiter; the coffee is accompanied by two neatly wrapped cubes of sugar and a small chocolate. As I bite into the croissant, I’m fairly certain that I swoon a little bit. It’s layer upon layer of rich buttery decadence (so buttery, in fact, that it’s probably illegal in North America), and the outside is just crispy enough that it flakes apart delicately on my plate. This croissant could be the definition of perfection. I consider ordering a second, then stop myself. A whole city full of croissants is waiting to be discovered – why use up my daily quota in one café?
The third thing I’m looking forward to is the people-watching. I have high expectations here, given everything I’ve heard about this city’s legendary style. And as I sit at my little table facing the street, sipping that heavenly café au lait and watching the world rush past, it immediately becomes clear that Paris will live up to – no, that it will far surpass – my expectations in this area. As it turns out, Parisians are every bit as chic as their reputation purports them to be. The sidewalk in front of the café is a swirl of trench coats and artfully looped scarves, slim jeans and impeccable leather boots. The weather is still summery, certainly warm enough to make do without a coat or a scarf, but the Parisian woman insists on being armed with both. In her mind, it is fall, and fall’s dress code is not to be violated simply because of a little sunshine. Suddenly, despite the memory of hauling my suitcase up three long, steep flights of stairs last night, I’m glad I overpacked. Glad I spent so much time agonizing over which pairs of shoes to bring, and which scarves to pack (conclusion: all of them). To be caught in Paris without an arsenal of stylish accessories would be truly tragic.
Photos taken in the neighbourhood around my apartment.