L’ Invitée: she came to stay

UK student cards work in France. Très bien! This gets me a decent price for a two-day hop-on hop-off boat pass. River Seine, here I come. What is it about boats that compels strangers on one to wave at strangers on another? The new-found solidarity of being afloat at the same time? Odd. But compulsive. From my cheapskate boat I tend to reserve my waving for children whose excitement makes more sense. And I reckon that those who wave from the posh cruise+dinner restaurant bateaux are being just a little bit smug. Anyway…

It’s chucking it down, which wasn’t part of the plan, but it’s ideal café weather at least. Cafés were, after all, part of the reason for being in Paris in the first place. Sheltering in a shop doorway with my sodden map and Ash’s recommendations of good eating places in le Marais, I am invited inside by some friendly folk. Inside is cosy, snug and smells of leather and sewing machines, and the charming man with the nice French accent recommends the wine bar a few doors down as an ideal place to get a good Illy coffee and to chill, in a warming kind of way.

I settle down there until Harriet finishes her classes and plan to write my journal, but the conversation behind me is just far too eavesdroppable to miss. An American woman is monologuing about her experiences in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria: ‘I wasn’t there, but I know this for a fact…’, she drawls on. Her gossip is endless but compelling and her capacity for ceasless chatter is incredible.

After a warming lunch and another coffee, Harriet and I are hit by the most amazing idea; that of visiting Montparnasse Cemetery and paying homage to the likes of Sartre, Duras, Ionesco, Baudelaire and Simone de Beauvoir. (Question: I wonder how the writer of Le Deuxième Sexe would respond to being described by my guidebook as Sartre’s lover first, and a – signficant – author second?) We are SUCH geeks, but the flowers by certain headstones suggest that we’re not the only ones and I take disproportionately great delight in being able to point out Samuel Beckett’s resting place to another dripping-wet literary person who was also à la recherche. Sadly Proust is elsewhere but I’ll save him for another rainy day.

We leave confidently in the wrong direction and have to come back past the talkative security guard who we’d already (kindly) refused to give our contact details to. (Not sure I’ve quite worked out how to be friendly in a chatty/polite kind of way without any entangling strings attached). Some vin rouge and crêpes later, I head home and am overjoyed that some French bloke in Ternes thinks I’m confident, local and knowledgable enough to ask for directions to the metro, which I am able to provide en français. In my head I now live here.

Less rain the following day makes pottering around Paris a more pleasant prospect. Today I have my ipod and get distracted by music and aimlessness and suddenly realise that I’ve walked around the Arc de Triomphe at least once. It’s surrounded by a huge roundabout with billions of identical roads going off it: an easy mistake to make, right? Ah well. I spend some more time on my boat, hop off at the Louvre, wander round the Latin Quarter, drink some coffee, get sidetracked by the Institute of the Arab World, and enjoy le Marais in the sunshine.

Ash said that I should not miss the handcrafted millefeuille. WORTH EVERY EURO (emphasis hers), she reckoned. So I go and get one from the posh chocolate boutique where they call me Madame (bien sûr) and wrap the thing up in a perfectly beautiful box. All inspired about faking Frenchness, I buy a current affairs magazine and sit in a park to read about Hollande and the Eurozone crisis while the paper-thin pastry and vanilla cream melts in my mouth. I am such a bourgeois-bohème cliché. Zut.

We round the evening off with wine and salad (I have eaten way too much bread and cheese and meat) in a perfect little bookshop/restaurant which smells of simple food and new white folio books. Soaking up the intelligent-by-association atmosphere, we then head to the river and can’t resist a final boat trip. I’ve paid for my ticket afterall. I take a few photos but mainly just enjoy being here, knowing that tomorrow the illusion of this being my life will be shattered again. Getting off the boat at 11pm is perfectly timed with the Eiffel Tower’s nightly sparkle. For a good five minutes it flashes away in a tacky, but forgiveable, way. For a moment, as I lean against the riverbank wall, I concede that it would probably be quite nice to be here with somebody, even though I’ve always said that if someone proposed to me in Paris I would refuse on the grounds of it being far too conventional. To be fair, I did turn down a date tonight, so I can’t complain excessively.

But, even in the absence of somebody, I nevertheless feel more ‘me’ than I’ve felt for a while, and I drag my feet to the metro content.

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