19 December 2007

in the fifth

writing today from Paris, where I met my younger brother in the airport this morning. This is the city of my first experience abroad, when I called my parents from a phone booth opposite the Eiffel tower, a college girl giddy on her first real "I did it myself" experience.

It's now my fourth visit here, and I'm finding that after a few hours, my ear for Parisian French has returned, and with the help of my faithful map book, my brother and I have been busy exploring the streets now so familiar to me. The map book I still carry, Paris Par Arrondissements, had been my oldest brother's guide when he'd been working here years ago. On the eve of my departure for my second trip to Paris for studying literature, he gave it to me, filled with his maps and notes. I used the book the whole time, and it gave me that special exploratory confidence that there was No Corner of the city that I would not be able to find my way out of with this little red book.

When a friend went for a study abroad session in France, I lent it to her so she could experience the same magical freedom-powers, and she sent the book back months later from Spain, a note slipped inside that described her adventures with the book.

Today when I was flying over from Iceland, I took it out again and went through the pages of stories- the note from her now taped to the inside cover, the RER and métro maps added by my brother, the sticky notes of restaurants I added, the markings of the hotels, the métro stop where my aunt used to live. Walking these streets again and showing everything here to my brother is like going over those last 8 years of my life, from when I first was discovering foreign lands. I remembered the first time I saw the top of the Eiffel Tower, another winter day when I watched the pinkness of sunset fade from the facade of Notre Dame just like we did today, the discovery of the magical croque-sandwich creations in the cafes, the delirium of crooked streets, cobbled corners, the Seine and all the humped bridges, fanciful roof-tops and skaters in front of the Hotel de Ville.

Paris may be over-hyped in some ways but the marvel of it is that beyond those centerpieces featured in every film are so many more cool things- the street full of comic book shops that lured my brother into each and every one, jumbled angles to the buildings all pressed together around a tiny public garden, the hidden restaurant we happened upon that contained all the right elements for the first vacation-day dinner. The décor was all warm honey tones, one corner devoted to a big wine cave, the owner touring the tables and greeting everyone, and the menu laced with warm cheese dollops, rum-soaked cakes, escargot, lapin, and plenty of butter and garlic. Just right for a year's worth of proper catching-up to do with family.


christophe said...

Bonjour, Elisa! C'est christophe! le petit français de la virée sur le glacier de l'année dernière! tu te rappelles? tu es à paris en ce moment? moi,j'y travaille! excellent! on s'appelle? et je t'offre un verre! excellent!... voici mon téléphone 06 12 49 69 06!
à tout de suite... christophe

Paul said...

loved the post. Enjoy your holiday in Paris!

tsduff said...

Christmas in Paris? How lovely. I just buzzed through there last summer, taking a taxi from one train station to the other, not getting to see the sights. Love your description of it, making it sound so cozy and romantic. Especially enjoyed your telling of the map history :) Have a great time E.

ECS said...

christophe- je t'ai écrit un email.. nous prenons le train jusqu'a Nice demain matin, alors c'est peut-etre pas possible maintenant, mais je rentre le 1e jan. Peut-etre apres?

paul: thanks!

tsduff: this is actually not the final destination of this holiday. We're taking the train on Friday to Nice to meet my parents, and we're going to be there over Christmas. I said I wanted a place that had more light than Iceland, so we cooked up that plan. My bro and I added 2 days on in Paris because he'd never been here.

SOe said...

I wish you a great time in Paris and where ever you are at Christmas and New Years eve. I hope you could add some new stuff in your book.

Djaddi said...

Oooh, Paris :). I always like stopping by there. Have fun in France!

ECS said...

soe: I'm always adding to my book. That's what life's about, isn't it?

djaddi: Paris is always fun for a stopover, although it is reMARKABLY cold. I was glad for all my foreign wool products to keep me cozy.