I’ve inhabited a homely hovel on Avenue Sécretan for six months now and I prepare for the close. My bed, smaller than a single, used to be equidistant from this 25m-squared apartment’s two windows, nestled in the corner with a clinically cold light and overborne by dark winter’s nights. Now it rains erratically in Paris, which I quite like. I sit, now, at the window, perched on the edge of a blow-up mattress nest that awaits my two visitors this weekend, a ricketing table beneath my forearms as a desk, some tea and a view of sky. The French doors (or just ‘doors’ maybe) are open and tease back and forth an eighth of an inch in the rain’s haze. Wrought iron bars curve before me, a protector, a part of the scene. The façade of a typical Parisian edifice beckons on the other side of Sécretan, about 72 windows, at least 72 souls and the top half of this frame is sky, three chimneys, each at a steeper angle to my east than the former. Four lights combine to creature a warm aura in the opposing aparts, delicate orange that inspires a nestling peace. Not the fierce white light that competes with day. I don’t see anyone.
In two weeks I’ll leave Paris. A speckle of rain, I feel it on my knuckle as I type. Every time I’ve gone out looking, I’ve found something incredible. The flooded banks of the Seine, obscuring paths, huge trunks lodged between a lamp post and the Pont d’Alma’s lip that juts out towards Notre-Dame. When people come to visit, some of my friends would complain about having to do the same “touristy” things. I never had this. A visit from anyone has been an opportunity to not only explore the city and its surroundings but to do so with a friend’s open and travelling mind. My penultimate visitors have been my parents. Having spent twenty years together, ten of the latter I remember clearly, vaguely habitual dinners were a pattern rather than an active choice, the last five of which I remember distinctly. These two generous gems, wonderful and wise individuals … I’m aware that it’s a choice now, this time. The relationships aren’t perfect, I don’t claim such a thing, but we laugh a lot together, and I can cry too and one will root out a tissue whilst the other consoles with words. I could not ask for more support. As I sit in my formidable flat and look up at the frame of free sky, I think to them and I thank these two people who have held up and hold my sky as I search out my stars. That evening, when I left them at Rue Racine to head to the fan zone at the Eiffel tower, I turned back to look up at their window and there they were, their profile in the frame of the window, shaded. I saw mum’s fringe and dad’s white shirt and they made up the sky, their slightly greying hair silvering the line.
On Saturday I rambled into la place de la Sorbonne to meet them for the first of many coffee breaks during which we’d watch and chat intermittently before discovering the day’s next prize. They hadn’t been in the Pantheon for ten years or so. We went up high, into the centre of the Parisian skyline and roamed, panning the view of Paris’s panorama. We mooched all day, striding harmoniously, or so my heart felt in the reality of mis-matched steps and stragglers. We crept back into the 5th arrondissement ready for our dinner and stopped for a well-deserved beverage. Our drink was awkwardly entertained by a woman in the flat four meters across the street, who dangled a can from a string out of her window, sporadically shouting. We giggled a bit, wondering who was “Bernard, Bernard! Quelle heure est-il?” The waiter, obviously used to this lady’s presence, laughed and taunted a bit, “c’est sept heure moins dix”, “non c’est dix-huit heure cinquante” “mais on peut dire les deux!”, “yes”, she cooed, “you can say both”. Her exact repetition like a child after an older sibling, said with full conviction. It made the scene all the more sad. A young guy brought his bike to a halt and captured it with his Nikon, even asking the lady to come out of the window a little more to improve his shot. Despite engaging with this soul, he hopped on his bike and blew away, the can, circling below the string. I shouldn’t call this a scene – it steals the reality. She seemed like an ominous being far away behind the walls. If she’d been calling from a mattress outside the salle climatisé, as do many sans domicile fixé, we would not laugh. So why laugh with … at … whatever. I’m not really sure. But I’m glad that she has a roof.
Paris is coming to a close for me, or for now. It doesn’t feel like I’m leaving. I’m leaving a place but what else? All of my friends here were temporary inhabitants to the city and they’ll leave too – we all came for a while and now we’re off again. Maybe the biggest truth I’ve learnt this year is that of home. “Home is where you make it” mumbles Joe Dirt’s interlocutor, weary and wise. When I go back to my “home” in Chester, it fills me with marvellous melancholy, heavy happiness. It’s more temporary than any of these experiences, it stopped being home when we left and I can accept that now. Home is where you make it. Home is a feeling, not just a self-conceived concept. My childhood home, a home I’ve lived in for 18 years, sits in the countryside and I owe everything to that place and those people who created me over a score of years. Now I feel a bit of home in Southampton, a reason why I have sometimes chosen to go there over Chester. And Paris has become a home in ways also. If home is where you feel comfortable, safe, an affinity, then Paris has brought these things to me. It’s had its wildcards, but everyplace has some unpleasant people, maybe a horrific and harrowing event. Every place has annexes and crannies and nooks and ‘n’ amount of opportunities – go find them, go look. Every minute is an occasion to learn. My fifty minute morning commute, I dilute it with reading, some sleeping too, whatever you need whispers morale. I’m most thankful for this year in Paris because I’ve learnt what it is to be alone with all its greatness and grievances. We’re learning everyday – isn’t that great?