Le 28 décembre
A dispute in the night between the neighbours wakes me at 3:30am. Actually, it’s perfect, my normal rising time. But there is no need nor desire to rise this early here where the sun only rises at almost nine and I have no exercise clothes and the metro doesn’t open until half five. Finally there is a crash and I worry about the female neighbour. I open my door: “Tout va bien!?” She nods. “Je dors ici.” She is opening a different door down the hall. Another apartment? A separate room? “Moi, aussi, je veux dormir!” I say and close the door.
I go back to sleep, I wake again after ten. I eat the rest of my broccoli green vegetable soup concoction with emmenthal râpé. On my way out, I stop at the Monoprix for les petits mouchoirs. It is necessary. This cold is still here, it has weasled a free trip to Paris, it has, though it is finally on its way out, I think. I stop at Bar Croq Soleil and enjoy a noisette and the quiet of my little neighbourhood. This is the Paris that I love, the little cafés, the overheard conversations of locals, la vie normale. It has taken me three days to adjust to being here, to reconcile my presence here with my headspace of home and new truths. But alas, I feel joy, the joy that whispered to me at the airport when I arrived then got lost in the shuffle of realities. Oh, I could dance, I feel so happy. Negativity and unhappiness are so heavy, my goodness!
I take the metro to Châtelet. There are over 16 different exits here, none mentioning the Centre Pompidou where I am going to see the Magritte exhibit. I choose an exit randomly and surface to street level, finding myself standing in front of none other than the impressive front window of the Sarah Bernhardt. Ha. I assume the waiter from the other evening won’t be there since it is daytime. I go in, in need of wifi. He is there, immediately. Alas, he can interpret my presence here again however he wishes. Je m’en fous. Anyway, he is sweet and smiley and has given me five Cafés Richard Speculoos cookies. I dip them in my noisette, and my second noisette, as I write. He hands me a card as I am leaving, the business card for the Sarah Bernhardt. On the back, he has written: “J’aimerais bien vous revoir, G——.” Now it is certain, I won’t come back.
I timed it. I knew the line-up would take forever and a bit, I remember from last time. It was winter of 2012. I was here to see the Salvador Dalì exhibit. Knowing from that experience that the wait would be long, I stopped at Le Cirque and had a glass of wine and the vegetarian lasagna. Well fed and sufficiently calmed, I was ready for the lengthy queue. The sun shone brightly. I was quite warm until I wasn’t. It took an hour and twenty minutes to get into the Centre Pompidou.
Once inside, an announcement is made: There will be a ninety minute wait to see the Magritte exhibit. Yes, there is a second queue inside. Again, I knew this would be the case, I remember. I visit galleries three and four, then seat myself at the café and replenish my patience quota with a salmon and quinoa salad and a glass of red.
Today I received the most wonderful text from M—–, a simple one, a friendly and casual update, small talk, but that ended with “I miss you, C——–.” How happy these four words made me. How nice it is that he included my name. I am floating. I miss him, too, and missing him feels nice.
Suddenly I saw the line was much shorter than it had been. I capped the, miraculously, still half full single-serve bottle of wine, threw it in my knapsack, and dashed to join the queue. Only a half hour wait, sweet victory! Now here’s the thing. You wait eighty minutes in a line outside, you wait another thirty inside, plus the exhibits in between, after that you really want to maximize the visit, take your time. Nope. Just no. I wanted to get the hell out of there. I spent a slim hour.
But in said hour, I saw every painting. I learned how philosophical he was. I knew nothing about him before, just a few of his iconic paintings. I love how deep his messages are, I love the paintings’ cryptic and provocative names: The Empty Mask, The Art of Conversation, The Blank Signature, so many more. My goodness, in that fast hour I fell in love with this man and his work! So very much worth the waiting and waiting.
And when you are in love, your love is everywhere. One painting screamed of M—–, called “La Clef des Songes.” He is always telling me about his dreams, how dreams are so meaningful. I argued that some aren’t, that some are just a mishmash of leftover thoughts from the day’s events. He said maybe. The thing is that I listen to everything he says, I hear every word. Sometimes I say nothing, and worry that I bore him. But still I am interested, I am really paying attention to this man, and that is something. He is brilliant. I am a sponge.
And then I went to Bistrot du Coin where J—– works, is the manager, in the twelfth, not so far from my rented flat here. My friend, my prof. He scooped me up, lifted me off the ground, hugged me like home. This is how it should be between friends. Time has not stolen him from me, I am grateful. How nice it is to see him. I ate the caviar d’aubergines and had a healthy glass of the “wine of the moment.” Another great thing about J—– is he corrects me when I make a mistake, then I correct myself and thank him and we share genuine smiles and it always makes for a nice moment. I really appreciate it. And tonight he said something wonderful. I told him how I have rented my own apartment, only 13m2, that in the past I have always chosen to stay with friends or even rent a shared space so that I can speak as much French as possible. Now, I told him, I don’t care about the extra practice at the cost of sharing a home, I accept that I will always have imperfect French and I don’t care, it’s fine. He told me no, I am bilingual, that no matter what subject, politics, feelings, anything abstract or complicated, I can always find a way to express myself. He told me that my little mistakes are part of my charm. I laughed and told him I am counting on it.