It's Christmas time.
In a few days I'll be whizzing towards Brussels, an foreign orphan adopted into my dear friends' family celebrations, but for now I'm on holidays, with nothing to do but savour the achingly beautiful city I now call home.
Within minutes of leaving my building yesterday, I was strolling through the Jardin du Luxembourg. Although it's practically on my doorstep, life and other factors had conspired to keep me out of it for weeks, and I was struck immediately by how much the seasons have changed it. The flowers, usually exploding in a riot of colour from every possible flowerable surface, were gone. And, as put my gloved hands on the brim of a large pot and peered inside, I discovered that they had not simply retreated into their buds for the winter, but had actually been scooped out, soil and all by some unseen hand. Unnaturally geometric patches of lawn remained here and there, evidence of more man-made packing up for winter, and even the ducks who pottered around between the old-fashioned sailboats on the surface of the pond, were gone, replaced by seagulls who circled and cried and made the park feel weirdly coastal. I watched the tourists gamely taking photos of the senat and the pond and felt sorry for them- if only they knew how much they were missing out on! The snow-scenes the tourists and I both crave are yet to come, but at least I will be here long enough to see them out.
I suddenly remembered August, when it was still warm and colourful, hurrying through the tree-lined terraces to meet someone with eyes like molasses who I thought was going to be mine. Meet me at the ducks. Like molasses, I quickly sank in him, and by the time I found out I was his other, not his only, a clean break was impossible. We had sat by the pond for what seemed to be hours, while old men and small children sailed boats behind us, and the sun lit a scene that was more beautiful than words.
I realised with surprise that I was mulling over a memory of a me, and a Paris, of the past. I've been here long enough to feel nostalgia. When did that happen?
And when did it get cold enough for the gloves, coat and beret I was wearing? You never really notice the seasons change until they have, and now wrapping a scarf once, twice, thrice around my neck and putting a spare pair of gloves in my bag is now as automatic as swiping my Navigo to get onto the metro.
Later, I walked down rue Daguerre to do my Noël shopping, greedily sniffing the air and lingering in shops. This street is the Paris that everyone dreams about. It goes: cafe, fromagerie, chocolatier, cafe, bucherie, fruits et legumes, boulangerie, pattiserie, cafe, fruits de la mer, wine merchant, florist, boutique, and vendor of that quintessentially, controversially French delicacy, foie gras. Musicians busk, and the man who sells spiced bread invites me to take command of the white army in his never-ending chess game. Little old ladies, who barely reach up to my shoulders, sniff, prod and taste everything on offer, and the vendors holler their prices, their voices mingling together in cacophony of weights and measures. I'm a regular on this street, and have been plotting my Noël gifts for weeks, so today, I splurge. I'll be giving gifts, but also a little slice of my Paris.
Sated, I pause in a cafe that hugs the corner of rue Daguerre and Boulevard Saint Michel and enjoy a quiet moment by the window. The cold keeps most people inside at this time of year, but a few thoroughly rugged-up souls keep the street-watching vigil. The way Parisian cafes position their chairs in rows, facing the passer-by's possibly sums up more about French culture than anything else. Life is a performance. As I watch the watchers, their hands drawing the shape of their conversation in the air with plumes of smoke from their ineviatable cigarettes, I wonder who is watching me.
Last night, laden with early Christmas gifts, I hurried from the Metro through drizzling rain to the promise of warm dinner and red wine, with the lights of Place Jean Lorrain twinkling above me. Full of creamy pasta and bordeaux vin, I listened enthralled as Vampiro and Michael tried to describe what snow sounds like. It has been forecasted for a couple of days now, and I have been promised that if it continues to rain and stay below zero, it will come. This phenomenon is as natural to them as breathing, and watching as words failed both of them, I realised I would be equally stumped if someone who had never been to the beach asked me to describe the tug of the waves. Unable to report the sound, they describe emerging from a discotheque at 7am, to find the entire world still, silent and bright white. Making the first steps on a moon-like landscape. The crunch underfoot.
I relish these moments of utter foreign-ness, hoarding them close to me and later, privately, turning them over and over in my mind with delight.
This Christmas, I'm a long way from home. My entire family half the world away, in the glaring Australian December sun. But that doesn't matter because I'm in Paris, it will snow, and life is very, very good.