We leave Paris on Friday, and we gave everything away.
Via the online marketplace, our apartment became a magnet for bargain hunters, students, Parisians searching for that one elusive thing they needed to complete their homes, their lives.
One woman bought a bike lock. I upsold her a pump, a 15mm wrench, reflector strips, a multi tool, batteries, tyre irons and a bell. She walked away happy, with a heavy bag of stuff, gear she can use in her brand new cycling life. I was glad to have found a real home for a few of the millions of tiny objects that furnish our lives. Objects with no monetary value, but worthy, essential parts of a functioning home. Objects that carry energy.
Ball point pens. Rubber bands. Allen keys. Slightly chipped mugs. Ikea spatulas. Plastic clothing pegs. A glass wine bottle stopper.
A few days before that, I gave away even more: my entire roller derby kit. My scarred and worn skates. Three different sets of wheels, two sets of nuts, two and a half sets of bearings (half rusted), elbow padding, knee padding, wrist padding, knee gaskets, extra long skater shoelaces, a tiny bottle of oil. She was “fresh meat”, and recently signed up for her first ever boot camp, with my old league. Her eyes were shiny with excitement and the thrill of wearing gear that had seen competitions in Australia, France, and around Europe. When the question of money came up, I hesitated- it hadn’t occurred to me that I could be paid for my used, nine-year-old kit. She was a student, just about to start university. No sum could have touched the true value of those objects: the years on the track, the sweat and laughter, the camaraderie, the glory, the memories. The token amount she could afford would have felt cheap, nasty. She got it all for free, and asked timidly if she could wear my numbers too: 247. I threw in the old elastic arm-bands gladly. It’s all gone.
I’m finally free of Cat Cholera, and her legacy. An 18 year old from the banlieu, who stands coltish and wobbly on her new-old skates is carrying all that history now.
We’re free of the child-sized leather armchair that Charles spotted on the street one day after a run and carried home. Grand and tiny at the same time, it suited our apartment perfectly. In company, usually the tallest man among us would take it, and rest his drink on the low coffee table which was suddenly exactly the right height.
It was gone within half a minute, a neatly folded 10€ bill marking its passage.
The Parisian bistro table in the kitchen is gone. Small and round and with a marble-look concrete top and one heavy, ornate wrought iron leg with three clawed toes, it was tucked between the sink and the fridge, looking over one of our many tall windows to the gigantic apartment over the road. The perfect size for chopping vegetables, or a quiet weekend breakfast for two.
Our folding wooden table is gone too. It’s legs were badly positioned and made it slightly difficult to sit around, but we managed to get six, eight, ten, friends around it for long boozy dinners full of laughter and great wine. Curries, bolognese, tacos. A huge cheese plate which everybody served themselves from multiple times , slicing off thick and generous portions. More baguettes would be sawn up, more wine bottles opened, the old ones forming a mini glass cityscape on the desk behind us as the night grew long.
At one such party, gazing at the pretty orange glow coming from the bathroom at the end of the corridor, it took Charles a moment to understand that an elegant candle left unattended had burnt down, melting a gaping hole in the water tank, filling the apartment with acrid smoke and fumes. We leaped into action, throwing cups of water, shrieking, blowing at the flames. After two entire years of looking at the burnt hole in the plastic, and the water gurgling away below it, I ordered a new lid online. It came promptly, an exact match, clicking perfectly into place and restoring both the form of the toilet and the possibility of getting our rental deposit back.
The desk, where I wrote most of these words, is gone. Huge and solid, it was one of the few items of furniture we brought over from our previous apartment. Here, with the help of a couple of planks of wood it transformed into an office and library, with all of our books stacked high up above, a lovely jumble of titles in French and English. The nook beneath the shelf is where I wrote and edited much of my memoir, which you still haven’t seen yet but which I assure you is done. The piles of authors, living and dead, above me seemed to give encouragement. Look how bright and neatly bound we are! Books get published all the time! Just keep writing, go on! From the wide spine of Antonia Fraser's ‘Marie Antoinette’, the doomed Austrian expat gazed at me with a tiny smile colouring her lips. You got this girl.
The rugs where we spilled drinks, and almost every morning, coffee.
The Ikea shelf that fitted perfectly under one of our large salon windows, forming a comfortable bench from which you could spend hours watching the street below, and once, a drunk homeless man trying to break a very solid bike lock with a crumbling brick.
The stereo, tuned to TSF JAZZ. The vintage bedside table lamps. The printer that was second hand, vomited half a page of gibberish two years ago and never worked again.
It’s all gone. Some to friends, much to strangers. Piece by piece those historical objects have melted back into the world outside. With every piece carried away, the material ties that bound us to this city, this quartier, were loosened. We’re casting off, digging our heels into the gravelly sand and pushing our boat off into the water. Small waves slap the prow, slowing us down. Stay. We miss you. We’ll need six different pieces of identification to cancel your phone contract.
Yet we kept going, dismantling our apartment, itself a small universe. Our first true home together, neither shared with housemates, or owned by relatives. Ours and built in our image. Filled with love and joy. In the space of time we lived there, we got engaged, planned our wedding, and got married. It will always be special to us, even if all of the furnishings that made it home end up in different corners of the world.
We’ll be free of it all. We’re moving to Beijing, and taking only suitcases. Our move together echoes my arrival here in Paris, seven years ago. Like past me, we don’t speak the language, we don’t have a network, we don’t know how long we’ll stay. But it’s a weak echo because this time the most important piece of luggage we have is each other and everything else that matters we carry in our hearts already.
We’ll hold each other tight.