My world has become a little surreal of late. A lot has happened since I first landed in Paris those four weeks ago.
The next few days was spent learning about the French culture and getting to know Edouard’s parents, Christine and Pascal better.
It was difficult communicating with anyone at first because even though I had studied French for a few weeks on Delos, learning on an app on my phone and speaking with the people was completely different.
It had been a long time since I had met anyone’s parents before as well. What would they think of me? Would Edouard regret having me here? Would I take up too much space?
Living on Delos, I had learned pretty quickly how to share my living area with a lot of people. It came with its challenges and for the most part I enjoyed having everyone constantly there. But how would Edouard cope?
It became pretty evident that I had no need to worry. Edouard shared pretty much everything with me, his space, his food and spent all day every day with me, disappearing for an hour or so to play basketball with his friends.
His parents were incredibly welcoming, hugging me every morning and kissing both of my cheeks whenever I said hello to them. I was so eager to try and speak with them, that we started an exercise book where Edouard would teach me key words to use in sentences. His mother enjoyed joining in, and I would sometimes be able to teach her English words like, “hedgehog!”
It was a wonderful first week.
On my first day, he took me to a farm where they had vending machines for cheese.
“You are joking, right?” I said, staring at him as we got out of the car. We were still in the green countryside of his village, within the stone walls of a very old but beautiful farm and out buildings. I wondered what it would have been like in this place a hundred years ago, seeing people buy their bread fresh from the bakery, going about their days and walking exactly where I was walking now.
“No, I told you Elizabeth, this is how we do things here,” he laughed at me as he excitedly walked to the machine.
It seemed ingenious to me. You bought directly from the farmer fresh cheese whenever you wanted, at any time of any hour without needing to disturb anyone.
I watched excitedly as he bought two packs of goat’s cheese to go with our bottle of red wine and fresh bread bought from the bakery.
“I want to take you somewhere special,” Edouard said as we got back into the car.
And by God he did. We spent the rest of the late afternoon and night sat outside a castle, surrounded by woodland in front of a lake. I stared at our surroundings with an open mouth, disbelieving this was how my time here was going. How could it get any better?
Edouard popped the cork of the wine with a grin.
We ate our feast of bread and cheese on a blanket, exchanging our adventures and how we felt with “du vin” in our hands.
It seems pointless sometimes to explain how happy I am right now. I feel absolutely complete and happy in the direction of my life. I could never have thought a year ago this would happen. It makes me want to go back in time and say to the Elizabeth then, “keep going! It’s going to be all right!”
I had missed the European countryside. This was the land I knew. The land I had been brought up with. I recognised the plants, the animals and the scents around me.
I felt utterly and completely relaxed.
The next few days were bliss, spent exploring the countryside and meeting the rest of his family. After taking me to the viewpoint on top of a hill, we stood to take in the view of Paris, the Eiffel Tower twinkling in the distance.
“Oh my God!” I exclaimed, leaning over the fence as if by that way I would be able to see it better.
“You’ve never seen it?” Edouard asked me, bewildered.
“But you told me you’ve been to Paris before?”
“I said I went to Disneyland Paris in the 90’s-”
Edouard immediately got onto his phone with a sound of disgust. “That’s it,” he said. “I’m taking you to Paris tomorrow.”
A flash of delight ran through me. Edouard is not built for the city. He isn’t made for it, avoiding the place whenever possible. He’s created for the hills, the ocean and the woodlands. He can build a house, start a fire and find food, but to cope with the cosmopolitan lifestyle and hustle bustle of a large city like Paris? And here he was, insisting that he was going to take me.
“You cannot say you have been to Paris before if you’ve been to Disneyland. That doesn’t count.”
I shrugged, unable to disagree with him.
After messaging his friends for a meet up in the city to meet his, “petite anglais” we sat on the bench and ate bread, saucisson and more cheese.
I had been away from cities for so long I didn’t know how I would be in a place like Paris. But I was excited after hoping for so long. I would actually walk through the city herself- with Edouard. So the next day, I pulled out of my newly arrived baggage (it turned up eventually and was delivered) the best thing I had. A black dress with purple flowers adorning it, by my England standards it was a pretty boring dress. But I had nothing else and wanted to wear something other than gym shorts and baggy t shirts around Edouard for once.
Showering, doing my hair and wearing makeup, I stepped out of the bathroom with a, “voila!”
Edouard blinked in surprise. “Wow!” he laughed. “You are a lady today!”
I felt strange wearing a dress- unprepared almost. When I was a little girl, I always liked to wear shorts under the dresses my mother made me wear in case a wizard would ask me to go on an adventure. Even now I still feel like I’m waiting for Gandalf to tell me they destroyed the wrong ring and they need my help.
So we went to the train station and skipped the barrier to avoid paying for a ticket. On the way into Paris, we used one ticket to squeeze us both out of the check out barrier, my heart pumping as though I had never done something, “naughty” before.
We stepped out of the train station, hand in hand as I gazed at the stone jungle around me.
“Whoa…” I breathed.
It was everything I could have ever hoped it would be. Buses and people went past, the noises drumming in and out of my ears as people talked loudly to one another in French.
The buildings that surrounded us were the typical French styled buildings, pale stone with dark blue slate roofs. The statues were carved with love, staring down at us between their protection of pillars and temple style forefronts of buildings.
I held onto Edouard’s hand tighter as the city passed us by and we stepped into the heart itself. Taking me to the cathedral, we looked down over the city where I could see the Eiffel tower and Notre Dame, waiting for me to explore.
But the tourists were buzzing around us in a thick swarm, their camera phones constantly in their hands as they took pictures of this and that, themselves with this, themselves with that, their backs to the beautiful architecture as they uploaded everything onto Instagram.
I wanted them to put down their phones and truly take in this moment, right here right now.
Don’t you realise you’re here? I wanted to say to them. Don’t you realise you are in the very capital of everything that represents love and romance right now?
Edouard and I sat on a bench and shared a pastry as we watched the world go by. Later on, we walked through the square of Montmartre, a historical place for art where the artists would go and paint such as Van Gogh and Picasso.
A small square surrounded by restaurants, artists paint around the centre of the square which is now filled by temporary bistros, standing in the very place that is meant for the artists.
But that’s the thing. The artists can’t afford to rent that space anymore, and tourists bring in the big money to the food business.
We walk around and I feel incredibly sad seeing the amount of portraits the artists are doing. I know they don’t want to paint strangers’ faces. They want to paint what they want to paint, landscapes, buildings, sunsets, darkness, light, abstract- anything but this.
Maybe I’m wrong, but passing their stalls and seeing their expressions, I didn’t think I was.
But all artists know that sometimes we have to sell our souls to survive to carry on with our true craft. And if it pays the bills so you can wake up the next day and do what you love? Why not.
I see the examples of celebrities’ portraits they use to try and entice the tourists in- the celebrities the tourists will know like Taylor Swift, Twilight actors and Brad Pitt.
I can tell that the sixty year old man wearing the tweed cap and the round spectacles doesn’t give a crap about the celebrities of today. I look at his example of paintings and see a self portrait of himself, rich with colour and the old tweed cap still in place.
It makes me smile. I want to tell him, “I know! I know how you must feel! Please know I’m not like the others- I’m not like the others!”
But of course I don’t speak French and wearing a floral dress and cardigan, I am unmistakably English for everyone to see.
“It’s not like it once was,” Edouard says, pulling me away. “Years ago, this place was purely for the artists. Now? The restaurants take up the space for the tourists to eat and have their portraits done.”
I wonder what the artists of old would think about this set up right now as we walk down the steps back into the heart of the city. We walk through a small market selling fruit fruit, fish and vegetables, an older woman at the centre singing a French love song with all of her heart.
My head is spinning, needing to look at everything all at once. The buildings tower over me, the scents overwhelm me and the noises have invaded my brain.
Paris is a living breathing entity of stone, root, flesh and history.
Escaping the concrete for a while, we take a shortcut through a park. My ears prick at the sound of familiar music and we follow its direction.
“It’s a Brazilian dance,” Edouard explains. We come closer to see people dancing the traditional Brazilian samba dance. Drums are beating, people are twisting, turning and jumping over one another. I’m instantly reminded of my Delos Crew whilst they continue on in Brazil.
I move to the music holding Edouard’s hand, a huge smile on my face.
“Now this,” Edouard says, “this is Paris for me.”
I nod, feeling an overwhelming sense of energy rish through me.
I’m here. I’m actually here! And I can’t stop thinking that. I feel like someone is going to wake me up any second. I look at Edouard and realise the magnitude of what we have achieved. We met on a random island in the middle of the ocean and here we are now. In Paris, holding hands listening to Brazilian music, surrounded by fellow travellers as they sing and make music.
We spent the rest of the night with Edouard’s pals Felix and Anne-Charlotte, the girl-with-the-blue-hair. Kindly donating me some clothes once we are in her apartment, I pull off the ridiculous English dress I am wearing, put on a plain blue one of hers and shrug on a black hoody.
I feel more like myself immediately.
“Now you look like you are from Paris,” Edouard says with a smile.
The skies darken, drinks are poured, and we spend the duration of the evening going to a few bars, making friends and ending up at one of Anne-Charlotte’s friend’s house for a house party.
It’s been nice getting to know her more, hearing her own love story with Edouard’s best friend Bruno. It’s strange to think just a couple of months ago, Edouard was telling me about them both as we were sitting in the hot sun on Ascension Island, not knowing that we were about to save a bunch of baby turtles.
The house party continues and hours pass. Everyone is talking to someone and suddenly my two English translators, Edouard and Anne-Charlotte are deep in conversation with fellow French. There’s a distinct moment where I am sitting there not understanding a word.
It’s strange living in a country where you can’t understand the language. It’s like being in a world of silence. I know how I’m starting to feel. I know that there’s two ways how this can go. I can either sit here and wait for Edouard to save me or I can stand up and do my best to communicate.
I take the second choice, walking up to people and using the very little French I know.
I want to be independent, not relying on Edouard each time I want to say something. I want to show him that I am willing to learn and that I can look after myself.
The people at the house party are incredibly friendly, helping me with my sentences and bridging the gap of our mutual misunderstandings. We use our hands to illustrate what we mean, looking like a weird game of charades.
But it worked.
The music is playing loudly in the beautiful Parisian apartment and soon it’s my turn to put on a song. I put on Onetox, the intro tune of SV Delos and jump up and down until my feet are sore as I dance along to the music.
And for a moment, I feel like my crew are with me.
More time passes until it’s 5:30am. After walking back Anne-Charlotte back to her apartment and pouring her a glass of water, we walk to the train station and start the journey back to Edouard’s village.
I rest my head against his shoulder as dawn starts to slowly break against the clouds. I am exhausted but happy as I stare out of the window.
Edouard is talking about a new adventure of his and wants me to join.
I smile, excited for the new start I’ve been given and close my eyes as I listen to his accent lilting up and down. As his plans unfold, I realise I’m going to have to learn a lot more French.
What a wonderful beginning.
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