Paris, Seen Sleepless On a Winter Morning

Monument au Général Koenig

Paris is an impatient city, full of cars that seem to know exactly how to drive, where and when, in the confusing maze of lights and turns and strange bus lanes. There is no space for learners, no space for the tourist or the novice. A moment's hesitation at a turn, at a light, at a stop, and the line of cars formed in a half second behind you will loudly make their frustration known. A cacophony of klaxons.

I saw Paris, briefly, on a cold December morning. I'd boarded a coach at Victoria station in London at 21h, which, after certain unexplained issues, left over an hour late, snaking its way through congested London streets under the English drizzle. I fell into a light-ish sleep, the state in between being awake and asleep - not quite aware, but still alert. Dover. We inched our way through the port for close to an hour. I was overcome by waves of nausea. The ferry was late due to bad weather.

I got out of the coach. The wind was harsh, bitterly cold, whipping my face, tasting of salt. I left my jacket at my seat. The cold was like medicine, pushing away the nausea and waking me up. I breathed in the sea air and felt alive.

In the ferry, all the good seats were taken. I curled up in an armchair, using my backpack as a pillow. I fell into a confused sleep. Every now and then, someone would open the door to the deck, and a blast of cold air swirled around my neck.

7h. We were in France. The coach was terribly cold. The ferry yawned open. I watched the sea lapping close, as we drove onto firm land. Sick again, I slept on and off the rest of the way.

Paris was a fleeting experience. Our coach was three hours late. The driver could not get into the parking, Parisians honked incessantly, and we were disembarked on a roundabout. I had shared over nine hours of my life in close quarters with a group of people I'd never met, and now, we were once again strangers. I wore my backpack on my chest, grabbed my suitcase, and walked away, feeling small and weary. At the metro, a girl asked me for directions, and we sat together. It felt like another world. She got off one stop before me, the friendly French girl visiting Paris. Another stranger known, another stranger unknown..

I saw the Eiffel Tower, after eight years of absence, through a scratched train window, the white, winter midday sun shining over the city and the Seine.


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