Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Final Instalment

Paris, like anywhere else I have lived for an extended period of time, is filled with memories. Having now made the decision to leave the city these memories are more profound than ever. Walking to work the other day from Gare de l’Est I passed the Numericable shop at Republique where Soraya and I went to set up our shared internet connection in July 2009. This was only a couple of weeks after having arrived - I could hardly speak a work of French and was engaged in a constant battle against the cockroaches in my tiny studio apartment on Passage des Recollets.

Continuing along Rue du Turenne I looked up at the ivy covered walls of Katy and Emily’s old apartment where we spent many a summer’s evening drinking cocktails, listening to music and playing with their cat Mr Obama. To avoid the crowds on Rivoli I veered off on to a side street and found myself next to the restaurant where I first met Charles, with John, having a pizza and where Kaye and I had had a beer one evening after work and discussed our trip to Amsterdam with great excitement. Eventually, as I approached the restaurant, my thoughts wandered back to the days when I was teaching English and working only part time as a serveur. Josy, Ellie, Ian and I would work a variety of half shifts throughout the week with Bobby in the kitchen, my latest playlist on the stereo and a restaurant full of seemingly polite, courteous French customers. At that point everything was still rather novel and it wasn’t until a few months later that I began to develop a more realistic understanding of the average Parisian inhabitant.

Upon Darrin’s return I went to stay with my Aunt in her spacious, bright and modern apartment in Sarcelles, a suburb of Paris, perhaps 20 minutes from Chatelet by RER. Here I was to stay for my last month before moving to Cyprus to spend the summer working for a tour operator. This decision was not made lightly however, and before I accepted the position I spent many an afternoon apartment hunting in the spring sunshine. To give you an example of just how sought after property is in Paris and how important location is, I viewed a studio, very centrally located on Rue Rambuteau in the fourth arrondissement, priced at €750 per month. Our entrance into the apartment was a little strange to say the least. The owner knocked on the door and entered whilst asking me to wait outside. A few moments later the current occupant exited doing up his shirt and dripping water all over the landing. As I entered the apartment I was engulfed by a cloud of steam and as it cleared I realised I was, in fact, in the shower cubicle. I tip-toed carefully over the slippery tiles and walked down a narrow passage with a couple of cabinets and an electric hot plate against one side – the kitchen. This led to the living area which comprised a dark, cluttered room with a sofa bed in one corner, a desk and a table with a microwave and a kettle on it. That was the apartment in its entirety.

By contrast, for just an extra €100 a month, I viewed a beautifully light, modern apartment in the 20th. This apartment really was something special with soft luxurious carpet throughout, a balcony dappled with shade from the surrounding trees and a modern, well fitted kitchen and bathroom. The owner of the apartment showed me round with his wife and both were very amiable. Unfortunately they required a dossier which is something all house-hunters in Paris need if they intend to take out a lease on a property. This includes wage slips, references, details of a guarantor should you default on the rent and bank details. This is a tedious collection of documents to put together and, considering the apartment was right at the top end of my budget, I let it go. And so, with multiple unsuccessful viewings under my belt, the decision to leave Paris came about.

Sarcelles is rather a poor area but the apartment itself is bright, cheerful and homely. I slept very well during my time there. It is serviced by the infamous RER D which always has a strong police presence at night. The last two trains are at 12:15 and 12:45. Breakfast in America closes around midnight so there was always a mad rush to get from St Paul to Chatelet in an attempt to catch the 12:15. Line one, of course, closed at 10pm for the month of April so invariably I would miss it. As a result of these time restrictions my social life took somewhat of a nose-dive during my last month.

Nevertheless, Darrin kindly volunteered his apartment once again for a joint birthday party for Lucy and me at the end of March and, to mark my leaving, we all made a trip to a wonderful Ethiopian restaurant where Mike, a guy from Ethiopia who used to work at Breakfast in America, worked. Sam, Alex and Bamlak, all from Ethiopia and who worked in the kitchen, joined us and we enjoyed a lovely meal of injera with various accompaniments finished off with tea flavoured with cinnamon.

My last month in Paris passed extremely quickly and, astonishingly, the weather was beautiful. I remember walking to the RER each morning in the sunlight and feeling ecstatic at the thought of spending a summer filled with endless days spent in the Mediterranean heat. My last shift came and went (Lucy brought in a bottle of Bailey’s and we toasted with Bailey’s milkshakes after all the customers had left). I shipped my belongings back to England and spent my final night at Rose’s in her quiet, peaceful apartment in Juivisy. The following morning we made our way to Gare du Nord and the Eurostar terminal. As I made my way through to check in I turned to wave to Rose who was standing faithfully, in her red coat, waiting for me to go through. She waved back and I scanned the rather impressive interior of Gare du Nord one last time before I turned my back on Paris and passed through the security barrier for the final time.

I spent almost seven months in Cyprus. It was a stressful summer and at some of the lowest moments I would have given a lot to have been in Paris sitting in Rose’s apartment eating a delicious Ghanaian meal, or even working a brunch shift at BIA. I returned to Paris for a few days in November and stayed with Katy and Emily. It was bitterly cold and, once again, I found myself walking the Parisian streets in the drizzle. However, I went back to BIA and saw many old friends, indeed, we had an excellent night out at Jenny Jones’ new bar next to Bastille. It felt comfortable and easy and I know Paris will always feel like a second home, despite the flaws!