MIDDAY IN PARIS
By Camille Marcolini
“It is 1:32 AM here in Seattle, it’s dark, it’s still raining and is expected not to clear for the next two weeks. Most of you are sleeping but for those who aren’t here’s a classic Seattle sound for you… Nirvana – All Apologies.”
Jane rolled over and stuffed her face into her pillow, trying to drown out the sounds of the radio. She stayed in that position for what didn’t seem long enough, until she finally managed to pull herself out of bed. Jane liked waking up to Seattle radio because it reminded her of home. She had just graduated and had been living in Paris for the past two weeks working as an au pair for the Leblancs.
Jane’s bedroom was the smallest, however didn’t actually seem that small because the apartment itself was big and there wasn’t very much in it. It was one of those modern apartments with white walls, big windows and cold looking furniture, the kind of furniture you never dared sit or rest things on. The Leblancs were a lot like their home, every time they were around you were inclined to sit on the edge of your seat. They weren’t the type of people you could joke around with either.
The Leblancs had a little girl named Clemantine, who was six years old. Jane had initially been worried that she might not be cut out to be an au pair but Clemantine was a dream to take care of. Jane knew that she was probably already up and getting herself ready. She left her room and walked down the hall towards Clemantine’s room. The morning light bounced off the white walls and into her eyes, waking her completely. She opened the door and found her already packing her schoolbag. Jane told her to join her in the kitchen for breakfast when she was ready. Once they were done, they grabbed their bags, walked out the door and down the six flights of stairs between the apartments and the city below.
The Leblancs’ apartment was located on Ile Saint-Louis, one of the two islands in the Seine River. It’s mostly residential and entirely luxurious. They turned onto a winding street free of cars. The girls saw an old man call for his dog. Clemantine instantly looked around for the dog. She loved dogs and had always dreamed of having one, but the idea od added dirt and dust was enough for the Leblancs to say no. The dog was nowhere to be seen, but the girls could hear the sound of digging coming from a nearby bush. Clemantine waved at the old man and pointed at the bush. They kept walking towards the Marais where Clemantine’s school was. The Marais was home of fashion houses, galleries and trendy restaurants. Every day, when Jane would either bring or pick up Clemantine from school, she would look through the little boutique windows and would lust over the clothes, but she never dared to walk in. It was one of the most bourgeois neighborhoods of Paris, and she knew each item would cost more than a pay cheque. Besides, Jane had gone over the scenario again and again in her head. If she were to walk in, the shop owner would take one look at her and know she didn’t belong. Jane felt anxiety wash over her just thinking about it.
The two of them had what would normally be a fifteen minute walk ahead of them, but with Clemantine’s little legs it usually took them about twenty minutes. They were enjoyably blinded by the morning sun, and felt the warm air against their skin, as they walked through the little streets of Paris.
Ahead of them, Jane noticed a couple pushing two kids in a double stroller and clumsily dragging a bistro bench. The man didn’t seem pleased. With one hand he was pushing the stroller, with the other he was gripping the bench. The woman held the weight on the other side. She, on the other hand, seemed very pleased, which led Jane to believe it was most probably her idea. Jane observed the situation: The man was visibly aggravated and they were too far for her to offer them her help. The girls didn’t expect to catch up to the couple but they had momentarily stopped for a breath. Not expecting a very pleasant response Jane asked, “Excusez-moi,” trying out her high school French immediately faltered and reverted to English. “You guys going far like this? Need some help? I could push the stroller if you’d like.” They accepted her offer with a mixture of restraint and surprise. The kids babbled away in French while the couple told the story about how exactly the bistro bench came to join them that morning. Finally they arrived at the end of Rue de Sevigne. The man looked over at Jane, acknowledging her earlier discomfort and said in a thick accent, “Merci, you helped us avoid a marital conflict!” Jane laughed. Despite her good deed she felt nothing but embarrassment for trying to speak French to someone other than her high school teacher.
Once she dropped Clemantine off at school, Jane had the rest of the school day to herself. She decided to continue on with her walk. She was still discovering Paris and wondered what she was going to do with her time. At this point and wasn’t really keeping track of the names of the streets she was on, or the number of turns she was making. Jane didn’t stop walking for what seemed like a very short time to her but was actually thirty-five minutes due west of the Marais, which in Paris is enough to get very lost.
There was such beauty in Paris. She was overwhelmed by the parade of impeccably dressed people. They all looked so beautiful, whether it was the woman sitting at the café, espresso in one hand, cigarette in the other with the morning sun illuminating her face or the man, sitting beside her, new paper blocking the sun rays, legs crossed, silk sock visible. It was like watching celebrities. They were so at ease in their nonchalant perfection, she felt guilty for thinking it but it really was just like in the movies. Jane could never sit alone at a café like the Parisians did, she was no movie star.
She made one last turn on a street named Rue du Temple where she found The Pompidou Centre, the largest museum for modern art in Europe. Stunned by the buildings unique architecture she decided to walk around and see all aspects of it. Behind the museum she found something even more fantastic. The stunning Stravinsky fountain, a fountain with a shallow basin and sixteen beautifully unique water spraying mechanical Sculptures. Jane looked at this fountain with sparkles in her eyes. She stood there looking at it, taking over her mind and body and it was as though Paris had shut down. There was nothing else… No one else, it was as if everything around her was slowly fading away, and all she could hear was her heartbeat. A couple of meters away was a typical Parisian woman who radiated class. Jane obviously didn’t notice this woman, being so taken by the fountain, but the woman watched Jane with a small amused smile on her face, she woman approached her and said, “A lot of parisiens don’t care for this fontaine… When I was younger I use to always come here because it felt right, because this fontaine is bizarre, comme moi…” The woman smiled and looked back at the fountain. She then turned and gracefully walked away. Jane watched her disappear into the crowd then turned her attention to look at it once more.
“It’s bizarre,” thought Jane. “it doesn’t really belong, but that’s the best part – it’s its own thing. Bizarre isn’t necessarily bad.” She felt at peace and sat smiling to no one in particular, she felt she could smile for days, weeks on end. Jane was filled with this smile.
She then looked at her watch; it was now 2:45 PM, which meant she had forty-five minuets until Clemantine was out of school. Seeing as she didn’t really know where she was, she decided it was necessary to try and find her way back. She asked the waiter at the nearest bistro to point her in the right direction. She was nearly there when she remembered to stop at a bakery to grab a pain au chocolat for Clemantine’s afternoon snack. It had become a habit since the first day she picked Clemantine up. Jane waited outside the school with the other mothers and au pairs, the smell of chocolate and buttery pastry wafting in the afternoon air, until the kids came out. Clemantine ran towards her and gladly accepted the pastry; the two of them started their walk towards home… Clemantine recounted her day, informing Jane about the question the teacher had asked the students that day: What they wanted to be when they grew up. She said that all the other girls had answered with either ballerina or princess but that she really wanted to design dog leashes. Surprised by the ridiculously odd answer for a six year old girl, Jane smiled and asked if she had ever seen The Stravinsky fountain.