Morning came and the sound of the AC woke me up. It was 7 am. Perfect. I surprised myself by getting out of bed without regret and hesitation. I felt new. I was ready for another round of randomness, spontaneity and coincidence. The events of last night somehow encouraged me to set out for another walk after work even though my feet hurt like hell. I couldn’t resist because it was you, for crying out loud ! And I am crazy and stupid (no camera !) and stubborn enough to succumb to my conventional unconventionalism. My plan was quite simple: I wanted to learn as much as I possibly can by simply focusing on three activities.
None of these plans worked out. Let me explain to you why:
1. Getting invited to one of Mr. Heynes‘ famous dinners.
The fact that they take place on Sundays somehow slipped my mind. Silly me.
2. Finding the hotel where my family and I once stayed when we visited you.
Yes, you heard right. We did meet. Our first encounter was 18 years ago. I told myself to stay in the present and…here I am…digging up the past. Now please excuse me for my tendency to make references to films but it sounds like an encounter with a long-lost love, straight from the script of Before Sunset or even The Notebook.(Again with writers as protagonists! Why do these things always happen to writers??)
The biggest difference is that I was a kid when I met you and I don’t remember much of our first meeting, only fractions: Me eating my first baguette (it was delicious even for someone like me who doesn’t care much about food!). Us visiting the Eiffel Tower (very windy!). My sister and I jumping like crazy on the bed ( it was fun!) of that Vietnamese-run hotel somewhere in one of your Chinese neighborhoods.
We spent almost two weeks there before heading off to Germany to start a new life.
The strange thing about this is that everything seems to happen too fast and I somehow feel like it was only, well, not yesterday, but a few years ago. A few years became 18 years. 18 years became a new life. They are long enough to make it impossible for me to find the hotel. As I walked around the 13th arrondissement, admiring the convergence of modernity and tradition of the area, I couldn’t help but think about Manhattan’s Chinatown. I checked out every building, searching for familiarity among strangeness, hoping for a sudden clue but none of them appeared right in my eyes. I knew it was there but I couldn’t quite put a finger on it. My search ended when the sun disappeared from the horizon. I left the neighborhood with a lingering feeling.
3. Visiting the graves of Édith Piaf, Gertrude Stein, Molière and Oscar Wilde (don’t worry, I won’t kiss his tomb) at your famed Père Lachaise Cemetery.
The path to your largest cemetery was a quiet and relaxing one in contrast to the busy roads of the 13th arrondissement. As I walked your cobblestone streets and stood in front of the entrance I finally realized that luck was definitely not on my side this time.
Oh forgetfulness, how you ruined me.
It was a comical moment to stand there realizing I had no one to blame but myself for not looking up the opening hours. Even the dead need a break. Randomness showed its ugly side. I took the train home, disappointment and sullenness following me. Bravado left me all of a sudden. But as with many things in life, you can’t always have a happy ending.
The next morning came to soon. As I took the train from Champs-Élysées to Charles de Gaulle airport you decided to show me another side of yours. It was a short tour but I saw the contrasts nonetheless. As I sat by the window, I noticed the colorless housing blocks standing next to each other. Only five stops (ca. 20 minutes) away from all the luxury and wealth, from the majestic buildings that have made you you. A scene I used to know from Berlin’s districts Marzahn and Hohenschönhausen.
As the plane took me away from your very heart, I felt closer to you.
My friends would ask what I have seen and laugh at me for ignoring all the landmarks but I don’t mind because I saw the wonderful complexity that is you.
I will be missing you until then.
Ps. Tell Celine I almost missed that plane!