This is going to be a disjointed post; I thought about not publishing it at all, but I wrote the first half while I was in Paris and I like reading the immediacy of it. In fact, I loved writing that way while I was on the Camino: in the moment, from cafés and bars and sometimes the high perch of my bunk bed in a crowded albergue. But I’ve been home from Europe for over a week now- nearly two weeks- and the ‘real time’ of this post is no longer real. I’m not in Paris (however much I wish I were). I’m home and I’m writing about Paris and some of this I wrote while I was in Paris and some of it I’m writing from where I am at the moment… at a small round table in a Panera cafe, drinking an iced cafe mocha that was supposed to be a hot mocha despite this 93 degree heat, but I didn’t have the heart to tell the sweet and kind barista that she had made me the wrong drink. I don’t even really like chocolate coffee drinks, but this was something I used to order when I was 22, the year after I graduated college and wasn’t sure what to do and would spend time writing at a Panera in my hometown.
So I came here today, because I think I wanted to sort of recapture those feelings I had when I was 22, at least a little. I wrote a lot about France back then- my time abroad- and writing felt like this thing that was so full of possibilities, that had no limits. I didn’t think much about what I was writing and I didn’t share it with anyone and I only wrote for myself, and it was probably the easiest writing I’ve ever done. So I thought I would recreate the scene a bit and write about Paris and see if I can keep writing like I did when I was young(er), keep writing like I did on the Camino.
So here are some thoughts from Paris:
This could practically be called the 32nd day of my Camino even though my Camino ended. I’m counting it because I was following yellow arrows, in Paris, inadvertently, because I took the metro in the wrong direction. I shook my head at myself because I felt like I should have known better. When I realized my mistake I got off and switched platforms and tried to go in the right direction, but I wasn’t fast enough and almost got caught in the closing doors of the metro car. I should have known better about this, too. But I was flustered, maybe not used to traveling this way after walking for so long, maybe still half asleep, my body moving slowly. Whatever it was, I decided I needed to get out from under ground and find some fresh air, regardless of how far I was from my hostel. Far is sort of a relative term for me these days.
I started walking and soon came across yellow arrows. I think they could have been Camino arrows- maybe- and in any case they made me smile. I’m not sure how far I walked, but it didn’t feel too far (what is ‘far’, anyway, after having just walked across Spain?), but I was tired. I AM tired, I think I need to tuck myself away somewhere and spend all day in bed. But first I have this fast trip in Paris. It’s a little difficult to be in this city that I love so much and to feel so tired, but I’m trying to reframe the experience and just enjoy it how I can. If that means meandering around aimlessly, stopping a lot on park benches, finding a chair by the Seine and settling in for awhile, sitting in cafés and drinking coffee… I think that’s a fine way to spend time in Paris.
Leaving Santiago was easy and hard. In some ways I really felt like this Camino ended well and that I was ready for the end, but it’s always hard to leave something you love. And hard to leave people you’ve grown fond of. I have this scattered family all over Spain right now: they’re days before Santiago, in Santiago, on the way to Finisterre, on the way to Muxia, on their way home. I got to say goodbye to some but there are lots still out there, still walking their Camino. So in many ways, I wish I were still walking, too.
But leaving wasn’t as hard as it was last year. Maybe it’s because I was able to come back, and it showed me that if I really want it, I can always go back. Leaving Santiago doesn’t have to mean leaving forever, leaving the Camino doesn’t have to mean leaving forever. I don’t leave these people forever, either; the best parts of my day were the messages I received: one from Jill, wishing me a safe journey to Paris. One from Nicolas, telling me that he is 40 kilometers from Finisterre. And a comment on my blog from Krysti and John, two friends from last year’s Camino. We haven’t been in touch for a year, but they told me that they’d been following my journey this year since Day One. I was standing at the luggage carousel in the airport in Paris when I read that, and I had the biggest smile on my face.
It was right around this time when I looked up and noticed an older man and woman across the room, waving at me and pointing to the corner. That was when I saw what I was waiting for: my walking stick. How this couple knew that I was waiting to pick up my stick I have no idea, they must have seen me checking it in Santiago. There it was, in oversized baggage: my tall wooden stick, covered with a fluorescent green wrapping. Getting it to Paris wasn’t as much trouble as I feared; just 20 euros to check a “bag”, 7 euros to wrap the stick.
So maybe that’s another reason this feels like a Camino day- I walked through the streets of Paris with my pack on my back, the walking stick in my hand. I found my hostel- the MIJE, my home away from home- and put my stuff up in my room. I’m in a shared room, but right now there’s only one other person’s stuff next to a bed on the lower level. I’m on the second “floor” at the top of a narrow set of heavy wooden stairs. There are six beds up here but maybe I’ll luck out and have the space to myself.
It turns out I was the only one in my section of the room, and I was grateful for it. I had been wishing for this, wishing I could have a single room somewhere. That I could just have an early night and settle in, curled up on my bed with my phone and some wi-fi and a Twix bar. I got to do this, but that came a little later. First I had to spend a few hours in Paris.
I remained tired throughout the day. I thought that maybe I should have had a plan, that I should have picked one thing I wanted to do and forced myself to do it because I was in Paris and even though I think I’ll always end up coming back, I never know for sure how long it will be until I return to this city. But instead I walked for far too long down the Rue de Rivoli, stopping in one shop after another looking for a plain and cheap t-shirt. Shopping was the last thing I wanted to do but wearing a fresh t-shirt was the thing I wanted the most, so I forced myself to do a little shopping. (I came away with a 5 euro blue t-shirt from Forever 21, which might be considered a little sad considering I was in Paris, but I was satisfied. I just wanted something clean and new).
And then I did the only thing that I ever really HAVE to do when I’m in Paris, and that was to walk by Notre Dame. It’s one of my very favorite places in the world, and it’s one reason I like staying at the MIJE so much; Notre Dame is just a 5 minute walk away. I stayed in this general area the entire night: sitting on a bench behind the cathedral, occasionally admiring the architecture, watching kids play in the park. When I was hungry I walked a short distance to the Ile Saint-Louis and found a small crêperie. The restaurant was narrow, the kitchen off to one side with a man flipping the thin crêpes by the front window, three tables tucked against the wall in the front room, and a larger seating area in the back. An older couple were eating in the front of the restaurant when I entered and I was seated nearby- feeling a little self-conscious being alone, but also comfortable in this small and quiet space.
I ordered off of their ‘menu of the day’- maybe I was still in the habit of pilgrim menus and menu del dias, or maybe I just wanted to eat a lot of crêpes. The first plate was a crêpe complet: ham, emmental cheese and an egg. A mug of cidre, a buerre/sucre (butter and sugar, simple but the best) crêpe for dessert. The crêpes were enormous and delicious and unlike anything I’d eaten for the past month in Spain. I ate slowly, dipping each forkful of my crêpe into the runny egg yolk, savoring the simplicity of the handful of salad arranged on the side of my plate.
I wandered around after dinner, crossing a bridge over the Seine to head back to Notre Dame. Families waited in line for ice cream, a man played an accordian, an endless wave of people snapped photos. I found a bench and settled in to watch the sun set, with the Seine in front of me and Notre Dame just off to my left. After a few minutes a young man approached me and began to talk. He thought I must be Swiss, I think I let him down by saying I was American. He stayed with me for ten minutes, telling me how he had just moved to Paris, that he loved this area of the city, that French wine was the best. I was polite but reserved and eventually he got the hint and left. Over the past month I’ve gotten used to talking to new people- it seemed as though I met a handful of new people every day- and for as much as I was craving company and connection at the end of this Camino, on this night- in Paris- I just wanted to sit quietly and watch the sun set.
And so I did. The night was soft and quiet and I was tired and satisfied and full. Full of crêpes, full of happiness, full of the Camino and everything I got to experience in this past month. So, one more day in Paris- one last little bit of travel and exploration- and then time to go home.