I emerged from the Paris subway into the electric atmosphere of the St. Michel. district on a Friday night. My wide-eyed gaze panned from left to right, scanning over the Seine River and fixing upon the glory of the Notre Dame Cathedral under a full moon. The tension of the past 15 hours is cut in an instant, and a calmness floats in. I can’t make this stuff up, it’s too wild and I’m not that smart. Only a few hours ago I was counting floor tiles in an airport, wondering how bad it would really be to sleep on them. Now I am in the midst of The City of Light at midnight. Traveling will always present the unexpected, it is one of its most beautiful traits. These unforeseen events can be manifested in the annoying fashion of a cancelled flight or missed bus, but other times they appear in the wonderful form of making new friends or stumbling across a marvel of human construction.
We walk along the bustling sidewalks to meet up with our local friends Charline, Victor and Jules. “You’ll find us, just follow the music,” were Charline’s directions. She was right. We found them in gloriously old piazza known for hosting street performers. There, we saw a man banging out some gruff folky-blues in the heartfelt, damaged vein of Dylan and Waits. Thirty minutes in Paris, and my mind is awhirl. We had dinner at Flagrant Delice, in a small spot around the corner. A cozy place with creaky wooden tables packed in tight along walls lined with a staggering array of wine bottles. The food, in classic bistro style, was unpretentious and delicious. Throw in a bottle of French red wine in the company of good friends and all was well in my world.
We spent the weekend wandering through Paris. Charline took us down Champs-Elysees to the Arc De Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, Musee d’Orsay and Les Invalides. The last one being an important site for France’s military, past and present. Napoleon is buried here too, if that gives you an idea of the clout this place carries. The street culture is just as vital as these iconic monuments in defining a place for me, maybe even more so. Modest restaurants offering wine and nicoise salads as lunch specials made me nod and smile in appreciation. I felt a communal sense of enlightenment in Jardins du Luxembourg. People gathered here, under the oak trees or in the garden next to the fountain, to sketch or read or to just sit. They know this is a good and important thing to do for the soul; and the lesson wasn’t lost on me.
My French epiphany continued at Charline’s house where her parents prepared a family dinner for us. We indulged in homemade cognac and foie gras. Jean-Claude, Charline’s dad, kindly offered me several generous pours from his whiskey collection as we rambled on about our shared love for American blues and African music. It doesn’t get much better than this for a guy like me. I was filled with a true sense of comfort and humility. The kindness of these people transformed us from strangers to friends that evening,and I will always be honored by that. This would end up foreshadowing my time later in the week.
The next morning Cody left on an early train to Bordeaux, while Jean-Claude gave me a ride to the airport on his motorcycle. It was a ripping thirty minute ride on the freeway. The city, where I had made so many memories over the past few days, whizzed by in a blur. We slipped between lanes of traffic, weaving around the slowpokes that tried to slow us down. Doing a 110kmh is a damn good way to start the day off, and end my time in Paris. It’s time to fly back to Italy. Next stop: Cinque Terre.