When you step out onto rue du Cherche-Midi from our apartment, you want to remember to step high in order to miss the iron rail at the bottom which is part of the massive door frame. The door itself must be opened by either pushing the button on the wall beside it, which releases the lock or pulling the brass latch by hand. Either way, the door is wooden and heavy and must be pulled in toward you. But that is all a part of the step by step process of coming and going. When you return, you will enter a code on the small keypad that most buildings will have. Then you push the large door open slowly and walk on the cobblestones through the archway into a courtyard.
Sounds from the street dim as the door closes behind you and the first thing that you might notice are chirps of song birds and the greenness of the trees and plants in the courtyard that give a feeling of walking into a small oasis. The birds are really the main thing though. They seem to sing all day and lend a happy sound to the quiet space with all the shutters and windows looking on from the surrounding three sides. At this point, you will need a key. This time, to a regular sized wooden door which once unlocked will lead you into our part of the building. There you have a choice of walking up the narrow wooden stairs 4 flights or taking the very narrow elevator. The girls opt for the elevator every time. They already have established their own preferences.
The leaving from and arriving to anyplace expresses a mode and a lifestyle. We adapt to our surroundings and ready ourselves for the journey, so to speak, be it saddling up the horse, satcheling on the bike, loading up the van, or simply tying on the scarf and walking out the door. Where we live gives us a chance to relate to our surroundings in intimate ways. We establish routines, usual routes, favorite pit stops, familiar landmarks that are distinctly our own. Even if we don’t realize it, our understanding of ourselves starts to mirror our relationship to our home address. Our identity is tied up in the usual stop for bagels at the deli on West 89th St or the line of pear trees that bloom around the second week of March and scatter white blossoms when cars drive by.
Yesterday, waiting for the light to change on rue du Four, a lady asked for directions to St. Germain des Pres. For a second, I thought, how should I know? I just moved here. But then, I turned and pointed, “C’est la.” It’s just there, I said. She thanked me and went on her way. It’s silly, but I was pretty happy about being able to help her. It made me feel more at home to send her in the right direction. It’s fun to hone in on that virtual map we have in our heads, that collection of impressions, smells, sounds that are keys to locating ourselves. And if part of the fun is in collecting all those impressions in the first place, well, even better.
So, wherever you are, please, remember… don’t forget the keys… and let the light shine…
Paris. A mosaic week of fashioning together a new life in the heart of an ancient city.
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” Hemingway’s immortal line.