My thoughts are slow in coming to me today, partially because of a late night last night, and partially because I am contemplative, trying to make sense of this month in Paris.
Today – La Fête du Travail, May Day, Labor Day – is a national holiday in France, so most businesses, monuments, and museums are closed. People who are working are apparently paid twice the normal wage, and those who are not working sometimes spend part of the day marching in the streets for workers’ rights. It is a day of drinking and a day off, and one lovely tradition is to buy bouquets of Muguet (Lily of the Valley) from any of the many vendors selling them. It is supposed to be a mark of good luck to give these flowers on the first of May.
It has rained throughout the day, and this morning I walked through it without an umbrella, wanting to appreciate the full feel of Paris in that moment. I want to soak this city in, enough so that I can carry it with me and continue to learn from my time here. These weeks have been so many things, and so much that I cannot yet articulate. Perhaps I will, in time.
As I walked through the rain, I thought about ways in which Paris is alive, and the ways in which it makes me feel alive, too. Sometimes in this month I have felt like it threw itself towards me, demanding my attention, refusing me any answer but yes. It is sensual without cessation, full of smells and sights and tastes and sounds. It is not a city that can be ignored, and just like the people who live here, it will walk right into you without apology or explanation.
There have been days when I have had to rally in order to leave the apartment, knowing that as soon as I stepped out of my courtyard and onto my street, I would be assaulted by the life around me, by the smells of cigarettes, and baking bread, and the pungency of raw meat; by the sounds of rapid-fire languages that I do not speak, and wailing sirens, and singing birds; by the sights of spring colors and graffiti and fresh vegetables, waiting to be taken home.
This is true in so many cities, of course, and I’ve tried to make sense of why it is that Paris seems to somehow grab hold of me in a way that other cities do not. I think it is in part because of the pace. People take their time, and so I do too, and then I look around me, and I hear others talking, and I notice children playing, and I see the world unfolding, and it is impossible to turn away. There have been times when I wished that I could, because this has been a hard month for me, and I have had moments when I’ve wanted to be hard, myself. But this city hasn’t let me. It just keeps demanding that I look at the life around me and that I see it, and that I taste it, and that I know it.
It makes sense to me that Paris is synonymous with love, for there is something carnal about the way this city works. All of my senses are heightened, all of the time; there is nothing sterile about any corner of this town. Like life itself, it is dirty and beautiful and confusing and loud and surprising. I get lost, and then I figure out where I am, and I try heading in a new direction, and I remember where I started, and then something totally different appears in front of me, and suddenly all I can do is stand there, in awe, and in silence, and wonder what the hell is going on. So much of it doesn’t make sense, and I want to cry and laugh and sometimes I do, and sometimes I just let the magic of it, the mystery of it, wash over me.
Today, there are the flowers, sold on street corners by vendors of different ages and nationalities.
Many types of flowers have meanings associated with them. Take a minute to look up what words are associated with the flowers of this day, the Muguet, the Lily of the Valley, with their tiny white bells being carried in Parisian hands as I write. Again and again, the words that come up are: sweetness, humility, and the return of happiness.
As I prepare to leave this city, I wonder if that is why I came here, at this moment in my life, when so much is changing. Perhaps I needed to be reminded of such things, even when I did not want to see them, even when I could not feel them.
I did not receive flowers from anyone today. Instead, I bought them for myself. Maybe that’s just the way it is supposed to be, for me, right now. Maybe the point is that I needed to give these things to myself, here in Paris, in this sensual city of light and love, on a rainy Fête du Travail, when my world feels upside down.
There is sweetness on the streets, humility in the air. The return of happiness is out there, too, I know, just waiting for me to arrive.