Five years ago I went to Paris for the weekend to see a friend. I took the train from Charles de Gaulle Airport to the city centre, and then, bewildered by the unfamiliar métro map and my friend’s somewhat creative directions, I used my rusty schoolgirl French to find out which line I needed to take. Twenty minutes later, I emerged from the métro into the chilly November evening. The Eiffel Tower sparkled before me and the streets were bathed in a yellow glow. I want to live here, I thought.
Two years later, after finally finishing my studies, I booked a one way Eurostar ticket. For the next six months, I lived in a studio apartment on the sixth floor of a beautiful Haussmannian building which looked out over the Sacré Coeur, and I worked as a jeune fille au pair to two little boys. (For the record, it is a myth that French children are well behaved.)
While I was there, I made a friend. He was kind and funny, and made it his personal mission to show me the real Paris, from the point of view of a real Parisian. His family welcomed me into their home, where I spent many a Sunday lunchtime eating delicious meals, drinking fabulous wine and trying my best to keep up with the rapid stream of French coming at me from all directions. (The wine helped a lot.)
When my time in Paris came to an end, my friend and I hugged each other tightly and promised to keep in touch. I spent the next few months travelling to other places, which I shall no doubt write about, and then returned to England. Once I had moved into my new flat, my Parisian friend kept his promise, and came to visit. Through a haze of cider in a west country pub, we saw things more clearly. I realised that although I had left Paris, my heart had not.
And that is why, at this moment in time, I am sitting in a cafe at St Pancras International Station, waiting to check in. I have done this journey more times than I can remember, and yet I still never tire of it.
As the French say, “La distance est à l’amour ce que le vent est au feu. Il éteint le petit ; il allume le grand.”
Distance is to love what the wind is to fire. It extinguishes the small, and kindles the great.