Je Vais a Paris
I’m going to Paris.
And I don’t even know what to think or say. This time next week I will be on French soil, and I am beside myself.
You see, for most of my adult life I have coveted this country, but in a weird, stand-offish kind of way. I have not immersed myself in French culture, food or language. My house is not styled in a Parisian manner, and I don’t even eat croissants very often (I do love a tipple of Veuve, but most people know that). I have no books about France, no knowledge of the geography, no idea of the history. I don’t keep up to date with the politics, nor do I even know many of the landmarks.
All I have is two stories.
Story One: In the early 90s went to a clairvoyant-kinda-fella named Rids and he began the reading with, “You’re French!” I told him that I wasn’t, and that in fact I’m as Aussie as they come (bogan bits and all), but he was insistent. “No, no you’re French. You must go. It will be like coming home.”
I sat with that info, and rather than letting my logical brain dismiss it, I held it dear. It somehow felt right. Despite all evidence to the contrary. It felt like he spoke some truth that only he and I knew. I filed that delicious secret away in my corpuscles, and made no effort whatsoever to go to France.
Story Two: When I was going through school I worked in a couple of pharmacies and the fragrance section was my favourite part of the shop. My sense of smell is my superpower, so I would immerse myself in the perfumery, inhaling the layers of smell and gently trying to pry the notes apart. Was that rose with a hint of something else? Geranium perhaps? Perhaps that was a whisp of passionfruit? With a hint of Vetiver? The other shop girls would roll their eyes and tell me to stop fluffing about, and push some Panadol to the people, or at least dust the Durolax.
Then one day a sales rep from Yves St Laurent did a training with us- she walked us through the streets and the fields of the France of my imagination. She took me on an olfactory tour of the country, finishing with the scent of Honeysuckle, and Paris in the Spring. The Paris of svelte models with oversized handbags strolling the Left Bank, smoking fragrant cigarettes and laughing at the sophisticated functions they would attend that evening.
I was in love. Amoureux.
So I made myself a secret shrine-wish-totem to Paris. I got myself a small cross-body handbag (we French call them a pouchette) and filled it with my passport, a teensy bottle of perfume, my contact lens container, a carefully folded pair of French knickers and a bright rouge lippy.
And for almost thirty years, that bag has been hiding in the back of my cupboard, silently waiting for the day that someone would come to me and say, “Quick, grab your passport, there’s no time to pack, I’m taking you to Paris. You can shop for clothes when you get there. ”
The interesting thing is that I never specified who that person would be (turns out it’s Sam Culley and not some handsome gentilhomme), nor did I clarify how long I would be in Paris (turns out it’s quatre jours), or when I would go (maintenant). I just knew that one day I would go, and that the details would take care of themselves. At some point the hazy veil of almost-sleep would lift, and I would be there.
For the last almost-thirty years, whenever I need my passport, I take out that bag and breathe in a little of my private fantasy. Is that top note neroli? Is there a hint of jasmine beneath it? And is that patchouli at the base? To me, this complex mix of strong and delicate is what Paris is composed of: the structure of Chanel’s fashion and the delicacy of florals, juxtaposed. Where form meets frivolity. The scent of dreams.
And now it is time. Forgive me if I’m lost for words. Pardonne-moi si je suis perdu pour les mots. Je suis hors de moi. I’m beside myself.
All of not-quite-dared-to-dream dreams are coming into the world, and I don’t know what to think or say.