I’m not going to lie. This feels pretty good. Aside from my leg being a bitch to cart around, Paris is my friend. According to Google, I’ve walked over 10 miles since disembarking this morning at Quai de Bercy. I’m now sat with my Ted Baker notebook and my KickStarter 3D printed, personalised, fine-nibbed fountain pen with orange ink inside its included adaptor. Where am I sat? Boulangerie du Parc Monceau. I have my writing tools, a hot dog and, upon a personal recommendation, a café noisette. I’ve no idea how that tastes yet, but it’s in a beautiful little espresso cup with a matching saucer. It’s a shame I’m not in a Costa back home as it would be leaving with me, that’s for sure. The thing is, I only drink coffee when I’m studying owing to the fact I’m not really a fan of the flavour. Yet, somehow, this afternoon with my seat looking out on to Rue de Prony, I don’t even care about the taste. This is how I should write every time.
I hadn’t planned on being in the seventeenth arrondissement when I put pen to paper. I had spent the last two days back in England working out where was going to be good for writing. There were a couple of choices that I’d put on top of the list. They were either solitary places like a bench in the park complex opposite Pont d’Austerlitz – it houses several gardens and collections including the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution. I was also looking at Anticafé inRue la Fayette. It’s like a poor man’s WeWork, geared more at Students that require a space than corporations trying to impress. I also wanted somewhere to soak up the French atmosphere. Somewhere that had appealed to those writers and artists of years gone by. I wanted somewhere that people would say ‘Paul went there.’ It was a difficult decision to make. I had in my mind Au Pere Tranquille but by the time I had gotten nearby, I had to adjust my plan and head opposite to Westfield in order to use their toilet.
The lady behind the counter spoke in French, as expected. I had no change on me to pay, simply notes, the smallest of which was a five euro note. Her English stretched to ‘no money.’ That’s fine, I’ll pay her a fiver for a five pence piss – the sign behind her head told me how much it was. Thinking about it, that’s quite a lot. I bet she’s done it because I’m English. I used to hear about this sort of thing although I’d honestly never experienced it until now. One empty bladder, two washed hands and a heap of newfound disgust later, I left the lavatory. I had my bag on my back, my crutches in hand and my medical support boot tightened. When I got back to the counter, the lady had a look on her face and once more spoke those two words ‘No money.’ It was then that she slid the five euro note across the counter to me. Well, I’m not having that, I can tell you. I told her, in very poor broken pidgin French that ‘I shall come back in two minutes with change.’ She smiled. Where on Earth am I going to find someone to exchange a note for cash in the middle of a French Westfield? I suddenly, and if this wasn’t true, you’d think I’d made it up, remembered I had about three euros in change, tucked in a pocket in my bag. I sat myself down on the white fake marble seat and dug out not only an euro but also a little bar of Gold. That’s the chocolate bar, not the commodity. I took both back to her, slid them across the counter and exclaimed that I’d told her I’d be back, that she can keep the change and enjoy the chocolate. Obviously in English. And as I write this four hours later, I realise that how she sounded to me originally is how I sounded to her then. But we both smiled and both said thanks. In both languages.
There’s definitely something quintessentially French about an Englishman in Paris, scribbling away in his notebook as his horrendously strong coffee turns unbearably cold. I wish I could do this more often. Not just writing in Paris, but actual writing. For no real purpose. And yes, in Paris. I love fiction; that’s too structured to sit and write on a whim. I enjoy poetry; the rhythm and patterns take a lot to perfect. Creative nonfiction is where I’m truly at ease. However, I’d really like to be good at it. There’s something lacking in my work and I don’t know what it is. That pains me more than my leg. I do know that metaphors barely exist in my writing and descriptive prose is not on my priority list. I am trying, though. I’ve recognised weaknesses (and knowing me like I do, nothing will alter) yet I want it to be automatic, like the cogs of a clock, turning as if each tooth were moving in order to escape the mundane actions that has beset them. Could I honestly live this life of a writer? Yes, quite easily. Except the mortgage needs paying. If I were to be living in Paris, I’d need to at least attempt to learn some more of the language. If it were Ibiza, I don’t think I’d have much to write about. A blessing and a curse. Once my life has started to slow down, I’ll certainly think about taking up writing again. More seriously, this time. I don’t mean in terms of books or published works, more a case of the commitment. I mean actually taking the time to create magic of the written word.
Okay, the coffee is thankfully all gone, and I think I’ve done enough dreaming for one boulangerie…