Here’s what coming back to Paris after five week’s absence is like: really nice, thank you. It’s still here! I don’t know what I was expecting, precisely, but it was awfully kind of them not to move anything while I was gone.
There’s that swoop to the right from the highway that lands you on the Quai de Bercy, and there you are alongside the river; there’s Notre Dame waving hello, as if with both hands; there’s the Jardin des Plantes; there’s the rue du Buffon; there’s the Mosque.
There are a few more left turns, a right, and I am home.
The overall vibe is this: gray and lovely -- as ever -- though with a bit less winter, and a few more tourists, than when I left in January.
(In truth, there’s something moving about how the last of the winter light is struggling not to be edged out. I can see it in the afternoon sky: it's not over yet. It still has a little bit of fight left in it: there’s still that very high, clear, yellow brightness in sky, but at the same time something else is pushing in. It feels imminent. And though certainly what’s to come -- spring -- is no threat to me, part of me is a bit sad to see winter go.)
My building is just as I remember it, except for the random things I had forgotten: the green glow above the pharmacy on the corner; the brass kick-plate on the porte-cochère; the windows in the courtyard which, even though they are empty, stare down like suspicious old ladies.
The crime-busting lock on the front door takes what feels like three turns to open, and tumbles heavily. But when it does, I am in. The entry is quiet, cool, dark. I can hardly see I thing but I can smell where I am, exactly. It’s a smell I have never before tried to dissemble. But to ballpark it for you I will say that it is a mix of wood, laundry soap, old plaster, beeswax, almond oil, l'Instant de Guerlain, and in a far-off corner, a little something else. White vinegar, perhaps. Or cornichons.
Whatever it is, it all smells familiar, sets off no alarms, and doesn’t make me uneasy. There’s that slightly scary-making moment as a child, the first time you go over to a friend’s house. It smells different. Not bad, necessarily. But it’s not your house, that is certain. And just walking in is enough to make you homesick -- even if you are only 100 yards from your own front door.
Something about that smell is enough to make you want to turn and run your little seven-year-old self all the way home.
But that is emphatically not the feeling I have walking into the apartment. I know instinctively that I have shutters to push back, radiators to turn on, and, when the corner grocer re-opens at 3:30pm, a quart of milk to buy for the morning. Which is all to say that I know just where I am, and just what needs to be done.
Everything else after that is pretty much details.