The highway to Paris is lit up in its familiar shade of red, the brake lights of cars slowly leading the way into the city while suicidal maniacs on motorcycles weave between semi-trucks filled with non-GMO produce and lukewarm milk. The adrenaline that propelled me out of the plane and through France’s absurdly casual and laissez-faire customs process has magically evaporated and the habit of my previous time zone forces me into sleep, my brain black and empty.
An hour later, I wake up to a running meter and the gray streets near Republique. Five years ago, I was on this same road with Kelly and thousands of teenagers surging towards some unknown destination while electronic music pumped through speakers in the distance. Shirtless boys stood on the roofs of bus stops, dancing like boneless Gumbys with their spinning spaghetti arms and feet that never stopped moving, everyone like a featured extra in an old Yelle music video. The statue in the center of the Place de la Republique was covered with sixteen-year-olds holding homemade signs, dancing in the foreground of a summer blue sky. It looks strange this morning, the metal and marble barren and overexposed.
My life will forever be driving through familiar streets in very different ways, rehashing old memories to be layered with the newer ones. My aging existence like decoupage.
The cab drops us off in the Marais. We’re staying in a different apartment this time, just a few blocks away from the one we left just a month ago at the end of a cobblestone cul-de-sac. How spoiled I am to come here so often, to own a vague familiarity with this place.
The key doesn’t catch easily in the lock and my fingers struggle to turn everything at the right time while my other hand rattles the door handle, hoping for some magic trick. Ali and I laugh. “Please, no. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I say, too tired for complications and too delirious for effective problem solving. And just when we’re about to give up and call the landlord, the door opens.
A mustard-walled elevator takes us four floors up and into a hallway with emerald carpet and Alice in Wonderland doorknobs. The building is filled with the scent of perfume and in a silly, stupid way, I miss the last apartment, with its deepest-blue lacquered doors and the hallway that smelled like a museum or a library filled with old books.
The apartment is massive, with dusty purple walls and renovated bathrooms. Ali and I laugh when we walk towards the back and into where the master bedroom is. Again, spoiled.
I fall asleep for what is supposed to only be an hour-long nap and wake up around 3 in the afternoon. Ali and I spend the rest of the day walking in the direction of the Palace Vendome, stopping to take jumping pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower like a pair of idiot tourists. The day is blue and the air is warm and we walk along the Seine, sitting at its edge next to couples obeying romantic clichés, napping next to each other like puppies.
Every building is perfect, the horizon blighted by nothing unfortunate looking. Even the trees, shaved into perfect and unnaturally controlled geometric shapes, look beautiful when bare. Paris is like a fucking 3-D Hallmark card and I am the lucky little bitch some illustrator decided to paint into the picture.