When I first moved to Paris, I had a problem with the beauty of the city. I was both amazed and frustrated by it.
I’d always dreamed of living in the City of Lights. As soon as I finished highschool, I moved here. Exploring the anonymous boulevards and faubourgs as well as the most popular corners of the city, I immediately felt that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I loved the frightening towers of Paris’s Chinatown in the 13th, the aggressive cigarette sellers of Barbès, and the random Haussmannian streets where I would purposely get lost. I felt like I could tame all these places, get to know them enough to fully see their beauty and, in the end, be able to call them home.
But how would I be able to make the Pont des Arts mine? It seemed impossible to me that one day I would feel reassured in front of the Eiffel Tower or that the Jardin des Tuileries would be part of my comfort zone.
I felt like these places were shared by too many people for me to call them home. They were populated with the ghosts of the thousands of visitors who fell in love with their beauty before me, and there were too many other people who dreamt of visiting them one day. They were sacred to me, the symbol of the magic of Paris, and I didn’t want to commit sacrilege by getting too familiar with them.
During my first week in Paris, I remember watching an old man cross the square in front of the Pantheon without even looking at it. I despised him profoundly for being so blasé.
Not so long after that, I moved into an apartment with a view of the top of the Eiffel Tower, and of course after two days of living there, I stopped screaming with joy every time it lit up. I began studying Art History at the École du Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries became my school playground. A few years later, I had to cross the Pont des Arts every day to go to work. After just one month, I was too stressed out to even take a look at the Seine. I had became une parisienne blasée.
But there was still one place in Paris that I tried to preserve: the riverbanks along the Seine between the île Saint Louis and the île de la Cité. The quays were too beautiful to be true an I tried to avoid them as much as I could to keep feeling like I was walking in a fantasy on the rare occasions I visited them.
One day, though, I was feeling terrible and my boyfriend forced me to take a long walk to change my mind.
At the time, I had started my professional life for three or four years, and it had been a series of disappointing experiences. On this day, as we were walking through the city, I told my boyfriend how hopeful I was when I was a student, how easy it had been for me to get great marks and good internships, how life seemed promising… I didn’t understand how the following years could have gone so wrong. I felt like I had lost my innocence and my energy, I was doubting all of my choices, beating myself up for not having known better and ruining all my chances. I was so fully focused on my long lament that I didn’t even realize where we were. My boyfriend had led me to the Quai Bourbon, at the tip of the île Saint Louis.
We sat down on a bench. He thought that the reflection of the sunset on the Seine, the wind in the ages-old trees ,and the golden light on the buildings would somehow calm me down. It did work for a few seconds. The beauty of Paris took my breath away, and I sat there in silence. It was early spring, one of the first bright days of the year, and a family of birds was singing above us. It reminded me how much I had dreamt of living in this city when I was in high school, and how happy I had been here for years. I started to cry.
He took me in his arms and I cried even harder. I was sobbing and sniffing and kept repeating how sorry I was. At some point it became unbearable, I moved away from my poor boyfriend who was desperately trying to explain how wonderful he thought I was. I tried to take a long breath to calm down when suddenly I heard a strange noise.
I turned to my boyfriend who looked at me and immediately stopped talking. I couldn’t interpret the look on his face. Then, I started to feel something pouring down from the top of my head. I touched my hair and felt it.
The family of birds above us had discharged the most massive and disgusting poo on me. I remained speechless for a while, the green liquid dripping down onto my shoulders and forehead. At some point, a ridiculous chuckle came out of my mouth. It quickly turned into an uncontrollable giggle. A few seconds later, my boyfriend and I were both doubled up with laughter on that very bench where I was crying one minute earlier.
This is the story of my biggest meltdown and my most unforgettable laugh. This is also how the last sacred place of my fantasized Paris was soiled by a sick bird. The place is not inhabited with ghosts of tourists anymore, it’s fully mine, and I can’t go back there without chuckling to myself.
I was probably a pre-teen when I discovered Alexandre Dumas's novels. I was an avid, indiscriminate reader, and I devoured them all, buying some, borrowing others, until there weren't any left.
It was one of those moments in life when you remember exactly where you were when it happened. Moments so emotionally charged that they remain engraved in our memories forever.