Walking back from school today along Rue Vendome was like walking through a wind tunnel used for testing Arctic machinery. I take the Velo’v to school in the morning and back again at night, but if I have the afternoon off I enjoy walking back down Rue Servient and into Place Guichard where I take a coffee, or more recently a hot chocolate.
This was the way I used to walk when I first arrived here, as it was the way I was told. Since then I’ve found numerous other routes from my flat to where I work. I can either turn right up Rue de la Guillotiere and take a left at Rue Crequi. Or I can go straight along Rue de Marseille and right at Gambetta. Or I can turn right at Rue Garibaldi, take a sharp left at Rue Voltaire and then the first right at Cours Felix Faure. I could go on. I live in a grid iron: the combinations are endless.
I’m here in the café sipping hot chocolate and writing this. A beer would be nice but it’s only two o’clock so I push the thought away and look out of the window onto the classic French square. On the left hand side there’s the Lycee de Guichard with it’s traditional heavy stone façade; Garcon over one door, Fille over the other. On the right-hand side of the square is an elegant block of flats whitewashed yellow with a boulangerie, a café, and a bookshop underneath. The last side of the square consists of a pizza restaurant, a bistrot, a noodle bar, a kebab emporium and a tabac. Not classic French, but nearly French.
It’s pleasant here and there’s always a good mix of people to look at: a wizened old Moroccan crying into his scarf from the freezing wind as he traipses back home from one of the Arabic cafés along Rue Vendome. Two office workers sipping stupidly small beers and eating noodles from ridiculously oversized bowls, iPhones at the ready. A gaggle of well-to-do mothers with giant Polar edition pushchairs forcing their way into the café next to the Boulangerie. A head pops out from one of the windows in the block of yellow flats to see what all the noise is about. Two suited men roll out of the bistrot sucking on freshly lit cigarettes complaining about the smoking ban. Two pony-tailed girls and their mother exit the bookshop happily clutching newly purchased books. It’s great to see. A taste of the old days.
I sip my now cold hot chocolate and remember why I started drinking hot chocolate in the afternoons instead of coffee. Whether it’s Rue Crequi, Cours Gambetta, or Cours du Saxe that takes me home on these rare afternoons off, I know they all lead to the same place. Bed.
Resting my head back on my pillow I think about the Moroccan walking home, the children with their books and smiles, the office boys slurping noodles while glancing at their phones, the irritated head from the window looking for someone to blame, the smokers wishing they didn’t smoke, the mothers with their pushchairs charging into battle, the sunflower whitewashed walls of the flats, the endless maze of the grid iron, Rue du Sebastian cutting onto Rue Andre Philippe, Charponnay onto L’Abondance, Saint Jean onto Merles Vivier, Garibaldi onto Pensionnant, vive le France, vive le France…