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Abroad

Avenue Junot

Callum Ruddock

︎ She came in through the window. I don’t think the door made sense to her. Amongst the scuffle of party patter, she chose the 9ft shutters.
“Shhhh you’ll wake the neighbours” said the host above the noise of Mac DeMarco, before turning to some lo-fi paired with background visuals, another of those evenings at a friend of a friend’s birthday. Looking up from the couch, seeing her rise to the hand that helped her down, watching her take to a glass of wine so effortlessly, picking up conversation quickly, I felt this was somewhere I ought to be.

(Callum from Junot, 2021)
Now the morning after, in Café Cépage Montmartrois, all is well on Avenue Junot. Life is afoot; the air is soupy; like a good little Parisian I am drinking my clopes and smoking my coffee. Beholden cigarettes, my saving grace. “Votre pass sanitaire si vous plait” – my hangover interrupted as I cough up my NHS app for the man to scan. Boop Beep – PASS VALIDE - safe now from Covid.

I don’t deserve distractions. I need to be still and for everyone else to be sensitive; a tall ask when the prune like woman to my left insists the loss of a submarine procurement contract represents “the worst injustice in the course of the Republic”.

I am here in Paris, with Tom (from university) to escape all employment has to offer. The girl through the window makes up one of our two accomplices, the first an old friend, the other new – keeping with us all weekend. Both of them French, restless, and as gripping as people our age should be.

The older of friends is playing host to us in Montparnasse. Yet to buy a kettle she brews our tea in a saucepan. Tom has taken to guarding his mug and always insists on two teabags, “I am certain French tea is weaker”.
On a previous hunt for milk in her fridge, I find an Amazon package still in its delivery plastic. Stale bread, chickpeas, and pickles too, which speak of her care and generosity. Beer and brie which show hospitality.

She had warned me Paris would be different this time over. There is the essence of school trips, but when I was here last, we were dating, and Paris looked and felt so different. Not lacking now; but different. Maybe because I was distracted by her, or because I was younger, Paris held my romance without rising to its romantic hollows and kept me focused on her beauty.

I now want it to throw off its cliches, swallow its pride, and get on with itself. Paris is a movement of people that do not move but between tables and conversations. Filled with ladies that lunch and men that moan, Paris is like any other metropole in most ways, but the only one where daughters wait on park benches for their mothers to finish a chapter, and waiters can be seen trying customers’ desserts. In the urban domain, Parisians opt for passion above all else. 
Faith in their opinion and a very French form of tact, which in the main means having a world view and declaring it (even if it upsets English people). Sloping down the hill and around the corner, Avenue Junot, lined with freestanding villas sat back from the street, goads me with a cliché, and reveals a quieter Paris to me. 

For now then, I will sit, and tonight, at La Coupole, I will eat creamy things, rich things, and all things tasty. I will bleed for butter and yearn for salt. I will be told off for using “la pain” rather than “le”. I will put on my glad rags, shine myself up for the food gods; with the unemployed, the architect, the waiter, and the Sorbonne scholar; foods to gorge upon – sweet coffee gold.

And what if we later bump into friends from home? Forced in and out of a Monoprix for late-night wine. The newer of our two might speak of life, love, and satisfaction, making promises to be less of a coward – which we know she is not. What will we do if I smudge the apartment access code written to remember on the back of my hand? How will I make myself busy when she leans in and leaves lipstick on his mask? As Paris opens up to me, rising like the stale metro air from below, how will I feel? Will I miss the Paris of before with her beside me? Will I want my hand held?

We’re just friends now, Paris and I have changed. It charms me and enrages me, settling into new kinship and brotherhood. I am not here for its rawness, passion, and beauty, but for new scenes and new things.

Back in the café, on Avenue Junot, something is happening. Tom has breached the peace by asking for the toilet. Having sampled every piss pot he possibly can, stopping in bars, cafes, Pret a Mangers’, and even his friend’s parent’s apartment, he tells me proudly, “I pissed in the street you know – twice on the walk home yesterday” – before taking off to test the latest.

To a be freeman in Paris. A city that is not special to me, calls me no more than Tokyo or London or the Cape or Rome. A city that asks me to pay reverence to it for no good reason. Maybe I like this city. Even as she struggles to define her latest self. It is where some of my French friends are.
               Tom returns and proposes we have a beer to take the edge off; I want lemonade. ‘A shandy in Paris’ – how romantic. 

Unable to determine what she means to me; I offer you a list of what I have observed:

What Paris does better:
Emergency service sirens
Food (including cooking with butter)
Smoking
Public officials in uniforms
Public spaces and parks
Cemeteries
Kiosks
Corner shops

What London does better:
Accessibility (especially access for the disabled)
Public Transport
Alcohol and drinking
Milk
Covid testing
Waiters
Ties     ︎


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