There is something beautiful about being a stranger in a new place.
When Patti Smith described arriving in New York for the first time she said 'No one expected me. Everything awaited me.'
That's exactly how I felt when I went to Paris in June.
The sensation of falling in love with a new city is one of my favourite feelings. Paris is heavily romanticised (perhaps more so than any other place) and in reality, it is not perfect. There's crime, litter, poverty, advertising, and chaos. Corrie and I got lost, took wrong trains, paid a lot for basic items and many people tried to scam or rob from us. Nonetheless, I was okay with the flaws and quickly adapted to them.
I wandered the streets in a state of awe. On numerous occasions, Corrie and I turned to each other, saying that we could scarcely believe how happy we were. The apartment we stayed in was tiny yet perfect- an orange kitchen, a living room with art on the walls, a minuscule bathroom with hanging ivy and a light, white bedroom. It felt like home and we did not mind the climb up five flights of stairs or the 30-minute journey into central Paris.
As I cooked each evening, I gazed out at the lights of apartments adjacent, observing the lives of strangers. A balding man in a purple robe, watering his plants. Two elegantly dressed women, smoking on a balcony with glasses of red wine. Someone working at a messy desk with a cat asleep underneath. These people knew nothing of me, and vice versa.
The Metro system was a peculiar puzzle which we unpicked, taking each mistake as a learning experience and a chance to see something new. One afternoon we took the wrong train and ended up on the wrong side of Paris, on the way out to the countryside. On the station platform, we looked up to see a view of the distant Eiffel tower between trees.
Being strangers let us get lost, and getting lost meant we saw new things.
The transport system of any city is its pulse. Once you understand it, the place is yours.
I adapted my routines to fit the rhythm of my days in Paris. In the mornings I awoke naturally, opened all the curtains and windows, put on a pot of real coffee, drank some water, took my vitamins and started making breakfast. Then, Corrie and I would plan our day while drinking coffee and eating heaps of fruit. After showering, dressing and packing our rucksacks, we would head out and visit sights, museums, galleries, markets and other interesting places.
Often we would stop off in a church or cathedral to meditate. It was undoubtedly the most focused meditation I have done to date. At midday, we would find a patisserie and a boulangerie to buy a fresh baguette and fruit. By early evening we were usually worn out, so we would take the Metro back to our apartment, stopping off at our favourite place to buy vegetables. Evenings consisted of reading, writing, playing cards and calling people at home. Within the chaos and uncertainty, I found an oasis of familiarity. I began to feel increasingly okay with being a stranger.
Despite being strangers, we met some lovely people. A bus driver who helped us find our way to the apartment on the first day, personally escorting us onto the next bus and telling the driver where to take us. A bookseller who conversed with me and said my French was good. An old man selling cameras whom I had a long talk with. A lady who complimented our matching tattoos. The greengrocer who helped us make sense of euros. I rarely felt unwelcome.It's a luxury to see a place through new eyes in a way that residents can't easily.
There was no judgement, no expectations, no responsibilities and nowhere I had to be.
What are your experiences of being a stranger in a new place? Let me know in the comments as I'd love to hear.
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