It’s nearly 11pm on a Thursday as I lie in bed, stuck to the blankets on which I rest atop, not daring to get under them. My husband lay next to me in a sort of intimacy that says ‘I love you, but don’t you dare touch me,’ for that would only worsen the conditions. Eleven PM, and still 33 f*cking degrees (that’s 91, yankee friends).
Our bedroom window is open, carrying the sounds of the streets below. Laughing and talking from the brasseries, shouting in street, someone (with pretty good pipes, might I add) singing at the top their lungs from an apartment block a few buildings down, drinks and plates clanking and smashing, the occasional odour of cigarette smoke drifting up, and every 15 or so seconds, a faint illumination from the Eiffel Tower’s beam makes its way across the night sky. As I struggle to get comfortable, I realise that these people have got it right – keep a low profile during daylight’s scorch, and come to life at night.
It’s our 3rd week in this flat, and while I’ve not fully adopted the Parisian lifestyle, I’ve grown accustomed to this multi-sensory lullaby. After spending 4 months locked-down in our London flat, we – my husband, our French Bulldog (who, by the way, was of no help translating), and myself – packed up the car and f*cked off to mainland Europe. Making our way back from northern Portugal, we’ve found ourselves settled in Grenelle, Paris – our new home for a month.
Though we’ve visited many times before (shoutout to Eurostar for making weekend trips easy as sh*t), we’d stayed in the more central bits – Champs–Élysées, Madeleine, Saint-Germain. This has been our first experience staying in a primarily residential area. Grenelle is located just south of la tour Eiffel, and while probably not close enough to garner any tourists (many shop owners and restauranteurs have told us indeed, most of their patrons are Parisians of the 15th arrondissement), the iron monstrosity seems to sneak its way into the foreground, making even life’s mundane moments a little magical.
We’ve come here between July and August – July being the last hurrah for many Parisians before leaving the city in August for summer holidays. We’d visited a year earlier around the same time and found that many of our favourite independently-owned businesses had temporarily closed for this exact reason. This year is a bit different – amidst Covid, some have done well enough to carry on and take a break as usual, others seem to be staying open to derive what business they can, and a few, unfortunately, appear to be closed…indefinitely.
Upon leaving London in late June for this Eurotrip, the UK’s lockdown restrictions had still closed eateries and non-essential businesses, and for those places that were open, many of us kept cautious in public. In Paris, the old and young both carry on with an air of life as it were, running the usual errands, sitting closely to one another over a brasserie drink, crowding the shops, pairs of young ‘eons whizzing past on shared electric scooters. So, despite a visible decrease in population, those businesses which are open draw in what crowds they can. Whilst the monstrous Beaugrenelle shopping centre ushers in hoards of people, enticed by summer soldes and climatisation, its quainter cousin up the road brings in its own hustle and bustle. Rue de Commerce, as the name suggests, is a mix of boutiques and chain stores selling everything from skateboarding shoes to lingerie to tableware, cafes, fromageries, patisseries, all of the shops for food-ies, salons, and more, ending at the station Dupleix – underneath which hosts an enormous market selling everything from fish to Persian rugs.
Not only on Rue du Commerce, but throughout Grenelle, are a prominence of Asian food stores, Korean and Japanese restaurants, and what I can only describe as Asian delicatessens (donned ‘traiteurs‘). I suffered from anorexia in high school, and while mostly recovered, I do still struggle with my eating disorder from time to time- particularly when eating out and traveling. Partway through this trip, I challenged myself to eat whatever I wanted and to try new foods, and I’m glad I did. After spending our first week in Paris in a wine & cheese coma, bibimbap bowls, black sesame and red bean frozen treats, and kimchi à la maison made way for a Parisian experience consisting of entirely different flavours.
Back in our flat, it’s now Saturday. Though we’ve made it to weekend and it’s nearly 10:30 PM, the heatwave still hasn’t ceased. As I go to change into my pajamas, my husband entices me to go on a walk to the pitch he’s been playing football at every morning, which, as he’s shown me in photos, has an incredible view of the Eiffel Tower.
As we take our dog (pets need culture too!) and walk through the quiet streets of Grenelle, Madame Eiffel plays hide-and-seek against the night sky. She flaunts her glowing limbs as we make our way down one street, and hides behind an apartment building as we turn onto another. Right before 11 PM, the three of us make it to the football pitch. As the three of us stand together and gaze up at all her magnificence, a couple of families rush to make it to their rooms in the hotel adjacent, to get their £350-a-night’s worth. As the clock strikes the hour, she glimmers and glistens, and as someone with cynical tendencies, I can tell you, it really does take your breath away. As I stare up in awe for the 5 minutes which the lights twinkle, stupidly mindful, I thank my lucky stars for this wonderfully cheesy moment, and understand why Paris is donned the city of love.