I am walking in the city of Paris for the first time. It is 1972. I am twenty-seven years old. I will be living here for six months.
I have never seen streets like these, some wind and curve and some are straight but all of them have buildings of such stateliness and accomplishment on either side. I don't recognize some of the smells. I don't recognize the way the phones work, the Metro, the busses, how you buy things. This goes beyond language. I don't understand that all women in shops must be addressed as "Madame." It is uncomfortable but liberating. I am liberated from the notion, so beaten into my head, that America is the best and only place there is. I look around at the river Seine, and I see the Pont Neuf, and the Rue St. Jacques and the beautiful older women so confident and purposeful, and my real education begins.
My traveling companion and I have somehow managed to find an apartment on the villa d'Alésia, in the 14th arrondissement. It is a sculptor's studio with tall opaque glass windows that face the street and can be thrown open to let the world come in.
We live in a neighborhood where there is a wine store where you get your litre bottles, without labels, filled with wine that costs .50cts a bottle. There is a butcher shop that sells only horsemeat.
I, like so many thousands of others through the years, discover that I've never eaten bread before. That I never understood the idea of individual dignity in a café. That I didn't see the nobleness of a life as a waiter. That I didn't understand time, that Notre Dame existed as it does now in the 14th century. That building began in the 12th century. How can I process time like that?
All of this is mine for the months I live in Paris.
This city completes me, as the writer James Salter wrote. It makes me the person I was meant to be. I am coming to the place I have never been before but to which I have always belonged.