Before I’d even emerged from the metro station, I knew I was going the wrong way. That old idea of having a 50-50 shot of getting it right had again, like it often seems to, backfired on me.
This was my second trip to Paris in the space of a month, only this time I didn’t have the comforting bubble of friends around me, fellow study abroad students who’d been to Paris before. This time I was in the enviable position of staying with my father’s French cousins – cousins who had an enormous parquet-floored apartment just down the street from the Arc de Triomphe. I was being very well taken care of, but was fighting a fear of the unknown that was keeping me in their gorgeous apartment and away from the city outside.
When I’d visited Paris earlier in my trip, I had happily followed my friends around, only vaguely paying attention as they surveyed the metro map to plan a travel route. I sort of understood how to read the map, but I hadn’t put that to the test. When I returned to Paris to stay with my cousins, I was by myself. My friends had set off, armed with Eurail passes, to spend the two-week break between our semesters in Nottingham seeing Europe. I had chosen to spend that two-week break with relatives in Zurich and Paris – and even as I sat in my cousins’ apartment, nervous about going out alone, I didn’t regret that choice. It was just going to take a polite bit of mothering from my cousin Françoise to get me out of my shell.
One morning before she left to work at one of her new quiche shops that had just opened across town, Françoise said to me, “Why don’t you come by the shop for lunch? I can feed you there.” It was settled. I couldn’t disappoint Françoise, so I told her I’d meet her at the shop. She drew a speck on my Paris map that I was to aim for, and then she was gone.
I’m not exaggerating when I say it took me all morning to work up the gumption to walk out the door of that apartment.