Paris welcomed me back with open arms. It was cold and wet and the bus I was on terminated a stop or two earlier than expected but I enjoyed walking through its streets again. It was just on dusk and the rain made the streets all clean and shiny as the light from the street lights bounced and reflected on the footpaths and cobblestones. As I turned into Cité Bergère, I felt at home. I man walking towards me smiled, nodded and said hello before I could return the greeting he started to apologise saying in English “I thought you were someone that I knew”. I laughed and touched his arm saying, “you do know me Phillip – Genevieve”. We both laughed at his mistake. Phillip is a friend of both Jackie and my friend Cate. I met Phillip when I lived in Paris earlier this year. After chatting for a few moments I made my way further down the narrow street to Jackie’s. Madame Bouchard, a neighbour of Jackie’s walked past said her greetings and spoke to me in French. I nodded and smiled with no real idea of what she was saying, but the general understanding that she was pleased to see me again and that Jackie will be happy to have me back. They all know that I am Jackie’s sister.
I spent almost two weeks in Paris. It was cold and it was wet most of the time. I didn’t visit any of the sights or the galleries. I walked a lot around the areas I knew well. Walked across and along the river. Walked to the left bank a few times. I walked more aimlessly than ever before. Looking back now, I know I was suffering from the fear of finishing.
Christmas was two days in Normandy in the dual towns of Trouville-Deauville. These beautiful towns are separated by a river – which when I was there looked more like an empty storm-water canal. Deauville is flashier, high-end, its sister Trouville is much more Bohemian in its look and feel. At Christmas with fairy lights and decorations glimmering and glinting on the streets, both towns made me feel I was living in a fairy tale. It didn’t snow but it was cold. Christmas Day was spent with Jackie, Cate and Phillip eating seafood. If it hadn’t been so cold it could have felt like an Australian Christmas.
After leaving Normandy I returned to Paris for a few days before beginning the journey home. I spent two of my last three days in Paris in bed feeling tired and ill. From my bedroom at the front of Cate’s apartment in the 9th, I could hear Paris wafting up at me from the Rue de Hauteville below. I could hear Parisians taking as they walked past three floors below. I could hear the angry beeping of horns as someone blocked the street which would often turn into yelling or and ensuing argument. One time, I heard a woman sobbing as she passed. I felt for her and wondered what could make her so sad as to sob so loudly as she walked down the street. As I lay in my sick bed, willing myself to feel better before having to begin the journey home, I soaked up the sounds of Paris, hoping never to forget them and hoping to hear them again.
Jackie met me at Cate’s on the morning of my departure to walk me to the Gare du Nord to catch the Eurostar to London. I would spend one night in London with an old school friend before boarding my flight to Melbourne. Jackie was in a bad mood – maybe it was because I was leaving, maybe it was because she was over-tired, maybe it was because she thought she was coming down with the same bug I had and was irritable that I had ‘given’ it to her. Whatever the reason, it made for a funny walk to the station. Jackie cranky is still witty but woe betide anyone that deigns to think they can speak to her. By the time we had reached the station she had told-off a handful of people in both English and French. It was only as we were about to enter the station I looked up and said to her “Jackie, this is Gare de l’est not Gare du Nord”. A few minutes of expletives started our short walk to the right station. When we got there it was absolute chaos. Long, long lines of confused people, harried staff, arguing couples, children crying. I looked at Jackie and told her to go. In her mood, it wasn’t a good place for those near us to be.
Finally, I get on my train which is now looking like being an hour late. The journey is uneventful, as I watch the French country side speed past. I look out at Calais, before we enter the tunnel to travel under the English Channel. I see the fences, high fences, that end in spikes and barbed wires. These fences are to stop refugees risking their lives, as they attempt to use the tunnel as a means to enter Britain. It is a sad sight to see. In London, my old school friend is waiting for me at the station. I haven’t seen Eraina in almost 30 years. Not surprising I am a little nervous about how much time has changed us both and if we would still get-on like 17 year old best friends. There was no need for nerves. With true friends, time always stands still. Despite the grey heads of hair, despite having our own teenagers (possibly the cause of our grey hairs), despite the difference in the lives we have led, it is like we are still teenagers at school. We laugh at things we remember, we talk about the other girls, we do a bit of facebook stalking to see what some of them are up to. We remember and remind each other of a time before we began the journey that would become our lives. Eraina’s husband and children are wonderful too yet before I know it Eraina and her daughter are driving me to the airport for my flight and I am wishing I had stayed longer.
Now I am back in Sydney almost a year to the day since I left. It has taken me a while to finish this final installment. I started, I stopped. I wrote and I deleted. I opened my computer and closed it again. I just could not seem to find the motivation to write. I moaned about writer’s block to my friends in Victoria. Finally, someone said three words to me that really was the problem. Fear of finishing. Now I have finished. My gap year is over and I must go back to the real world. The real world does not consist of living out of a suit-case, or walking 800 kilometres for the sake of it. The real world does not consist of walking up the side of volcanoes or accidentally stumbling into nudist villages. The real world consists of a steady job and the straight and narrow path of a middle-aged woman setting herself up for comfort in old age. After all …. who needs adventure?