14th July 2009: On this day, of all days, I burn my boats and storm the Bastille. When there’s nothing left to burn you have to set yourself on fire so, sans appartement, sans emploi, I am moving to Paris.
14th August 2009: I am dispossessed. My worldly goods are variously at my mother’s, with friends, and with strangers, courtesy of Oxfam. I think of Marcus Aurelius, Erasmus and Vladimir Nabokov. I have two suitcases and a wedding in Ireland to attend.
18th August 2009: I am in Paris. Just. I have slept for two hours and have dragged myself and two suitcases to Dublin airport. On the plane I try to die. I succeed. It is 35 degrees and I am sweating champagne. I am in a youth hostel. I am not in Paris. I am in hell.
19th August 2009: I have a job interview. In Arcueil. I am late. By the time difference. I find Arcueil. I interview. It comes to nothing. This will become a theme. I find iced tea. I weep. The following morning, I strategize jobs and flats. The soundtrack is the yelping of Spanish teenagers, the wretching of Girl Guide leaders from Newcastle, and a French boyband chasing girls in Neuilly to the tune of Blur’s “Girls And Boys”. I decide the flat is the more pressing concern. Lists of apartments from Se Loger and Particular à Particular dominate my life. I see apartments with no loos going for 500€ a month. The queues stretch round the block. In a Franprix in the 17ème “Time to Pretend” by MGMT is playing. I sing along. I go to the American Church because I’m a cliché. It rings true. I sign the lease to a flatshare. My landlady talks continually. In two languages. She eats only liver. She will be leaving soon. For Turkey. I walk under the Arc de Triomphe and laugh at my luck. I tell myself that all Parisians must do this and that here lies the explanation for their froideur. It is a kindness; they would otherwise laugh in the faces of those less fortunate. I propose cabins à rire.
24th August 2009: I become known in my local café. They bring me coffee at 2 when I’m looking for jobs and wine at 5 when batteries are flat. There are tourists, loud, disorganized and blinded by the sun. There are Parisians, quiet (emails and texts are preferred), collected and wearing status shades. Emails and texts are preferred because of the cost of calls. Returning calls for job interviews, the money flows from my prepaid phone faster than I can talk. I am literally exhaling 50€ notes. Food: I wasn’t hungry until I saw my market. I set up my own autoenterprise and advertise in FUSAC. The Eiffel Tower, visible around every corner, takes on basilisk-like qualities as my job search becomes more desperate. I cannot go near the thing so reproachful is it of my folly.
10th September 2009: I have a job. I also have my own students. The children of two bankers, an osteopath and a teacher’s son around the corner from my flat. An editor emails an ancient article for me to proof. I don my status shades and doubt the wisdom of my choices. The magazine covers on the kiosks are all about the flu pandemic and the newspapers are daily reporting the suicides at France Telecom. I go for a walk in the Bois de Bolougne and try not think about the perfect existential novel. After a party, I am in the back of a taxi. The soundtrack is “Time to Pretend” by MGMT. Le Monde launches its new magazine with the theme of happiness. It would seem that the French don’t possess it and the following week three pages of the main section are devoted to suicide.
3th October 2009: I have been paid. The rue du Faubourg St-Honoré is at a standstill because it’s Fashion Week, but, fuck that, Uniqlo has opened at the Opera Garnier and I have been paid. Parisians, not known for queuing, stretch down to American Express, such is their desire for discounted cashmere. I am there too, reading LVMH’s in-house magazine and the Economist. I am not alone in my reading. When Paris queues, it reads. My French becomes a Mayor of Paris project, two hours on Monday evenings and two hours on Wednesdays. On top of my three fullest working days, the classes will suck almost all enjoyment from my life. Most weeks it will take me until Friday to recover. I am offered a job with an internet
start-up. I take it. I need the money. MacBook, Converse, book to write, now, internet
start-up: I’m a cliché. Testing software products on Thursday and Friday evenings sucks the remaining enjoyment from my life. Crossing the Seine on the metro, I write an email to Charlotte, whose been having a tough time of it back in the UK. I try to downplay Paris. Obligingly, the sunrises over the river, the Eiffel Tower to the right, the Sacre-Coeur in the distance, and Paris is bathed in pink. I do not finish the email and am relieved to be in motion.
10th October 2009: Nuit blanche. I cycle back home with my flatmate at three in the morning. We are momentarily disorientated and don’t know how to get home without the lights of Eiffel Tower. They turn it off? Who knew? I start wearing black. A lot. I can only tell it’s the weekend because the emails from my former employer about car parking temporarily stop. I thank my stars that I am out of it though when I receive one, not related to car parking, in which the phrase “McDonald’s delivery model” appears. Can’t you tell I worked for a university? I need indie-rock, ideally Sunset Rundown. I need the Queen Mary, Côte des Neiges, Summit Circle, l’Oratoire, and the downtown core. It would never break me down as Paris does. I need a vodka-cranberry.
November 2009: In my café the children of American ex-pats complain about their iPhones and Harvard applications. I stop going for a while. My mother visits to witness my existence. We convulse in Bon Marché at the Christmas decorations; birds of taxidermical reality. Six pressed into a box look like the chocolates of the Medicis. We go to the Pompidou Centre. There’s Nan Goldin. There’s Simon laughing in Avignon. He becomes my desktop. Because of Nan, because of the villa, because of Simon? I can’t decide. Spotify starts using the subjunctive in its ads. I almost come. Charlotte Gainsbourg turns on the Christmas lights on the Champs-Elysées the same week her new film, Persecution, opens. I realize why I always wanted to live in Paris. Google buys the provider of the software we have selected for the start-up and locks it down. I’m so exhausted that I actually weep, and that’s before I can think about the money.
9th December 2009: Intimations of festivity are unavoidable, and, in a moment of clairvoyance, I see myself rejecting every bread in Tesco Inverness on the grounds that none is sufficiently dense for the foie gras I will be bringing back. Food, or more accurately, chêvre, becomes a priority and I eat so much goats’ cheese I can smell it on me when I come out of the shower. I am required to explain the phrase “corporate America”, in the European headquarters of IBM. On the day of my departure it snows. Paris is aghast. It never snows in Paris. Photographs, seen in Le Monde when I’m at the British Library the following day, show Paris to be indifferent to this unexpected eventuality: slyph-like skipping in black coats; words, only visible from rooftops, meticulously written in the snow; robins taking refuge in railings. I dispatch requests received from the finance ministries of both France and the UK before taking what seems to be the last Eurostar of the year.