First impressions are always important. Nobody knows that better than I do, and it's hard to remember that a person, an object or a place should not be judged based on any first glimpse. It means nothing to see something beautiful and just assume that it is perfect, or on the other hand, condemn something due to bad vibe. And I had such high hopes that everything in France would be incredible and perfect and extraordinary, which in my mind made no sense but in my heart, it was the only acceptable thing that could happen. Because from there, the first impression that I had of Paris, of France, of Europe forms the basis of everything that I explore and becomes the perhaps an indisputably important standard that I would compare all my future travels with.
Upon meeting Caroline, a woman who would help me do anything to make my journey feel easier and safer and more enjoyable, my previous concerns and doubts dissolved away. It was amazing how another person's warmth and influence can act almost like a switch, numbing all the senses so that you can just live in the moment without any fears or insecurities. Arriving straight from the airport to the suburban town of Meudon, our discussions grew less and less vivid as I started to marvel at the strange environment around me. Bare trees stretching high up into the sky, all lined up the "rue" as if standing guard against the chilling air outside. All I saw were row upon rows of paths with little cobbled edges, glazed with a layer of soft wet frost to show that despite the heat inside the car, the outside was a completely different yet beautiful scene. Perhaps it was not the Paris I was expecting: Quiet, calm, almost peaceful with an eerie edge as brown, darkened leaves lay on the hard ground.
I learnt quickly that my first night would not be spent with my host family, but at Caroline's house and I cannot express just how completely satisfied and fulfilled I felt to finally settle into a very homely French maison, be that it is only for one night. There is nothing that can compare to this strange combination of ethereal and autumnal beauty that stood right before me, it was unlike any structure I had ever seen. "Villa Mathilde" is absolutely magnificent and spellbinding and it will be a house with an exterior that I will perhaps never forget. Despite the fact that New Zealand would have fallen fast asleep by this time, I was more awake than ever, running on adrenaline and simply the thrill of having bizarre experience in the loneliest way if you had to think of it like that. The warm house, the Christmas decorations and the beautiful tree right next to the fireplace was enough for me to really comprehend that I am not only in one of the best locations in the world, but at the best time as well.
The cold didn't stop me from rushing outside to take pictures after a not-so-French meal of spaghetti and an English tea filling the house with a warm earthy smell. Already within the first two hours of arriving in France, I could not simply sit down and rest like any proper person should after such a long journey. I walked, breathing out misty smoke as my warm breath hit the cool air around me, with nobody by my side but the biggest playground around me waiting to be explored. The architecture of the houses that I passed by made me stop in my tracks, and I can honestly say it took me an unreasonably long time to walk around and back because I just could not tear myself away. There is nothing quite like it, nothing that I had ever seen before anyway. With each step, I thought to myself over and over: This isn't meant to happen yet. I was not destined to come here till much later, when I can appreciate the clear skies with my warm coffee, a pinch of vanilla added by a special Monsieur who I knew well from buying hot drinks from his cafe every day for the past year. Or when I am sitting on the bench with my husband, arm in arm in a tight embrace to keep out the frigid air trying to force between us as we listen to the distant train grind to a halt. Or even when I am adjusting the overwhelmingly large scarves around the tiny necks of my young children with their little breaths moving in a white haze before dissolving into transparency. I am smart enough to know it was not a dream but I was living it right then and there.
Yes it seems incredibly predictable, how could I not enjoy Paris. But I have seen nothing yet and already I am just yearning for more, with an honest declaration that my first sights of suburban Paris is almost nothing like I predicted but everything that I had hoped for.