We awake at 1:30am.
I count belly breaths. Beg my hypothalamus, please. Please. Try mindful appreciation of quiet and warmth and fat feather duvets. Summon blissful memories of gently drifting. Hold soft conversations in the dark.
By 3am we are still most definitely not asleep.
So, cursing twelve hour time-zone changes, we get up. Make tea. Sit at the dining room table over the blue light of our laptops.
Our apartment is above a little cobbled lane in the 3rd Arrondissement. Rue Charlot. A deep-turquoise glass and iron door. Barred into starbursts.
Admitting. Releasing. Gently latching behind for almost two hundred years.
On one side is an epicerie. (Fine salmon, caviar.) On the other, a cafe. Locals spill onto the street in smoke-wreathed clusters.
Our host, Philippe, arrives – silver-haired, sparkly-eyed, deliciously-accented. He bends down and fits an old key into the shin-height lock. Non-non-non! He removes my suitcase from my hand – and together the three of us climb five flights of winding wooden stairs. Oak cream pistachio-green.
Upstairs, through a soft green door, we discover – lucky lucky lucky – we have won AirBnB roulette.
Open. White. Light. Oak floors and painted beams. Exposed brick. Low slanted ceilings. A lofted bedroom. Huge soft couches fattened with pillows, and lamps on all surfaces.
Bourgie. Phillipe Stark for Kartell.
A mid-century dining table. Bookshelves weighted with contemporary art, interior design. Baudelaire. Proust.
The white panelled wooden windows are open to crisp autumn air and the sounds of the street.
By 7am, we’ve been up for four hours. Outside it's dark. It will remain so for some time. But we have written and retouched and proofread and selected and published and shared. Breakfasted and showered. Packed for the day.
We are pacing. Impatient.
We descend the stairs. Carefully – by cell-phone torchlight.
(Where is the light switch?)
Watching our footfalls.
Watching low ceilings that threaten our foreheads.
We latch turquoise-starburst behind us and step into the street. Cold sharp clear. I wrap my scarf tighter, push gloved hands into pockets, and huff white clouds into the pre-dawn dark.
Sneakers on cobbles.
Lanes lit with the soft yellow of street lights.
The moon is a half circle.
Sleeping cities enchant me.
We walk to a minimalist soundscape. The sound of water running in gutters. Broom bristles on sidewalks. The unstacking of chairs onto pavement. The easy idling of delivery trucks.
We walk and walk and walk in the dark. Through lanes and alleys and squares and gardens and markets. We walk and walk. Silently. Reverently. Then excitedly chattering. Look! Look! Oh-my-god look! We walk tearing large greedy mouthfuls from small paper bags. Croissants. Rich spiced crusted bread – figs, almonds, raisins.
My footsteps become a chant of astonishment. I-am-here-doing-this-I-am-here-doing-this.
I am here.
Lean against the cold stone of Ponte d’Arcole. Transfixed by the Seine. She transfigures street light – a wet dance of impressionist strokes. Black. Deepest blue. Gold. White. Grey.
Above her, spires. Turrets.
Outlined against lightening sky.