I love February in Paris, and it has nothing to do with the allegedly love-filled holiday that occurs half way through it. February is the month I decided Paris was home.
Paris feels quiet in January, but tinged with a lackluster air of recovery. The holidays have come and gone, along with most of the tourists. Last month’s festive decorations begin to feel sad and gradually disappear in conjunction with the city’s daily allotment of sunlight. Parisians are back from their own holidays, resigned to retreat in the gray.
There is a significant decline in how often you see your neighbors- down to an occasional bump in at the corner boulangerie or wine cave when you find yourself both reaching for the same Côtes du Rhône.
But in February, the winter hush that has fallen over the City of Light seems to morph from pallid to peaceful.
Still cold but slightly less gray, every stray ray of sunshine feels like a gift to be shared. On any given sunny February day, the Parisians I pass on the street hold a similar glint in their eye- unspoken agreement that today’s tourists don’t know how lucky they are. Of course they’ll never know, because that would involve having to talk to them, but we collectively agree.
My first February in Paris was when I realized that I had, in fact, found a home in this cold but beautiful city.
Actually, not found, made.
It was the end of a normal mid-week winter work day, which means the sun set well before I left the office. I shut down my computer at 5:50 (17h50), as I now had the habit of leaving work in the last few minutes of the hour, timing my exit to be met with the Eiffel Tower’s first sparkle of the night as I began my mile walk home.
No matter how long or monotonous the work day had been, or how far the temperature had dropped, I took 5 minutes to walk along Avenue de Saxe and watch that sparkle, reminding myself that I had found a way to make this my daily reality and I could not take it for granted.
A couple kids from the neighborhood lycée were braving the cold to kick around a soccer ball as the final few vendors of the weekly Saxe-Breteuil Market were packing up their stalls. This open-air market is known among the locals as one of the best in Paris, especially for organic produce, and I had been planning on ducking out to pick up a few things on my lunch break, but got held up in a work meeting.
No matter- I’d just duck into my street’s Franprix (grocery store) on the way home after stopping by the neighboring boulangerie, dropping €1.10 into the coin counter in exchange for a fresh, hot baguette that Marjorie now knew to be my regular order.
I received a lot of bad advice before moving to Paris (more on that later), but some of the best advice was to try a baguette from all the boulangeries within a 5 minute walking radius of your apartment in the few weeks following your move. Pick a favorite, and keep going back. The day that someone behind the counter pulls your order as soon as you walk into the bakery, you have become a regular. The day that they ask why your husband isn’t with you or comments on your late arrival (the American working late again?), it’s official. You have now been invited into “la famille boulangerie” … expect occasional winks and treats to follow, but tread carefully.
I had that now, and it made my friendly, American heart both proud and relieved. I bit off the warm quignon (crusty point of the baguette) while walking into my building, but stored the rest in my kitchenette as a post-run reward. I was training for the Paris marathon in mid-April, and grateful for the warm, orange glow of the Parisian street lamps that guided my evening winter runs along the Seine, over Pont Alexandre III, circling around Invalides as I maneuvered my way back towards the garish Montparnasse Tower that now reliably guided me back home to the 15th arrondissement.
I felt safe running in central Paris any hour of the day, and no matter how often I did it, additional Eiffel Tower sparkles on night runs never got old.
Thinking back, I don’t think there is anything super unique about this particular February evening that I mark as the day I decided Paris had truly become home- maybe that’s the point. After months of apartment hunting, multiple moves, metro thieves, culture shock and language faux pas, I just was.
I just was in this magnificent city, where I had my bakery, my market, my walk home, my routine. And as I set out on my running route that evening, adding an extra layer to keep out this February cold, I couldn’t wait to come home.