The other day I found myself in a park in Paris at dusk. It was completely by accident and not by design - I was waiting for a gallery to open for its late viewing after leaving another gallery closing its afternoon viewing. So I sat down on a bench with a cup of warm apple cider from a street vendor and a book to wait. The cider wasn't anything special, but it was hot and spicy and it warmed my hands, chilled to the bone, and sent a wave of contentedness through me. The book was something tatty I had picked up from the shelves of my apartment, left stranded by some previous traveller who clearly didn't value it enough to waste precious luggage weight and lug it all the way home. The park was empty - lonely benches, lonely stretches of green, one lonely carousel, unloved in the winter when all the children are rugged up in beanies and mittens in cinemas and tea rooms - and I had it all to myself.
This park isn't a secret - more of an oasis, actually, sandwiched between the Champs Elysees and the Rue st Honore - but it almost felt like on that afternoon, when I read my book and drank my cider and waited for someone to come and interrupt the peace. Paris does dusk well. In fact, Paris does a lot of things well, but that movement from day to night - or night to day - is something that Paris seems to do effortlessly. What else can you expect from a city where the girls wear their old jeans and a peasant blouse for cocktails with their friends, where they wear a blazer and thigh high boots to meet the parents, where they pair their party dress with suede ankle boots for sunday brunch. Paris, more so than any other city I've ever been in, seems to have this day to night conundrum solved - no sweat. In Sydney you'd have trouble finding somewhere to get cake and tea as the sun starts to set in the afternoon. In Paris it's called a 'salon du the' and they're open till late, pas de probleme. You eat breakfast at lunch time, or breakfast at dinner (crepes, please!), you have dinner when you should be having cocktails, you have cocktails when you should be having lunch. In Paris the movements of the sun don't really dictate your movements in the day. It can take a little while to get your head around it, but once you do, you realise that this is really the way you're supposed to live.
Dusk in Paris is totally unceremonious and easy - Charlotte Gainsbourg with no make up and wet hair - that it stuns you that people are passing by it without even so much as a backwards glance. They're heading out for breakfast at dinner, dinner at breakfast, in their jeans and their boots and their woollen coats, no makeup or maybe just a little makeup, a spritz of something woody and oriental, under-dressed and over-dressed all at the same time. The men in suits and trenches or, somehow even better, turtlenecks and sportsjackets and beige slacks were even less concerned with the fading light, the soft, impressionistic movement of the clouds. Dragging on cigarettes or gabbering down mobile phones they, too, moved past quickly. The movement from day to night is completely unremarkable to a local. But me, caught in the middle in a secret park that's not so much a secret as it is an oasis, was stunned by the elegance, the simplicity, the ease of it all. No trumpets heralding, no sudden light switch flicked over, no slipping out of trouser suit into sequinned skirt ("A bit of sparkle takes your office button down from desk to dinner!"). Just another sunset, another round of aperitif, another glass of red wine. In this, as in so many, many thing, Paris has it completely right.