I kicked off my birthday weekend by climbing into my apartment on a ladder.
The night before I had had dinner with a friend at Le Baratin. Returning home, I reached into my purse for my keys like I always do and found the key ring but no key. I immediately knew where it was: It was sitting on my table in my apartment where I had put it upon returning from a run in the Tuileries. I am normally obsessive about making sure I have my keys on the way out the door, checking and double checking and triple checking. I probably reached into my handbag, felt the beads on my porte-clés, and figured I was good to go.
I was good to go, but not to come back.
There are friends I could have called, but it was late, I had to work in the morning, and I wanted to visit the gardienne first thing to see if maybe she had a key. So I checked into the cheap hotel next door and crashed in the twin bed and had happy dreams of getting into my apartment, so happy and realistic that I woke up questioning if they had been dreams at all. Alas.
Mentally preparing myself for the prospect of paying a million euros for a locksmith, I rang the gardienne’s bell. No, she did not have a key.
“But which windows are yours?” she asked, looking up to the first floor.
“Those two.” I said, not immediately catching her drift.
“Wait here! I will go look for a ladder!”
The first one was not nearly tall enough. Not a chance. But there are apparently loads of ladders hiding in utility rooms and caves around the building, and the next one seemed like it might work. That is, if it didn’t break before I made it to the top. This was an antique specimen, wooden with peeling paint, the kind of ladder with the tapered top that fruit pickers use in orchards, a set piece from Marie Antoinette’s Versaille hamlet. Frankly, I was scared.
We leaned it against the building and it appeared to be tall enough. She held the bottom and I started climbing, determined to get inside.
“Don’t fall!” She kept saying. Thanks.
I ascended, slowly and steadily, the rungs getting narrower and narrower. Near the top, I was able to grab onto the window ledge and take the last two steps. My head well above the sill, I knew I was in. I leaned over and into the room (did I mention that I was wearing a skirt?), grabbed onto the arm of the sofa and pulled myself in head first, completely graceless but triumphant nonetheless.
For several years I have been finding birthdays difficult, not because I care about getting old exactly, but because getting older entails a certain amount of reflection. The question “Another year has passed and what have I done?” shows up on that arbitrary 365th day to highlight loss and change, and loss and change are always difficult, even when for the better. My last birthday, my 34th, would forever make October 10th a showcase for the loss of my mother, early on the 9th.
To say that I have been dreading this birthday is a grand understatement. The juxtaposition of one of the best days of my mother’s life next to one of the worst days of mine is.. well, it’s heavy. For a while I have been thinking about this pair of days, wondering how to commemorate or celebrate. I was driving myself crazy.
When I told a friend about the ladder, we had a good laugh and then she became pensive. “To live here, I think, you have to remain open to all of the surprises.”
She’s right, but not just about life in Paris.
I responded to last year’s tragedy by shedding cautiousness. I travelled, I fell in love, I ate, I drank, I came to Paris. I was fearless in a way. What better way to commemorate this year than by committing to more of the same? And what better way to kick things off then by climbing a ladder and diving headfirst into one’s apartment?
The eating and drinking are underway: I spent yesterday morning with lovely clients, strolling, eating pastries, cheese, chocolate and charcuterie. I had lunch at Le Comptoir (with a coupe), a much-needed afternoon nap followed by a run in the rain. Drinks at Fish with friends capped the day. Today there will be oysters, Champagne, and a party later on. The falling in love part of the agenda is a little harder to plan, but it’s early yet.
And if I’ve learned anything in the past year, it’s that anything can happen.