It was a sweltering hot day, the type of weather that you can only feel in a European capital unused to heat and Paris in July was no exception.
It was the kind of weather you wanted to spend lazing in the shades of the parks, or sipping cool drinks under the parasols of the surrounding bars, cooled by the frequent misting.
I was in a Park, but I wasn’t relaxing, I was working. I had just done a year of an au pair job with a little boy and these last few, hot days were soon to be finished, the boy would be off on the summer holiday and I would free with my newly gained teaching qualification, ready to get a real job. But until that time, I was still doing the stereotypical female occupation of child care.
If you have ever been on the Paris public transport, it is a rather intimidating, hot and sticky, with many opportunities to get lost and confused. If you have ever been on it with someone else child, a four year old at that, it is absolutely terrifying. I kept tight hold of his hand for the entire time and apart from all the normal worries you have when looking after a little kid; I was genuinely concerned that today he might overheat.
But we arrived at Jardin de Luxemburg unhurt and made our way to the sandpits to play, armed with toy cars, buckets and spades.
He was a sweet little boy and I knew I would miss him, but I had had a year of playing cars, building roads, giving baths, cooking dinner I wouldn’t eat and frankly, I had had enough. I came to Paris on a romantic whim to escape from the monotony of England, I knew I wanted better things than my small town could give me and after a year of slog, I was finally glimpsing them. I knew that English Teacher was the title I wanted now, far more sufisticated than the familiar nous-nous I had kindly been given.
We spent a good hour and a half playin in the sand pit. We made castles and tracks for his cars. The best part was of course knocking the castles down and then burying the cars in the destroyed pile of sand. I was carefully keeping an eye on the time though. I did not want to be late back and I had been given instructions that if he behaved himself, I could by us both an ice cream on the way back. A little bit of bribery to make the day go smoother. I wanted to leave extra time for Ice-cream queues and waits for the bus.
I signalled it was time to leave. I was greeted by the defiant face of a little boy being told to stop his fun, a definite no.
I reminded him of the ice cream promise and he jumped up, eager and ready to go, happy to leave his toys behind if only to get his sugar hit that moment or two earlier. I shook the sand out of shoes and toys and together we headed off the stripped stand outside the gates and opposite the bus stop.
He chose vanilla and from experience, I chose the same, I was not a fan of sloppy licks of mine, using the excuse to taste the different flavour, but really just a cunning child’s plan to get even more ice cream in their system in one go.
I had found that one of the great perks of working with children, especially French children, there was always plenty of sweets snacks on supply and the expenses to by more if hunger strikes when out of the house. I had become addicted to the pomme pots that most children seemed to live on and had stopped buying biscuits at home because of the amount I ate when working.
What I still cannot get used to is the shear amounts of sugar French kids eat on a daily basis. I know an ice cream on a hot summer holiday afternoon does not seem like excessive, but this will be combined with the hot chocolate and pain au chocolate for breakfast, the chocolate biscuits for break, the sugar laden desert after lunch and more for the afternoon and evening. They must constantly be running on a state of hyper energy, no wonder they cannot sleep at night and stressed French mummies must resort to cigarettes and colouring books to calm down.
Happily licking our melting treats we made our way home.
The other reason I did not want to be late, was the fact he was not the only little person I was looking after that day. After dropping off the boy at his home, back to his mother after her lunch time meeting, I was due to wiz down on my bike to the other side of town to meet a little girl off the summer school bus and to take her home, until it was her dinner time. Whereas I had looked after the boy all year, doing the after school pickups, the little girl, I had known just for the holidays. She was five and very confident, a different pace to the shy little boy.
As I left the boys house and got on my bike, I felt my head start to bang. It was now three o clock in the afternoon and the heat of the day was at its peak. There was no breeze and the sun so high that the long, tree lined avenues of Paris did not offer much shade to bicycle.
I tied a bandana round my head, gulped at my water and set off. First I had to head down from Gare d’Nord, that was easy, as the road slopped south towards the river I could really pick up speed between the traffic lights. Then right as I hit the Seine and them sweeping along the river, the tourist route Paris. Though it was an hour’s ride, it was worth it as I got to see the whole of Paris, catching a glimpse of the Notre Dame in front of me before I turned, then passed the Louvre, the Tulleries, Place de Concord and the Palaces until out in front of me was the defining monument of Paris, the Eiffel tower, magnificent, elegant, Romantic and for some reason hated by Parisians.
When I first arrived here I was shocked to find the cities natives talk so badly about their most famous monument. I had been told countless times that there was more to Paris than the Eiffel tower. They berated the foreign tourists it bought, the tasteless tat sold under it, the couch parties it attracted. Along with the tour Montparnasse it seemed Parisians just hated tall buildings.
But I didn’t care, I still loved seeing it, reminding myself that I was living in Paris, living the dream. As I pushed along the river, swerving to avoid the tourist who had wondered on to the cycle lane and were staring up at the towering monument, I felt my worries melt away and a smile come to my face. A accordion player accompanied my pedalling for a while, I waved at a passing boat, ready to share my good humour. And then it shrank into the distance behind me as I headed to Porte saint Cloud.
On a slight uphill climb, the threatening headache came out in full force, I paused to drink and wasted a little of the water but tipping it over my head, it soaked into my bandana and offered a moment of relief. I was really sweating, my brown linen shirt chosen specifically for the fact it did not show the dark, damp patches. As I leaded forward on my bike to push off at a traffic lights, I felt the sweat run to my elbows and drip off. I could not wait for the next two hours to be over and I could get a shower.
I arrived at the bus stop with some time to spare and after locking my bike up about side the apartment, I went to wait for the couch. The bus stop was south facing with a main road in front of it. The only shade offered was by the glass shelter itself and I hid behind it. I leaned against the wall and moved off quickly, ever that was hot. Desperate to sit down but with no where too, I propped my bag against the wall and lent on that.
I must have switched off because what seemed like a second later a little girl was standing in front of me, her little face looking expectantly up at me.
I took a moment to switch in to gear. My mindset changed from cars and talking fire engines, to pink dresses, dolls and that Frozen movie.
We set off home. I should have been making conversation at that point, the superficial reason I was looking after these children was for them to learn English, though I knew that childcare was the main agenda. But I wasn’t feeling up to conversation and the little girl seemed to be in a partially thoughtful mood so I let us walk in companionable silence, over the roads to the apartment. In the foyer it was cool and dark, the noise of the road shut out. I wanted to stay in this little bit of heaven. The apartment, I knew would be hot and stuffy and I really wanted just to sit down in the dark.
But we went up. I made us both down a glass of water and gave the options of reading books or playing with dolls. I was happy when dolls were chosen so I could just sit on the sofa and brush the Barbie’s hair. It was therapeutic. The two hours slowly creped by and finally I was free to go with my hard earned money, optimistic that I had done the right thing to more to this wonderful city.