Autumn in Paris is the loneliest time. Walking quietly through the Jardin des Tuileries, with the leaves scuffing underfoot, one can’t help but feel solitude’s presence. The carnival has gone, La Fête foraine, and with it the sickeningly sweet scent of barbe à papa and children’s screams. The tourists are fewer on the ground, and most of the metal chairs that lined the gardens are all packed up. The ducklings that played amongst the model boats have grown and flown from the fountains. It’s easy to feel quite lost in this now suddenly quiet place, and it’s tempting to look at the last leaves on the branches of the chestnut trees, and like them hold on to a summer inevitably past.
The too early darkening skies and growing shadows chase you along the wide banks of the Seine to the Grands Boulevards built by Haussman, to these sculpted gardens of Catherine de Medici. You feel very small in these impressive places, and too fleeting in their immense history. As your feet make fly the bundles of leaves, you wonder how many have tread here before you. You wonder how many others have felt like you do.
And after a few weeks of feeling like this you fancy yourself to be walking in the steps of Hemmingway and Baudelaire. You take to walking alone, and sitting in cafés thinking melancholy thoughts and drinking wine. You deem yourself the sole flaneur of the 21st century, whose deep thoughts and tortured sole are meant for greatness. You are never one of the crowd but the observer amongst them. You never feel more alone than when strolling the Champs Elysées, or taking pictures on the Champ de Mars. And then one day, as you sip your disappointing, overly expensive café crème by the Place Contrescarpe, you realise that despite all your artistic efforts, you probably are normal.
In the time you are here, you will blow in and out of the lives of others, from place to place, and along many different cobbled streets. Some places and some people will stay with you for much of your journey, and you with them. Some will be fleeting. Sometimes you will find yourself invisible in the crowds of shopper on Rue de Rivoli. And sometimes, in a restaurant, sitting opposite just one other, you realise that regardless of how long you last, you will now and forever be an unforgettable part of their history. The leaves change every year in the Jardin des Tuileries, and are swept away with the last of the summer tourists. But they were there. They were part of it.