There’s a running quote (I know, I know, runner dork alert) from Jeff Galloway (a former Olympian and author of several running books, for those of you who aren’t weird like me). He said, “the first fifteen minutes of every run are a shock to the system. Slow down, get through it, and you’re on your way.”
Over and over again, I find this to be true when I run. Even after years of constant, devoted running, I still have my doubts most days when I first set out. I almost always start out too fast. My breathing is ragged and uneven; I often feel like I can’t quite breathe deeply enough. My feet always feel wrong–too heavy, or too springy, or just plain erratic and choppy in the way they hit the pavement. My arms flail around, the water bottle in my hand feels like it weighs a million pounds, my shoulders ache, my quads feel like lead, there’s a twinge in my ankle, and time after time, I wonder, what am I doing? I think about cutting my run short. I convince myself I’m just having a bad day.
Luckily, I have been running long enough that I know to expect these unpleasant thoughts and feelings when I first set out. I can usually silence the nasty voice in my head, focus on getting my breathing evened out, and before I know it, my footfall is rhythmic and light, my arms have begun obediently swinging forward, perfectly angled at 90 degrees, as I was taught, the water bottle feels like nothing, and I begin to feel graceful (a real rarity for me) and strong. I feel like I could run forever.
Well, I’ve been in Paris fifteen days now, and I think the “shock to my system” has finally subsided. At times, showing up in this beautiful and intimidating city felt like being doused with cold water. I was basically spluttering and trying to catch my breath the first few days. But things began to work themselves out–I got my metro card, my bank card, and my precious Blackberry. I found an idiot-proof map book that can save me no matter how desperately lost I find myself. I recognize everyone who works at the front desk of both my school and my dorm, and they recognize me.
These were the things that worried me most when I first arrived. Funnily enough, though, it’s not so much these things that have finally made me feel like I know what I’m doing here. Instead, it’s the little, insignificant things. The fact that I know how to ask for bread with dinner. (Which, weirdly, you do have to do.) Or that I now know when I’ve found a good deal on a crepe, a baguette, or a piece of fruit–and when I’m getting ripped off. I’ve figured out which items of my clothing are going to mark me as an outsider, that running is best reserved for the park if I don’t want to get strange looks, and that it’s always best to have exact change. I know that crêpes are categorized as either sucre or salé (sweet or savory, or more literally, salty). For that matter, I know that if it’s on a buckwheat pancake, it’s a galette or a crêpe de blé noir, and furthermore, that I prefer these varieties when ordering something salé–never again will I order a crêpe oeuf et fromage.
I know I’ll love anything that includes the words “caramel” and “salé” or “sel” together. I love knowing that I can find figs everywhere, and that they’re a slightly different color here than they are in the US. At least in the neighborhoods I frequent, I no longer find myself lost or disoriented–I always at least know what direction I’m heading in. I know that unless you want to pay a good deal more, it’s better to take your food to go than to eat it sitting down. And that it never hurts to specify that you want your water from the tap, s’il vous plaît. I know that in Paris, the famous places almost always live up to the hype, and that Parisian coffee just isn’t that good, but that Parisian chocolate will never be bad.
I’ve accepted that no one’s ever going to take a step to the left on the sidewalk to help me out in my desperate attempts to keep from colliding with them, so I no longer apologize profusely whenever I bump into someone. And despite the fact that every part of my raised-in-the-South self hates this, the French don’t apologize, don’t expect me to, and find it strange when I do. I know that the public fountains all over the city are safe to drink from and that public bathrooms basically don’t exist. I can use the metro successfully without constantly referring to my map. I’ve found a favorite crêperie (though I’m sure I’ll find more), an acceptable yogurt at the grocery store (that will at least do until I’m reunited with my precious Greek yogurt), and have learned that sadly, Parisian oranges just don’t compare to the ones back home, but for some reason, the clementines are perfect.
I know that there’s still so much to learn. I know that there will still be plenty of moments in the next few weeks and months when I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing, or that I don’t belong here, or that I’m lost–again. But right now, I’m really feeling like I’m getting the hang of Parisian life. I’ve hit my stride.
I think I could stay forever. Well, if they had organic peanut butter, pumpkin spice lattes, and my dogs, I could.