The coming of autumn in Paris is announced by a noticeable cooling of the air, which feels welcome after so many months of heat, and by the appearance of small piles of leaves beneath the trees which line the boulevards. There are shorter, darker evenings and the sun, though still making its comforting presence known, is losing power by the day. Fat wasps linger in the way that ailing insects do, swinging through the air as though on a string, lurching drunkenly towards the nearest available sweet thing. Jams, smoothies, fruits – anything they can get as they sense the season, and their lives, coming to a close.
The other day, watching a film, I was struck by a sudden smell like singed hair. Alarmed, I ran downstairs to see if it was my first fear: a fire. The smell seemed to disappear once I left the loft, though, so I sniffed around, trying to follow it to its source. Eventually I realised it was the smell of musty air being blasted out, of 1970s plumbing cranking back to life: the old radiators lining my walls were being turned on for the first time in six months.
It’s been a pleasure, these last few weeks, to dig out once again my sartorial equivalent of comfort food: knitted cardigans and second-hand cashmere jumpers, collected over the years from various charity shops in various cities. The jewel in the crown is an Italian wool-angora-cashmere blend cardigan with a multi-coloured pattern, discovered in one of the “any item 1 euro” piles at a second-hand clothes market on rue de Rivoli in January this year.
Putting on a long-sleeved dress I haven’t worn in months, I am thrown back to that wintry time when leaving the shop building – my home – was a once-daily journey made unwillingly, out of hunger; when most of my hours were spent happily squashed against the radiator reading book after book; when everyone wore scarves indoors while the wind whistled outside the old window of the tumbleweed studio, steamed up from the humidity rising from dozens of damp shirts, leggings, and pairs of underwear that we would hang up so we didn’t have to pay for the tumble dryer, or wait a moment longer in the freezing cold launderette. It all seems a long time ago now, with so many months of heat and sunshine having stacked up in between. What a cold winter it was; what a dazzling summer it’s been.
But it may well be that autumn, in the end, is my favourite season in Paris. There’s a reason why people love the in-between seasons, spring and autumn. They are a sign of things in motion, of hope and of change; they give us a chance to reflect on the previous season while at the same time anticipating the coming one, and all we have done and will do. Autumn, especially, I associate with a new academic year; it simultaneously motivates me, excites me, and makes me slightly sad about the passing of another summer.
A good autumn will ease you into winter with warm, bright days and slow enough temperature changes to allow for the coloured leaves to fall slowly, for children to gather the conkers and chestnuts that fall to the ground, for readers to sit outside in a brisk wind with only a light jacket on. These days I live for the weekend mornings when I can be alone on the cosy fifth floor. Earth has now reached a stage of its circumnavigation of the sun whereby a particular hue of light is produced; coming into my curtain-less room in the mornings, it is just right to gently wake me. I am consequently bathed in the most glorious warmth as it falls across my bed.
As the morning wears on, I can open my windows that look out onto the park below and bask in the small square of sunlight that beams in upon the duvet; I have spent many happy hours, naked, arms flung out, Sunday morning radio on, sheltered from the wind, feeling my skin tingle with delight under the sun’s rays, hidden from view, with nothing to do and no one to see, and consider it the greatest of small pleasures.
Meanwhile my stacks of books grow ever higher, and the wonderful Japanese term tsundoku, meaning the state of wilfully collecting more reading material than one can ever possibly read, comes to mind. I still read outside most days, perching at the café on the bench most well-positioned to catch the sun. Sitting there with my coffee every morning, working on my laptop with a book for later, talking to anyone who passes by and wants to chat, is another of my great pleasures here.
I remember the winter, huddled inside wearing fingerless gloves as I tried to type; and I am glad I will get to escape some of that penetrating cold this year. I have seen Paris dressed in four seasons now, but how I will miss my little pleasures and routines, my small delights and dear friends here.