My hairdresser put me in a trance. It was a bitterly cold morning but the sky was blue and the sun was shining, so I mistakenly didn’t put gloves on. By the time I got to the (oh, so warm!) hair salon my hands were frozen into claws and I had to wrap them around a cup of tea to get them to work again. The hairdresser gave me a neck/shoulder massage and my poor tense muscles couldn’t believe their luck. Then she led me into the quiet room where they wash your hair with nice smelling products and you just lie back in the chair with your eyes closed and try not to fall asleep.
With the warmth of the salon, the scented shampoo and the heat from the hairdryer, by the time I was ready to leave I could barely stand up. I could have just melted into a gooey mess on the stylish floor, which is regularly swept by an equally stylish apprentice. The hairdressing salon is posh. It’s pretty much my only vice. I don’t smoke, I drink cheap wine (which is surprisingly nice) and I don’t have a drug habit, but I do spend money on my hair. It’s an investment in self-esteem.
My hairdresser, though, no longer holds me in high esteem. When she gave me my coat I saw her peek at the label and her face fell. Perhaps she likes to look at people’s clothing labels and imagine their swanky lifestyles. I don’t have a swanky lifestyle and my coat is from a very ordinary shop but I love it because it was $20 in a sale and, what’s more, it’s red, which is a very cheery colour to wear in winter when 90 per cent of people seem to dress in black.
So my cheap coat and my expensive hair and I stepped out of the warmth in a complete daze. I had to drag my brain out of its trance and say, “Crossing road. Pay attention.” It was my day off, which is supposed to be a weekly occurrence but often isn’t. Work, at the moment, is taking up too much time—and too much brain space, which is worse. That’s really not okay and I’m trying to figure out ways to deal with it. Wish me luck.
I decided to try out a newish cafe that I liked the look of. Inside it was concrete and wood, washed with natural light. There were hanging plants and funky light bulbs. There was a painting in peacock blue with the world “yellow” written on it, which made me smile. French pop played in the background. The coffee came in a ceramic bowl, so lovely to wrap cold hands around.
The bowl reminded me of going to Paris with a friend when we were 18. In the hotel dining room for our first breakfast we were served hot chocolate in bowls. “Do we eat it with a spoon?” we wondered. We did the sideways eye slide and saw that other people were dipping their croissants in or lifting the bowl to their lips. Aha! I spoke schoolgirl French and my friend spoke none, but she could have won a medal for trying.
Friend: “How do I ask for orange juice?”
Me: “Une orange, s’il vous plait.”
Friend: “Un orage.”
Me: “You just asked for a thunderstorm.”
We did all the touristy things. La Saint-Chappelle was the exquisite jewellery box that my French teacher had promised it would be. The extravagance of Versailles was too much, but I liked the Sacre Coeur better than dour Notre Dame. In the shadows of Montmartre a man flashed at us and we ran away giggling. In the Gare du Nord a spaniel-eyed drifter asked ever so nicely for money, twice.
We ate steak frites the like of which I’ve never tasted again. We lunched on simple salads with tangy vinaigrette. We gobbled pastries in a side street outside a patisserie: coffee religieuse and tarte au fraises. There was an advertisement for cheese on the wall of a metro station—Du pain, du vin, du Boursin—which I loved the rhythm of. As catchphrases go, you know it’s a good one when people can remember it 30 years later!
I drained my bowl of coffee, put on my red coat and went back out into the cold. The leaves were all down and so was the temperature. But the memories kept me warm. It was a good slow day at the start of winter.