Twenty-five paper Santas spread like a garland across my place mat. Just as many Christmas trees lie piled next to my empty cereal bowl. It’s not even nine and my students’ Christmas cards are well on their way to completion, thanks to a hard working little American elf who wants to make sure they are finished in a timely (20 minutes, give or take) fashion.
The bells of Notre Dame chime three times — fifteen minutes before the hour. I spring from my chair, throwing the dishes in the sink for later as I rush to brush my teeth. Time to go! Time to go! How does it always seem to happen that no matter how early I wake up (two hours ago!) I manage to get a morning workout on my way to the train?!
Stuffing the cutouts in my binder and the binder in my purse, I grab my lunch, arrange my comforter haphazardly on my bed, throw on my coat, and take a final look to make sure all is in order (minus the dishes) before I slip out the door, turn the key, and bound down the cold stone staircase and into the street.
I’ve been here for two months now and I still feel privileged every time I step through the green door frame of my building’s 350 year old courtyard and find myself right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Dijon in the morning. All around me are people going to work — you can tell by their I-mean-business pace. And! I am one of them. I too have a train to catch. I too have colleagues who depend on my timeliness.
As I begin my morning speed walk/run, I pass the woman with too-high heels negotiating the cobblestones, then the old man with his morning baguette, fresh from the boulangerie, tucked under his arm. I nod at the antiques merchant, Monsieur Georges, who arranges his wares in the same meticulous way every market day. Nearly every morning since my arrival I’ve had my eye on a certain golden wall mirror he displays on a park bench. Each time I pass I wonder why it’s still there. The gold’s a little faded and the mirror is scratched, but gosh if I had a wall big enough I’d rescue it from its lazy park bench slouch.
My watch reads 9:03 but I’ve got about three minutes till the hour. Still, it’s not enough time to slow my pace. I round the corner of the square and look both ways before I cross rue de la Liberte. Beyond the arch at Place Darcy I spot the man who sits in front of the tabac, asking everyone for change. I pass and, as usual, offer him a smile in lieu of money. De toute facon, I don’t have time to dig in my purse. But he’s gotten used to my hurried passage, and now he just smiles back, not asking for anything more. “Bonne journee, Mademoiselle,” he says.
Two more cross-walks later and the gare is in sight. It’s the final stretch. I laugh to myself as I imagine the store owners on this busy street whispering something to the extent of “there goes the young lady who trains for a marathon on her way to work.” I’m sure they recognize me in my long black coat, my bagged lunch flying like a kite in the wind behind me.
At the station, the departure screen directs me to voie H. Typical. It’s the farthest platform at the station, but don’t worry, I mentally accounted for the extra distance while I was lollygagging till the last minute back at my penthouse.
The good thing is there aren’t too many people in the station as I make my way to the opposite end. When I see H, I’m staring at the finish line. I take the stairs two at a time, pause to make sure it’s the right train at the top, then jump through the thin, French-sized door. The train pulls away as I find an empty chair. Success. Again.
I sit down, smug, even if a little humid around the temples. Unbuttoning my coat, I settle into my seat and pull out my binder to go over lesson plans. Opening it up without care, paper Santas and Christmas trees flutter out, scattering across my lap and into the aisle. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good day at work!