I have always loved stations and in Milan there was the sapid squalor of continental extremes.
Oil stains, CDs on a wool blanket.
While I was showing my ticket to the driver, I let my hair rough up by the running engine of the bus.
People who travel alone with the kajal put in a hurry, between a forgotten pink suitcase and the honest kiss of two students on the quay. She was pregnant. I saw them from the window.
Those who strive for letting go, those who leave everything and those who do not have anything else with them, free space on advertisement hoardings along the motorway.
The thought of my friends, who were somewhere on the mountains, reminded me what I was leaving at home.
I caught sight of the sun descending fast through the rice fields of Piedmont and I listened to the quiet talk of other guys, all young students met that same night, while I was taking an aspirin and the Alps were coming towards us.
What is the border? It is a bleeding, a shiver. It is zero meridian.
It is the aspirin melted in the mouth.
“Do not tell me that you are not drinking the life in that moment”, some quivering words on the mobile phone, just at the entrance of the Fréjus tunnel.
At the Motorway Café I wore a heavy sweatshirt, much larger than me, and I asked some idiot questions to two bohemians from Milan who were watching me from the yellow strips of the petrol station. A full-size cardboard Asterix wished us in French a nice trip in Gaul and I indicated it with a gesture to a Spanish guy with a straw hat. We deeply breathed that smell of fir resin, hamburger and oil.
Night of students, rock and roll and loose tobacco, quivering and fast like torches in the dark, hurrying up slowly towards Lutetia, the city of lights. At one a.m. we entered triumphantly the wonderful Lyon, to the sound of “Dammi tre parole: sole, cuore, amore”. Outside the windows Bourgogne farmlands were running, lightened in stops and starts by the crescent moon that accompanied us.
I reopened my eyes in the early morning. A barefoot Arab woman with a chador was sitting next to me. A golden sky strip announced the incipient arrival of the day. She put on her leather sandals and tightened them at her ankles.
Here it was, Paris stood out against the sunrise, beyond the route of the high speed along the motorway.
“En quelques minutes nous serons à Paris”, the Polish driver announced on the microphone of the bus. And what a beautiful name had that city!
“God, Paris”! I just had the time to exclaim in a flash and with a lump in my throat, getting down the bus stairs and thanking the Polish driver in German.
It was five o’clock in the morning and it was cold, really cold, and I did not foresee it. I put on the large sweatshirt of the Motorway Café and I set off along an avenue of limes, everywhere there was a scent of bread and sugar.
I knew of the existence of the Champs Elysées, but I had not the idea that I was going along them in that moment.
I was with an empty backpack, without a map, without time, free and light-hearted through the roads of Paris, smiling at shopkeepers who, while raising the shutters of their shops, greeted me in their language.
The Eiffel Tower came to look for me among the gutters and the chimney pots, grand and austere watch, it welcomed me at dawn.
I found the Notre Dame Cathedral following the reliable ring among the avenues: how much I cried when I saw it! How long I stood still in front of the side portal! How much that Chinese or thereabouts tourist and I laughed on the door, finding ourselves both in tears for happiness!
I followed the flow of the river for a while, through the roads that were becoming busier and busier. I read some pages of a certain bare book and some notes I carried with me, crumpled because of the trip.
At midday bells were ringing like in a concert and boats were sounding their horns in unison on the Seine.
Variable moods, elegant tempers talked in a joyful poise. The main bells sent chills down our spine.
I met the Arab woman with the chador at the underground Arts et Métiers, with a child in her arms.
I remember that I had practically no money with me, but I bought a shoddy lipstick in an Yves Rocher shop. I had never put a lipstick, it savoured of class and elegance, it tasted of caramel and honey, and of a crêpe with icing sugar in Montmartre. I stayed there one night only, reading Rimbaud.
At the Défense, I got into a small bakery with a vaguely Art Nouveau interior design hung with post-its and I addressed the blond guy at the counter asking for a baguette. It was not the time for fresh-baked ones, so he rolled up his shirt-sleeves, baring a fully-tattooed arm, and he dived to rummage through the basket of the morning bread. Smiling, getting little by little covered in flour, he spoke to me, in French, believing that I was Parisian, about the unstable weather of those days and the morning cold, which, according to him, already heralded the autumn.
I came back home with a baguette coming out of the blue-fabric backpack.