New York smells like burnt bread. Paris smells like sulphur and burnt cocoa. London smells like rain and petrol. Every city I’ve been to has its own distinct smell. And, for years after I’ve been to a city, I often experience smell-ja vu and I’m transported right back to the streets of that city.
When I left school I never felt the urge to go travelling. I didn’t have an image of myself as a back-packing, dreadlock-sporting, hostel-sleeping, toilet sharing, The Beach-emulating adventurer. I had friends who went to London for a year or so, worked in bars and did some travelling around Europe. My Mister himself did his fair share of adventuring too: he worked on a kibbutz in Israel for a few months and he worked as a construction worker, tie salesman to the rich and famous and as a barman in London.
I did go to Paris and London for a short couple of weeks after I left school and I loved every second of it (despite the fact I was as sick as a dog that’s eaten a putrefying kipper). I was blown away by the sights of England’s capital and I wasn’t even frightened away by the little foreign man who followed us around Earl’s Court saying, ‘Book room for three! Book room for three!’
London was everything it was meant to be: from the grey skies and continuous, bone-chilling damp, to the concrete, moss-covered gargoyles on the rooftops of centuries-old buildings. We walked that city flat, starting right after our eggs, bacon, tomato, baked beans, chips and toast builders’ breakfasts from Benjy’s. We saw The Royal Albert Hall, Westminster Abbey and the Tower Bridge. We wondered around Hyde Park, listened to angry doomsday lunatics at Speaker’s Corner and got lost in the gardens of Kensington Palace.
And Paris was just as amazing as I always imagined it would be. The Eiffel Tower was omnipresent and imposing, even though we somehow managed to walk right past it while searching for it. When we booked our hotel room in Paris we did so on the spur of the moment while in London and we didn’t really know what we were doing or where we should be staying. We didn’t know a Rue from a roux or a Maison from a mason. We were bound to fail.
We ended up in a hotel in what I can only call the Parisian equivalent of Johannesburg’s Hillbrow. We’d booked a room that had an en suite bathroom (a real treat after our shared with 10 pther travellers bathroom in London) and a TV but, when got there, our room was sans television. So we insisted. And mimed our insistence to the dour woman at reception who spoke no English and very French French. And, after almost storming the Bastille to get what we saw as rightfully ours, we finally got our TV. And watched Full House dubbed into French and didn’t understand a word of it. And New York. I’m almost at a loss for words. Almost, but not quite.