It was my first day of work at my first real job. I asked my new colleague Sarah, who would become one of my closest friends, what her favorite colour was. Without hesitation she responded, “I don’t have one. All of the colours offer something different, so I couldn’t possibly choose just one.” Yellow is the colour that was imprinted in memory. “Yellow is the colour of the ego and self worth,” she explained, “If you see someone making a presentation and they’re wearing yellow... get ready.”
Text: Kaitlyn Bové
Photos: River Thompson
That was August 2016 in Hong Kong. I moved to Paris in August 2017 after having a revelation in Tokyo on New Years Eve: I needed to move out of Hong Kong after finishing the contract with my job. Not just anywhere, but to specifically to Paris. I knew I loved large, fast paced cities, even if Hong Kong didn’t work out, and I wanted to improve my French.
As I’d come to find out one year later, Paris is indeed fast paced – unless of course you’re in the immigration office or any other bureaucratic affiliate. But where it fundamentally differs from Hong Kong is in the palpable sense that we’re supposed to break the rules and we should scream in the streets (literally, go outside and yell) if we aren’t not getting our daily dose of liberty. The city is lit up with assured belief that life is for living, and my version of going outside and yelling about my statutory right to personal liberty is joining the traffic and riding my bike through morning traffic.
It wasn’t until two months into living in Paris that I bought my bike, my hand guided by an unfortunate early morning mishap with the ticket checkers in the metro. I ended up handing over a hefty €50 for losing my ticket. After this run-in with the crass Parisian authority I was given a choice: go to an office and get the monthly pass for €70, or make good on the promise I made to myself when I first landed here. Buy a bike. And who could forget the convincing go green slogan from France’s incumbent president, “Make The Planet Great Again”? I’m trying, Macron.
With the help of my friend Tiago, who is nothing shy of a bike expert, and the French trading website “leboncoin”, we managed to find a sturdy used, striking black bike for nearly the same price of the ticket charged upon me down deep below the streets of Paris. Panic immediately set in upon seeing the bike for the first time. I needed this bike. I knew I had to move quickly. To get a gist of the demand in Paris, the bike seller had his post up for 30 minutes and had over three dozen phone calls in that short amount of time. I ran out of my French class to make the call in the corridor. I just happened to be lucky caller number one.
In the cliché American story of the high school kids rolling up to school every morning in their cars, I was a dead ringer. When I was 16 I inherited my sister’s silver 2001 VW Jetta. One winter morning the car, JetJet, met its final match at the quick hand of Kaitlyn the newly licensed teen spinning out of control into a telephone pole, thereby badly injuring myself and a friend on the way home on the snow-covered, icy roads of Cleveland, Ohio. I have since been an avid biker. From shortly thereafter leaving the suburbs and moving to Boulder, Colorado, all the way to the coast of Portugal, the forests of Sweden, the canals of Amsterdam, the temples of Bagan, the alleyways of Beijing and the Siberian beach villages of Lake Baikal, I have largely formed my travel experiences through the pedals between my feet.
I was apprehensive about riding my bike around the streets of Paris for the first time. The notion of biking in Paris is intimidating to say the least. Prior to setting atop a bike in the city, I couldn’t get myself to think of anything other than, How am I supposed to know where to go? Navigation is tricky amidst the narrow, crooked cobblestone streets, but like all mixed blessings, the wrong turns have more often than not guided fresh discoveries.
Like a bandaid quickly ripped off, I threw myself onto the streets of the city on my first day. Immediately I was taken back by the intensity of the roads. I thought I knew Paris, but it wasn’t until I started exploring the city by bike that I have better grasped the heartbeat of the ever-changing city. The great thing about being a human being in Parisian traffic is that everyone hates you as they independently assert their right to that lingering notion of personal liberty. The result is everyone having right to act how we want on the roads. Cars are mad at the bikers, the bikers are mad at the pedestrians, and the pedestrians are mad at the cars. The loudness of sounds and colours perpetuate and echo the feeling of chaos and messiness, notably the drama of the sirens, blocked roadways, construction sites and don’t forget about the rain. I’ve yet to find a winter morning without the rain.
Far removed from the bicycle-centred infrastructure of Amsterdam, Paris is a guessing game. Should I go, even though I don’t know if the bus sees me? Can I pass through a parade of moving vehicles plus four other bikes in Bastille’s round-a-bout at rush hour? Should I dare to go on a red light even though there’s a garbage truck on my left and a construction pit on my right? My answer is always, yes! Sorry, Dad. Sure, there are bike lanes here and there, but more often than not they share it with the busses and taxis (don’t know who came up with that one). Or if you’re lucky enough you’ll get half a metre of a bike bath going up a narrow one-way street with an abandoned delivery vehicle parked in your path and a driving going the opposite way.
For my first two months biking in Paris I was living on the right bank of Paris, close to Bastille and the Marais. I’m out of the house, hopefully, by 7:30am every morning to go to my university in the Latin Quarter, which is on the left bank. Bastille in the morning is the ultimate experience for the morning commute. The cool, crisp air hits your face as you mount your bike for the first time of the day. We’re at a stop light -- the bikers, the cars, the trucks, the scooters -- its red, and inch by inch we impatiently await the green light. Go! We join in as one to the circle of moving vessels at dawn. From Bastille I cross a bridge that opens its arms to me. Embracing the bridge, I see to my right the gothic arches of Notre Dame reminiscent of Paris’ medieval history, and looking left I see the perfect blend of yellow, orange and purple encroaching on the seine with its promise of a new day. Through biking we gain the ability to move freely, we are the captains of our daily destiny. Every day I have the privilege to wear my yellow coat like a uniform and dash through the engrossing jungle that is the streets of Paris.