Introductions have never been my strong suit. I get so caught up in meeting someone new that small, yet significant, details like someone’s name fly past me. It may seem counterintuitive, but something about meeting new people makes me more aware of myself. I think about every movement I make, the tone of my voice, whether or not I come across as confident and authentic. This was my introduction to the "Rose City."
I had just arrived in Toulouse, France, and was excited to embrace the adventure of traveling by myself, determined that I would enjoy this experience. The family with whom I would be living for the summer had taken me with them into town on errands, and suggested that while they finished up start exploring Toulouse on my own. I nodded politely, grabbed my purse (as well as my courage), and made note of the fact that their house was right across the river, so I wouldn't get lost. And with a wave and a partly nervous, partly enthusiastic smile, I headed off. I thought if I kept moving forward I would find my way. But Toulouse is a very big city.
After taking a few steps away from the family I hesitated at the end of a small, attractive looking street, grappling with the decision of whether to wander and explore, or simply stay on course and return to the house. The street wasn’t much of a street really. It was more like a little alley, too small to be placed so comfortably next to the much larger and more highly trafficked main road.
With little more than enough room for one car to bump slowly down the cobblestones, the alley-street created a sense of intimacy among the houses. It were as if each house whispered comments between them, leaving no activity that took place on the street below unnoticed. The houses appeared old and a little past their prime, but their worn-down facades elicited a shabbiness in the most lovely way possible, like the wrinkles of an old woman, marking a life well-lived. It was oddly quiet on the street. My sneakers made many a sound, and the silence in between these sounds made me aware of the invisible wall separated us — me, the houses, the street — from the two lanes of traffic whizzing through the city directly behind me.
An old man, leaning heavily on his cane, opened a door and emerged from one of the houses. He patted his pockets to make sure he had his keys. His house was made of a light red brick, with bright blue shutters pulled open to the world. But the paint on the shutters was peeling, revealing a deep green, and the places where bricks were chipped and missing. A woman waved to him from her window as he passed, a silent greeting as she lifted dripping plates out of the sink and placed them on the drying rack.
Watching this couple, I felt oddly aware of myself at that moment, as if I were walking into someone’s house for the first time. I took a first step into the alley, then another, passing by the old man’s house, leaving the bustle of people behind me as my feet collided rhythmically with the uneven stones beneath my feet. How beautiful it was here, surrounded by color and silence. Flowers adorned boxes on the windows, and light danced along the cobblestones in front of me, highlighting the path I should follow. As the sun began to drop behind the buildings, it illuminated the red of the brick, lighting up the world with a warm pink glow. All around me a rosy haze arose, radiating even as night began to fall.
The alley was short, not much longer than the length of a large coach bus, and my time there was quickly over. As I turned the corner to leave the small street behind, I stopped suddenly, receiving strange looks from fellow travelers on the road. As I so often am, I was again too caught up in the initial moment of meeting to notice or care to remember a name. Not this time. Turning around, I looked for the white letters embossed on the building on the corner of the street with the pink haze, my head moving in every direction to find the name, any name, to connect to this place. It was only when I stopped moving that my eyes fell upon the street name: Rue des Gestes. The Street of Gestures. The street that showed me what it means to watch the light dance on bricks turning the world a different color.