Paris is one of those cities you expect to walk away from having experienced something profound.
Stories of romance and nostalgia left there by another place in time leave you desperate to discover its magic for yourself. Like catching a butterfly, you'll need a soft touch. Breathe slowly, move gently, and keep your eyes wide open. Let your thoughts drift away and allow your sensations to take over. With curiosity pulsing through your veins, you'll soon find yourself venturing down mysterious streets without regard for where they lead. Starry eyed and completely entranced, you'll lose track of time and your place within it. Lost, with no desire to be found.
I remember the first time I saw la tour Eiffel with my friend Amber in 2015. It was our first time in Paris and we had naively expected to see France's most iconic structure from every vantage point in the city. We'd been there all day and had yet to catch a glimpse. When I noticed a man do a double take towards something behind us, I looked for myself and quickly motioned for Amber to do the same. There it was, towering over us without any obstruction, as though it had been there all along.
This time around I felt much less pressure to get it right. Each day I'd wake up to the sun streaming through the windows of my Parisian flat and would leisurely get myself together while sipping on fresh coffee and munching on fruit and delightful pastries. Only then would I consider what I'd like to do that day. I'd step out onto the streets of Canal Saint Martin, stopping in at boutique shops or along the canal to sit and soak it in. Eventually I'd make my way someplace new to indulge in a combination of meandering, eating, and lounging. I had picnics at the Eiffel Tower and along the Seine, I read my book in the Gardens of Tuileries and Luxembourg, and explored the marvellous streets of le Marais and Montmartre. I spoke French every chance I could - at the café, the boutiques, the tea merchant, the baker, the cheesemaker. I'm nowhere near fluent but I couldn't resist trying. French brings such joy to my heart!
Something else I enjoyed was observing the Parisians who, like New Yorkers, are a breed of their own. Although that's about the only thing they seem to have in common. A few thoughts on this:
- In New York, no one sees you. They are all so busy doing their own thing, living in their own world. You could walk into a wall and immediately rest assured that no one saw it happen. In Paris, everyone sees you. The tables face outward at every café, restaurant, and bar you pass. You can feel their eyes on you, measuring you up, figuring you out.
- In New York, I was mesmerized by individualized style. Everywhere I looked, some person rocking their perfectly orchestrated sense of self. In New York, being unique is where it's at. In Paris, their exquisite sense of style seems bound within a tight framework of what is considered acceptable. There are rules to play by, and God forbid you stand out from the crowd. I found myself thinking, "oh, I must get a pair of such and such" only because I noticed that every other person had such and such!
Another thing I noticed about Parisians is that smiling is not a common practice. This amused me a great deal considering that France is well known for having invented the concept of joie de vivre. If they are indeed enjoying the good life then I commend them for putting on such an impressive front. Meanwhile, I'm smiling from ear to ear - what an incredible week à Paris! Every day a grand adventure, I wouldn't change a single step. I'd love to stay a while longer, perhaps because my next stop is Lyon and I don't think I'm ready for it. The thought of going back makes my head spin, heart race, and stomach churn all at once ...