"Though I looked for one, I finally had to admit that there could be no cure for Paris."- Hemingway
A malady that has inflicted thousands of people, Paris casts its curse upon many. Art, culture, architecture, ambiance, gastronomy, wine; the city brings many things to mind. But my time living in Paris was a transitional period of great significance in many ways. I was turning 20, no longer a mindless teenager and not yet a mature adult, (granted even at 24, i'm "not yet a mature adult" either). Anyway, turning 20 in Paris. I was living with a French family, taking classes at a university and bewildered by all Europe had to offer. I loved that driving three hours meant you would be in an entirely different country, with new languages, food and people. Mostly, I loved the sense of freedom I felt, the novelty of hopping on a plane to Amsterdam or Budapest for the weekend, exploring the streets of Paris during the week. Its what inspired me to get the somewhat cliche french phrase, la joie de vivre tattooed on my side. I never wanted to forget the joy of living I felt living in Europe that year. My time studying in Paris predetermined my post graduate life travels. For all these reasons I held Paris very dearly in my heart. I defended it with an almost nonsensical patriotism. I became deeply offended, almost personally insulted when people said they didn't like Paris. And I knew that eventually I'd return.
What better time to return then after 18 months of traveling? No one hires in January anyway right? I might as well go on to Paris from New York, the flights were so cheap. When else will I have a free place to stay in Paris? These are all the arguments (excuses) I made so I could indulge myself into going. Anna was living in the same apartment complex we lived in when we studied there and I was excited to return four years later. Not only to explore the city again, but rekindle memories from studying abroad, and to draw parallels between two very different times in my life. Paris will remain a symbolic constant, an unchanging stability for me in which I can measure my growth and change. And as Anna pointed out, "it will live on forever in each new chapter of your life that you make for yourself". I know it sounds like a lot to put on one city. and I think for us specifically that city is Paris, but many people can relate about other defining places in their life. It may be a bit melodramatic, but things that change your life tend to be just that.
Instead of sightseeing, I spent my weeks wandering the streets. There are the tangible benefits that Paris gives, its architectural beauty, and delicious food, but it's more than a city of cafes, boulevards, museums and monuments. It's a city of inspiration and artistic beauty, one that moves you emotionally. Every street is aesthetically pleasing, every alleyway contains a hidden gem in such that "it [Paris] bears witness to an essential consciousness of the need in life for beauty, and to an understanding of the use of proportion and harmony in the achievement of beauty" Paul Bowles. And nothing produces a better harmony and proportion than when the sun set over the banks of the Seine, casting its rays through the stain glass of old churches as the shopkeepers pack up their book stalls and the bells toll from Notre Dame. After all, this was the city that artists and writers such as Picasso, Stein, Stravinsky, Joyce, Diaghilev, and Hemingway chose for inspiration. They immersed themselves in the beating heart of the cosmopolitan center and produced timeless masterpieces. Wandering around the hills of Montmartre, you can explore the old artists haunts, each cobblestone road lined with street lamps. It invokes feelings of the past, the glory age of Paris, or of a Woody Allen movie. At the top of the hill lies the cabaret brassiere, Au Lapin Agile, where struggling artists and writers, including Pablo Picasso, Lawrence Olivier, and even Charlie Chaplin, used to pass their time.
I didn’t want to see Paris the way a tourist see’s it, or even how the French see it. I wanted to be immersed in it, as an outsider and observer, "as there was nothing I enjoyed more than wandering on foot through the less frequented streets of Paris, which I continued to find mysterious and inexhaustible" Bowles. I wanted to get lost in it and accept anything it delivered. This meant walking through strange arrondisments, taking the bus without knowing the direction, sitting at a cafe watching people for hours, eating in a small kitchen in Montmartre talking to old French men as I waited for the rain to stop. This meant Flanering, or wandering without meaning or purpose. Eventually I’d find my purpose, but it wasn’t going to happen in Paris. Here, I could be lost.