Everywhere I went today I marveled at the eccentric, the fashionable, the strange. Paris is surprising that way.
What can I say about the City of Light that hasn’t already been said? I could, like Hemingway, wax poetic about how the city is a moveable feast, how it’s a place that stays with me long after I leave it. What I will say is that I’ve always felt that this is my ‘soul city’, a place I was destined to meet, a nexus of growth in my twenties. And sure, like any love affair or soul mate situation, some days were blissful and others maddening.
I arrived straight off the train at Gare de Lyon, and instantly was stunned by the characters I saw. Normally, I don’t give it or them much thought but today was different. Then once on the platform and in a sea of commuters, I set off fast and swift, moving with determined feet down towards the metro to get where I wanted to go.
The metro lines in Paris are the arteries of an incredibly busy city. Certain lines are a nod to an avant-garde past, especially its cast iron entrances. As old and dirty as some of the lines are, I don’t mind it. I remember using the metro when I first moved here, picking random stops on a whim and getting to know the city that way. Before I had a job I had the time to explore, and being back this past year without a normal job afforded me the same free time. I studied people then and I study them now: their fashion, their lack of eye contact, their indifference. A man playing saxophone in the hallway, a teenager reading Voltaire, lovers making out, an old woman doing soduku.
I look around the Line 14 today; it’s full of business people and hipsters in oversized wears. Even a skinny musician with a tuba in tow makes an appearance. At my most whimsical, I imagine that some tourist spots me and mistakes me for a French girl.
Today I take in the scenery. I never get tired of the cityscape here and each time I leave feeling in awe. I’ve swapped my phone out for my camera because today I know that my time in Paris is coming to an end – in just a few days and we’ll be driving off. I push my sentimentality down at the heavy feeling.
We’re moving again.
As I cross the street on the way to my coffee haunt in the 3rd, I see a young woman in all black, tough and punk looking with blazing pink hair, but a second glance reveals she’s weeping under pitch black sunglasses. I continue on past street cafes and see business people in suits sipping on their morning buzz.
A few minutes later, a girl enters my coffee shop in stylish workout attire – probably Lululemon – with a pink beret tilted to the side. She’s definitely not Parisian, I think. I watch as she interacts with another customer with her American accent. The clothes were a sure tip-off because a French girl would never be caught in workout wear outside the gym. Parisian style is an art I have yet to master, an effortless elgance that can be summed up by classic wardrobe pieces (muted colors), a fresh face, little makeup, and a pop of red lipstick.
Throughout the day, I hop from neighborhood to neighborhood. Like phases, I go through cravings for the ritz of the 1st, the picturesque perfection of the 6th, or the artistic and easy-to-love 3rd. I adore these streets and realize that Paris has been my muse, my playground. It’s a place that I feel tapped into like nowhere else in the world. One of my favorite things to do is to simply look up. Paris is a never ending treat with historical style and artistic beauty: medieval, gothic, renaissance, classical, art nouveau, contemporary. Paris has it all.
Not always at the forefront of innovation or change, France, and Paris in particular, is a surprisingly static in its way of working. Sure, the people are notorious for their less than warm demeanor but this time around I’ve found them to be much nicer than I remembered. You’ve heard the reputation: Paris is great, but the people…The flippant attitudes and shocking sass have been enough to make me fume at times. But lately, my luck has turned and I’ve encountered kind locals, shop and cafe owners who are refreshingly warm. I’ve discovered something lately, though. When someone is rude to me, I bite back with a bit of attitude. And just like that, they act as if nothing happened. Maybe it’s a sort of sass sparring that doesn’t actually come from a bad place, maybe more of a bored one. That’s my theory at least. 😉
Paris was the manifestation of my European fascination and dreams. I made it come true here, so it makes sense I feel tethered to it. I’ve made some of my closest friends here, met my husband here, enjoyed major professional moments, too.
It’s true that enjoying a city is about finding a mix of offerings. Can you have fun there? Can you grow there? Can the city be a good backdrop to the life you want to live? Maybe Paris isn’t the answer to all my dream city questions, but as I walked along the Seine and took it in today, I realized it’s a damn good blueprint for my future dream city, wherever that might be. I know Paris will be always here. I also know I will always have the softest-of-city-spots for it.
À la prochaine!