Yesterday I read Katie Glass’ article in The Sunday Times Magazine, ‘The meek may inherit the Earth, but not New York – and it’s all the better for it’, a love letter on how “New York is a city that specialises in making ridiculous dreams come true” (1). She made me knuckle down and write all of the thoughts I had about my own affinity for Paris, the apparent city of Love.
My first trip to Paris made me nervous. I felt as though I should make the sort of effort I’d make for a third date with somebody I like. I got my brows and nails done and sort of mapped out my clothes, shaving my legs in the anticipation of getting to third base… But when I arrived I realised Paris would’ve taken me as I was, leg stubble and all.
Paris befit me even if I didn’t befit it. I was there in September of this year for four days, goose-gogging what was
definitelypossibly supposed to be a romantic trip for my parents. Perhaps they wanted me there, perhaps they felt sorry to leave me, either way I was in Paris so I didn’t mind. In Paris you could be depressed and brooding and it was more glamourous than annoying. You could blend despair and beauty and call it productive, sexy even. I liked it. I drank Kir Royale until my head hurt and ate crusty bread until it didn’t. I scribbled furiously in my notebook, inspired by some ethereal notion of creativity and zeal intrinsic to the city’s character. And it did have a character.
Paris gave the illusion of being a person. It was a place where romance lived on every corner, in every shop window, atop every building. Where mystery and excitement were apparent in the everyday. Where couples unashamedly kissed and voyeurs like me likewise watched. Where everybody seemed to be either sitting or reading, or both. Looking or kissing, or both. Drinking, smoking and eating or just being. In all of these things lay a languid fruitfulness. A dynamism to the relaxed. Creativity in the unhurried.
Here four things stood out to me.
1 – Lingerie for men.
This struck me as something that us Brits would laugh at with a sort of ‘only in France’ ethos in mind. But for me male lingerie captured a different national mindset: why should women be the only ones who get to slip into something uncomfortable for the benefit of a partner, or themselves.
2 – Couples with matching haircuts. I must have seen a few dozen couples with the same hairstyle, (all but the crown shaved away with the rest tied up in a bun). Again this was a gender neutralising and unifying thing for me.
3 – Café culture. Never before have I seen so many cafes, with the chairs faced outwards to the street: inviting, communal, open. A different cultural mindset to the anti-social, reserved privacy of home.
4 – Love padlocks.
To my knowledge this isn’t just a Paris thing but, all the same, something struck me about the thousands of tiny locks containing thousands of bigger promises (some kept, some likely not) sealed publicly and forever in this city of Paris, with the adage, ‘of love’. Public, shared and collective.
Paris felt inclusive. I butchered their beautiful language with my harsh English tongue, but whoever I spoke to seemed to admire that more than if I’d just spoken lazily in my mother tongue. I was jealous of the groups of friends or couples laying with half-drunk bottles of red wine watching the stars and waiting for the lights of the Eiffel Tower to sparkle on the hour. I wanted that to be my run of the mill Saturday night. I wanted to be in Paris and I wanted some of Paris to be in me.
I ended up losing my camera on the last day of my trip, in the Louvre, which was probably fitting as some of my memories of Paris did stay behind in the city (as well as some dodgy selfies, so I’m expecting a J-Law leaked nudes situation to reveal itself any day now). As a result I’ve had to think a lot harder to piece together my memories from the trip without relying on images to paint them for me. You remember things a little more ‘real’ this way anyway. Or maybe a little more rose-tinted.
My verdict on Paris is that it should be renamed the city of romance, rather than love. Love is too coupley, too exclusive. Paris exudes pure collective romance: glamorous, vibrant, unifying.
Oh, and the
French Onion Soup is the most wonderful soupy, oniony, cheesey, bready thing you’ll ever taste.
(1) – Glass, K. 2014. ‘The meek may inherit the Earth, but not New York – and it’s all the better for it’, The Sunday Times Magazine, 12 October, p. 5.
All pictures taken with my iPhone.