11.09.2014 - 18.09.2014 25 °C
Paris is quintessential. The Eiffel Tower decorates people's bedroom walls, teenage girls envisage themselves in berets with red lipstick, fashionistas dream of the Champs d'Elysee. People pin their ingrained hope for beauty, for romance on the idea of Paris; they expect the city to capture their deepest desires in one glittering microcosm. They hold it up like a shiny locket, and curse when they discover it will tarnish after time, nothing gold can stay. This is so unfair. No city is a short-cut to the Belle Époque of your existence. The magnificence of modern Paris deserves to be celebrated, rather than canned by disheartened tourists, most of whom will tell you "Paris is not what it used to be"; that the city is struggling to cope with the multitude of squabble and mess that comes whenever millions of humans are concentrated in one area. But I refuse to believe this is a recent development, some ugly by-product of the 21st century. Paris has ways been a glamorous cesspool of debauchery and self-expression, I think that people simply don't like how that translates to a current-day context. Perhaps we've all become too sanitary.
Anyway, cutting short my indulgent sociological rant (forgive me, I'm in Switzerland and suffering from lack of oxygen) Paris was a spectacular week. For me, it was a perfect blend of living out Hollywood-induced Parisian dreams and also discovering what it means to exist in Paris day-to-day outside of these idealistic ventures. We definitely lived like locals, meaning we stayed in an apartment that was exactly 7 metres squared, excluding the charming balcony where we enjoyed many kebabs after growing tired of pricey restaurant food. Our bed collapsed into the wall but we had the holy grail of cheap Parisian apartments- our own bathroom (cue Georgia dancing around happily at not having to wear shoes in the shower for a whole week). Again, it reinforced to me just how much personal space we enjoy back home, but also taught me that cosmopolitan Europeans probably just don't have the same anxieties about personal space. I went overboard with trying to eat like a local though, easily consuming my body weight in macaroons and enjoying the world's fanciest hot chocolate at Angelina Patisserie.
Aside from delicious food comas, we were very busy that week acting like Griswald-esque tourists. Places like Paris can be really daunting to explore because of the omnipotence of sights and attractions. Luckily, my trusty Shawnee had spent time there and could easily divide this list into worthy and wasteful. Among her top picks were the Musee D'Orsay (half the waiting time of the Louvre and twice the edginess) and the city Catacombs. I really didn't understand what she meant by calling the Catacombs a 'humbling experience' until I was stuck many miles underground surrounded by hundreds of thousands of skeletons. I've never seen such a vivid illustration of how tiny a human life is (in physical, statistical terms).
That being said, Paris is a city that celebrates the undeniable majesty of the human experience. Walking the grand squares and gazing at the monumental architecture, I couldn't help picturing how the streets must have oozed with blood for months after the Revolution. Maybe this is why Parisians are so fiercely proud of their lifestyles, and all the grit and glitz attached to them. It's a place where Gucci and the Guillotine are equally celebrated.
Without question, the highlight of this week for me was finally getting to visit the Moulin Rouge and watch its current show, Feerie. Anyone who knows me knows of my love for theatre and burlesque so the prestige alone always meant I was going to enjoy the night. What really surprised me was the quality of the performances, the acts were versatile and the dancers obviously very highly trained. Prowling through Montmartre (believe me, the only way to get through Montmartre is to prowl) satisfied my bohemian dreams but also made me realise that gypsies are essentially glorified criminals. That put somewhat of a dampener on my secretly-harboured dreams to run away in a caravan. Keeping the gypsies and multitudes of thieves out of your pockets while trying to enjoy the horizon from the Eiffel Tower is a real art form.
I have two favourite memories of Paris, and they reflect stark differences in my time there. The first was a night bike ride we joined, where you essentially pay to be marked out as a huge group of tourists in fluro vests taking up half the road while gawking at your surroundings. The Louvre and its gardens are much more spectacular at night, and the nocturnal Champs D'Elysee is affectionately referred to as the Avenue of Diamonds and Rubies, named after its glittering signs and car headlights. After dismounting the bikes, we boarded a barge that glided down the Seine. I think I was more fascinated with watching the nightlife under the bridges along the river banks than the landmarks that the gravelly loudspeaker kept barking at me to look at.
The other memory I will hold close to my heart is a much simpler one, of a sunny afternoon where Hodge and I meandered hand-in-hand down the riverbanks, stomachs full of pastry and the air abuzz with the glow of summer. We pottered around, giggling at street performers and perusing the souvenir stalls. It was one of those rare occasions when you are travelling that you forget that home is so far away, and everything feels natural, as though we had done it every weekend for many years and would do so time and time again. In the midst of my awe and intimidation of a place so rich with history and life, I will always cherish feeling part of that for a short moment.
Au revoir, Paris. Such a unique bubble of existence you are.