I love Paris in the Springtime, I love Paris in the Fall… The words of the famous song, made even more famous by the contradictory statement of a francophobic Meg Ryan in French Kiss, flit across my mind as I walk through the grey streets of this grey city. One of the first things I noticed the first time I ascended the Eiffel Tower was the somber, dreary, colourless appearance of the ‘city of love’, even at the height of summer. My mind wanders back to Salzburg, Vienna, Rome… All of which are certainly more beautiful than one is led to believe of the city I now find myself in.
Yet it is not difficult to see why the capital of France attracts so many visitors, each vowing to return time after time, year after year. Although most first-time visitors come only for the sights and sounds we all know so well from Hollywood movies, there is much more to this wonderful city than just the Louvre, the Notre Dame and even the Eiffel Tower.
Paris has a certain quality to it. A certain magic in the air. ‘You can’t help feeling that something profound is being uttered at the next table’, I overheard someone saying on one occasion, while sitting in one of the fabulously over-priced street cafés of the Champs-Élysées. And it is true. I can almost see the Bohemian ghosts of the past out of the corners of my eyes. This is were people like Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein spent their days in silent contemplation of the world.
Hemingway himself once wrote: ‘It was always a pleasure crossing bridges in Paris’. I stand on the famous Pont Neuf and realize for the first time that the bridges he spoke of are not only those crossing the Seine at regular intervals, but also those crucial moments when one stands before life-altering choices and decisions. Paris is a city for soul-searching, learning to know oneself. A city of unforgettable moments. Through the throngs of tourists and the bustle of the long hectic days in this city, the inevitable quiet moment always comes and one is struck with the deep realization that, like the title character of the movie Sabrina, one is able to say: ‘I found myself in Paris’.
I love Paris in the Summer when it sizzles, I love Paris in the Winter when it drizzles… Paris is certainly a city for all seasons, be they physical or emotional. The long spring days and cold winter afternoons are never more enjoyable than in the ‘city of lights’, or ‘city of life’ as I have fondly christened it. That certain something in the air I wrote about earlier can be seen on the faces of all who come here, expecting nothing more than maybe a few interesting buildings and monuments, long queues and ridiculously expensive clothing. Instead, they find vibrant illumination.
Anyone who has spent more than a week in this wonderful city and has taken the time to really get to know himself while there will, like myself, agree with Gertrude Stein when she writes: ‘America is my country and Paris is my home town’.
Have you visited Paris? Do you also think of it as your home town?