Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Of all the places I’ve been to, Paris is one of three destinations that really stand out for me. I don’t know if it’s because of my French DNA, but I always miss Paris. Last year at this time, I spent my days and nights strolling through the cold Parisian streets, marveling at the small wonders hidden in the nooks and crannies of the place. I stood below the Arc de Triomphe and looked up at the names of wars and battles fought, some of which my own great-great-grandfather and great-granduncles were a part of. I’ve always wondered what on earth would make my ancestors want to leave a city so refined, beautiful and serene for searing, wild and untamed African shores. Paris definitely speaks to me. It whispers and tells tales of a country rich in history; a place once seeped in colonial wars; a place filled with hope, dreams and aspirations.
The first time I went to Paris, I was struck by how large the city really was because Paris, in fiction, is always illustrated as being made up of the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre and The Champs-Élysées. I don’t find the city to be romantic at all, not in the traditional sense, even though there are people all over the place who have no reservations when it comes to public displays of affection. Instead I think that the tranquility and serenity that is embedded in the very thread of the cultural fabric of French society is often mistaken for romance.
The French are very socially inclined and a family orientated nation. They are also very relaxed and laid back in their approach to life and this is evident in the subtle nuances of their everyday lives like, for instance, eating. The French eat quite leisurely, savouring every bite like it’s their last. They also only work for approximately 30 hours a week, which is a norm and a standard in most businesses across the country. Walks in the park are also common and a part of every day life; and so is socialising over coffee, which is a favourite past-time and is epitomised in the depiction of Paris as the “street-side café” capital of the world.
French culture is often perceived to be based on a sense of erudition and superiority, and immersed in pretentiousness, or so many believe. Even if this is true, one can’t help but want to revel in the allure of such refinement, grace and elegance; such sophistication, charm and finesse. The Parisians in particular, seem to not have a care in the world, nothing fazes them. The atmosphere is saturated with the stench of promises of placid, balmy, dreamy days followed by long, languid, consoling nights under the stars…filled with laughter and friends.
I’m always interested in those parts of a city or country that is very rarely portrayed by travel channels, brochures and catalogues. In Paris, that has to be La Défense…or the real city of Paris as I call it. It is France’s main commercial and business hub and houses most of the country’s financial and corporate institutions. It’s an interesting spectacle because people don’t ever expect to see skyscrapers when they visit Paris.
As I get lost in my reverie, I can envision myself walking down a tiny cobbled street, on my way to have a café au lait and a fresh butter croissant from the Patisserie around the corner. I love Paris. I love the air, the atmosphere, the subtle innuendos, the street-side cafés, the crusty baguettes and warm brioche, the dingy hotels, the laid-back-care-free lifestyle, the art, the history and the views from the Eiffel Tower. I love the accent, the language, the pretty boys in Yves St. Laurent shirts, the men donning French-inspired cologne on the Métro de Paris, the under-ground highways, the chaotic traffic, the little souvenoirs sold in tourist shops, the viaducts, the Seine and the McDonald’s fish burgers.
I miss Paris.