I was Watching Paper Heart and eating my giant tub of “Light & Fit” Blueberry yoghurt that I got on a whim, when I decided to take a walk down St. Mark’s Place at 3:30 am on a rainy Sunday morning, I came to realize what Paris had meant to me.
For the first time since my return to school in New York 4 months ago, I thought about my similarly lonely walk around the streets of the 7eme arrondisement one Tuesday evening. I stood on a wooden bridge over the Seine, Ile De la Cité ahead of me, American tourists chattering to my right, and an imposing, impossibly beautiful Eifel Tower to my left, just silently watching: watching the massive tour boats pass from under me every half hour, the infrequent light show of the Tower glittering impressively yet falling short of mesmerizing in the increasingly spectacular lights of the City itself, which in turn paled in comparison to the brilliant crimson sunset.
In that one moment, that moment that I later realized lasted for over 4 hours, I was at peace. I was completely content with everything, everyone, everywhere. The weight of the world, le bruit du monde, just melted away. For the first time in my short but frantic life, I forgot to think. I just gazed and marveled and took the beauty of the wonderful city in.
I forgot my appearance, my notions of what my trip should be like, my itineraries, my plans for my life, my inability to locate those famous bohemian French intellectuals that converse about life, the universe and everything in delightfully dingy coffee shops, my tired feet, my unhappiness with the shallow image I portray when first addressing anyone, my suspicions about racism and my understanding that I would never find true love.
This was nothing like my visit to Notre Dame, another significant trip. Looking at it head on, standing in the exact spot that medieval France believed to be the centre of the Universe, I noted the embellishing, the precise artwork and carvings and etchings and stories behind the large doors completed by the Devil, relating the façade, as any girl growing up in the age of Disney, to the Hunchback of Notre Dame (I fear, Mr. Hugo, that I speak of the animated film), imagining its gargoyles coming to life, its menacing demon heads spewing forth burning oil, and a faint light coming from the highest window by the bell tower. Inside, I, quite literally, had to remember to breathe. The stained glass, the high ceilings, the history, hit me on a level so deep that I now think twice before calling myself shallow. Could my years of ranting about belief in the divine being ridiculous, have been ridiculous? Because surely this building was a testament to the existence of the otherworldly.
I couldn’t believe that when it was first revealed, Parisians hated the Eifel Tower and wanted to tear it down. People can be so silly.
Paris is less of a geographical entity than it is a way of life. Its tangible beauty is obvious, and its historical neighborhoods, the Marais, Montmartre, are steeped in cultural significance and artistic buzz. But it’s the lifestyle, the conversations with strangers, the slow, aimless evenings and afternoons spent in endless cafés, the incredibly delicious food, food, everywhere, that can truly capture the essence of Paris.
My mother insisted that I keep a journal, a travel diary, to chronicle my trip and improve my writing; my father encouraged it to have me somehow participate in the repertoire of generations of novelists that had roamed the same streets and found inspiration. I brushed them off, then felt guilty, because I realized that I might never come back to this city that I would gladly have made my home.
But now, months later, I realize that they were right. Paris is so enormous in intellectuality, in sheer experience, that it cannot really be accurately discussed while it is being lived; it so overwhelms the senses that taking your own sweet time to realize it is beneficial not only to your experience but also to your sanity. Now, much later, Paris and its inspirations have hit me like decades of poetry, at once, and so strongly that it has, once again, knocked me out of breath. A hard feat at 3:30 am on a rainy Sunday.