There’s no other city that gets me in the heart like Paris.
Not that Paris gets me – it’s probably one of the last cities that gets me. I clash daily with servers and store clerks, I ask myself why I have to press an Exit button to exit a building instead of just exiting the building, I don’t understand why smoking is still cool here, and I don’t think €18 is a justified price for a vegan meal – bref, a lot gets lost in translation and not just of the language, which I feel I have down by now, but by culture and perspective. And that’s after at least ten trips here.
But somehow I find myself mesmerized by the city, booking my next trip even before leaving. Maybe the public relations team has done such a good job of painting the image of a magical, romantic city, or maybe it’s that the city actually is. Be it the beige-stained walls, the warm wooden floors, or the clatter of porcelain coffee cups, each moment feels like one out of a typical French film – you know, the kind with no real plot line.
I appreciate a lot of the aspects of life in Paris and while Paris is a city I love to hate, it’s the city I love to love even more.
A favorite stop of mine, on nearly every trip to Paris, is the top floor of Gibert Joseph, specifically in the month of September. It’s not for any sort of specific hidden view of the Left Bank, or because the bookstore is especially cozy, it’s just everything and nothing about the store that makes it special. When an employee comes on the intercom for cleanup in aisle 7, they doesn’t sound miserable, they sound like a sexy sex operator whispering into the microphone. The entire floor dedicated to foreign language instruction books is frequented by international tourists, au pairs, and exchange students. Even a quick stroll past the Books in English section is reason to be intrigued. Why are these the books that are on the main table? What makes these books sell better in France?
Or maybe it’s just that when you’re exploring the bookstore and realize that 95% of the books are in French, you realize it’s an entirely different world. After all, a story like Harry Potter will never be told exactly the same way in English as it would be in French. Who’s really missing out?
And me, I’m not even much of a reader, but Paris somehow transforms me into one. All I want to do at any given moment is pick up a travel memoir written by an expat living a French life, sit at a brasserie on a busy street corner, and sip on a teeny-tiny café crème that I’ll somehow make last me hours. That’s pretty much what’s happening next to me right now. The woman currently sitting next to me in Coffee Spoune in the 11th just came in, ordered a café allongé, grabbed what looked like to me, a random book off the bookshelf and she’s now on page 72. It could just be my lack of awareness in other coffee shops around the world, or a heightened awareness in Parisian coffee shops, but that kind of thing doesn’t really happen anywhere else.
So the other day when I did stumble into Gibert Joseph, I found a book that spoke to me: A Paris All Your Own: Bestselling Women Writers on the City of Light.
Nailed it. Finally a collection of essays by other seasoned travelers who feel mysteriously swept up by Paris. I’ll be honest when I tell you I picked the book up as a gift for a friend, but ultimately decided to selfishly keep it for myself. For now, at least. As soon I wrap up this blog, I’ll be diving back into the book that I have finished nearly halfway in a day. Not too bad for someone who’s not a big reader – as ignorant as that may sound.
Some say the magic of the City of Light comes from years of nostalgia from famous authors or artists, but I’ve never felt connected to that idea of Paris. I never followed Voltaire’s stories, or adored Serge Gainsbourg’s music. I haven’t found a French film that I’m obsessed with. I don’t really aspire to be a French guy, or dress in a French way.
But I do find myself fixated on other aspects of life and culture in Paris. The things I refer to as the stupid little things.
How you descend into the metro passing a burgundy MÉTRO signpost, drift from line 9 to line 11 at the Arts-et-Métiers chrome-plated station, pass each station, each a different design. How you enter through a gigantic wooden door into a courtyard and look up at the off-white façade of your apartment building. How you, all of a sudden, want to grab a livre de poche and sit by the Seine with a glass of wine when you’re 1) not much of a reader and 2) not much of a wine drinker. How the simple staple foods like bread, milk, and salad taste different (and better) than in the States. How your ouis start becoming eh bah ouis and your nons, eh bah non quois. How you find yourself going to the ciné weekly because it’s cheap and actually a thing people do regularly. How your daily life starts feeling more like a life full of life and less like a life full of routine.
I know one thing for sure: I don’t feel this way in any other city, where the stupid little things are just stupid little things.
I’m only half-way through A Paris All Your Own and I already know I’ve created a Paris all my own. I can’t get you to have the same experience I have in Paris, but I can get you to go to Paris and create your own.
Now’s your time to book a trip to Paris.