I didn’t know it was possible to fall in love with a city. I mean, a city is crowded, smelly, full of strangers, polluted, confusing, and complicated. Who can you trust? Every time I take the Metro, disembodied voices over the PA system remind me to beware of pick-pockets. Over the past couple of weeks, those same multi-lingual announcements also reminded me to drink lots of water and not get too excited as we are having a heat wave and getting too excited could prove dangerous. The other day, the pollution was so bad here they offered discount transit tickets to try to encourage anyone who didn’t need to drive to leave their cars at home. It’s no wonder I don’t like big cities. I’m a farmer, remember? The kid whose dream it was to find herself a quarter section in the Peace River District so she never had to talk to her neighbours.
What happened??? We came to Paris to spend some time with family here and our stay wound up stretching to a full three months. Now that our time is coming to an end (we head back to the Rockies in a few days), I’m feeling like someone about to experience a terrible break-up.
Which made me wonder, what the hell? Why on earth would I have become so infatuated with this place? Here’s my best attempt at explaining the impossible.
Why Nikki Fell in Love with Paris (in no particular order)
- The emergency vehicle sirens sound like musicians tuning up for a performance
- I love the graffiti – which is everywhere – which is simultaneously awful and cool. OK, I’m a bit conflicted on this one. The graffiti is like the strange habits one’s sweetheart has that simultaneously drive you crazy and yet are somehow endearing.
Not just tomatoes. Fresh produce of all kinds in the many, many markets all over the city. For that matter, salami, fresh fish, olives (OMG – the olive vendors!), cheese, bread, dates… all manner of delectable edibles. It’s a drool-inducing pleasure just to walk among the rows of stalls, ogling, sniffing, and tasting. I could go on and on and on about those markets. (Note to self: the markets are worth a post all their own)
- Flea markets
Close cousins of the farmer’s markets, you don’t have to look too hard to find a flea market in Paris. I used to have a favourite – the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen -mostly because it is so huge – it’s said to cover seven hectares and on any given weekend you’ll find about 3,000 vendors and over 150,000 other flea market fanatics in search of a good deal) but now that I’ve been to several others scattered about the city, it’s hard to say which one I like best.
- Musicians are everywhere – and, I mean everywhere. The other day we were treated to a series of marching bands banging and tooting their way around our neighbourhood (they were taking part in some sort of band festival). Individual musicians play in the Metro, in parks, on street corners. One afternoon I stumbled across a fabulous Dixieland jazz band playing away for tips (and CD sales). Not a day goes by where I’m not serenaded by someone singing or playing an instrument (sometimes both at the same time). I’ve heard some world-class performers and some wannabes, but they are all passionate about their music and all those tunes provide a soundtrack for Paris that I will miss after I get home.
- For that matter, artists are everywhere. Shooting videos or taking photographs, drawing or painting, they prove I am not the only one who finds Paris to be an inspiring place to create. One group of avant garde dancers even painted each other in a performance piece executed in the shadow of Lady Liberty on the Ile des Cignes not far from our apartment.
- The gardens are everywhere and they are spectacular. They are also where you will find Parisians enjoying the fine art of the pique-nique (see also #9). Gardens are also home to so many pieces of sculpture I finally gave up trying to photograph them all (that was a thought, early on). Sculptures actually warrant a blog post all their own as well. Such a great mix of ancient and avant-garde and all sculptural styles in between.
- Even the door knockers and door handles are cool.
- Pique-niques. I have never been anywhere where people took their picnics so seriously. These are lengthy affairs with gourmet selections of cheese and exquisite charcuterie, olives to die for, fresh fruit, pastries, fresh bread, salads, and, of course, wine. Nobody seems to drink to excess, but just about everyone enjoys a sip of nice wine. These picnics go on for hours – in the summer, until well after dark. Musical instruments come out, or people provide amplified music of various kinds, all of which inspire dancing and singing.
- Museums. Of course, some of the world’s great museums are to be found here – too many to pick from. I’m not sure that you’d call the Catacombs a museum, exactly, but I can tell you the cool, dark crypt that holds the bones of millions of dead Parians is worth a visit. Located waaaaaay below the city, the maze of tunnels and hollows and nooks and crannies is one of the most humbling places I’ve ever been to. Nothing like spending a bit of time with crumbling bones to make you keenly aware of your own mortality.
- Ancient bones are one thing, but generally speaking, there are just a ton of old things – buildings, parks, monuments, scraps of ancient Roman walls – you know, really OLD stuff EVERYWHERE.
- Most of all though, there is always something going on (concerts, exhibitions, films, sporting events, tours, festivals, markets, conferences… happenings of all kinds). The city streets are alive with people until long after old folks like us collapse into bed, which can be a bit of a problem when the temperatures rise and you have to leave the windows open as there isn’t any air conditioning (though, nothing that a fan and decent earplugs can’t fix…).
- Where there is stuff going on, there are people. Yes, things like festivals and concerts happen on a grand scale, but what perhaps shocked and delighted me most of all about my time in Paris was how many cool people I met at writing salons, literary events, spoken word open mics, film screenings, and freelance writing get-togethers. And those people introduced me to other people and told me about other things going on (tango lessons, board game gatherings, walking groups, climbing groups, sketching groups, photography groups) – so many ways to connect and converse and share passions that I ran out of time before I was even able to scratch the surface! I had so much fun meeting people that I can’t wait until I am able to return… I have conversations to finish!
As I have been writing this list (while packing and getting ready to go back to the mountains in Canada) each point in this short list made me think of several other points that I could have made. Perhaps I should just switch gears entirely, move back to Paris and just blog about that. Yep, I am in love with a city and her name is Paris.