It starts small, Eiffel-tower-figurine-small, and grows from there—an interest in all things French that evolves into a Bogart sized we’ll-always-have-Paris obsession with those strange, beautiful people and their romance beholden city of lights. I didn’t start out as a Francophile, in fact I was bit turned off by the tower figures themselves and the seemingly Proustian way that people talked about a Paris they hadn't visited or recalled only from memories of long ago. What is it about Paris?
I myself visited one time long ago with a backpack and a budget and group of adored friends to celebrate the incoming New Year. Due to the aforementioned accessories of backpack and budget, we stayed in a lovely urine-scented hostel miles outside the city where if you squinted enough you could see Eiffel himself—much like the way that we pedestrians look for the Mensa constellation. Still, I enjoyed the city and could have aged a few years inside the museums themselves, but didn’t garner that unbridled thing for Paris until I read more of the Lost Generation. A feast it was, moveable or not, to discover Paris through the eyes of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, Pound and Miller. Imagining this group of writers and artists thriving in Paris in the 20's is enough to send any modernist into a frenzy that might rival some of their evening benders.
Upon closer read and a second visit this fall, I learned that Paris is not just for young girls or fervent lovers. It’s a home for the writer, intellectual, revolutionary, certainly the poet, and the craftsman. It is a city of contradictions, but not in an ironic way. Alarmingly romantic, but still welcoming to the contemporary. Quaint, but insurmountable. It inhabits the bohemian quality of the left bank, while the right side of the Seine laps up luxury and carries the whisper of that old world glamour downstream.
There’s something intoxicating in the air in Paris and it’s not just the smell of fresh baked bread and aged cheese that wafts down every corridor like freshly spritzed lust. It’s the café where Hemingway penned The Sun Also Rises, the smells of the Latin Quarter, strolling through the Marais district, everything about the D’Orsay (and every other museum for that matter), the Jardins and their perfect green chairs that somehow no one steals. A Rimbaud poem scripted onto the wall of Rue Férou, that ridiculous and still exciting Eiffel light show, Ill Saint-Louis at dusk looking toward the blushing behind of our lady the Dame, the unexpected charm of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, eating in the shade of the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, and of course the steak frites. Oh, the steak frites.
Everywhere there is a sense of possibility that something truly alarming, truly beautiful could happen—or perhaps already did and is alive here—and this feeling in Paris can only be described as magic.