Paris or not Paris ?

Paris or not Paris ?

It is a fact that the whole world loves Paris. It is the city of lights, the city of l’Amour and everyone dreams of seeing it once in their lifetime. Before going on, I wish to make it clear that it is not my intent in (writing) this article to entice you to come visit! No need for that, I think, as long as the shopping remains good and the Eiffel Tower is still standing. I, for one, know that tourists do not come to meet Parisians!

I was born, raised and have spent most of my life in Paris, so fantasizing about Paris was never an activity I engaged in. The argument that I am blasé because I know the city too well and am bound to look at the downsides is not a valid argument. I know Pierre Hermé’s macaroons, but every time I eat his confections it feels like a first time, a true enchantment! Has Paris lost its “feels like a first time” magic?

Should we not consider ourselves lucky that foreigners still want to visit the French capital? Because the place is not quite what it is cracked up to be. But has it ever been?
I do not feel that I’m spitting in the porridge in saying that Paris smells bad. It reeks of car pipe exhaust, street garbage, sewage, dog poop, or a je ne sais quoi that is highly dependent on which neighborhood you wander in.

We all buy into clichés and clichés are OK as long as they do not become prejudices. So I shall say that in the snobbish 16th arrondissement reside many people with pocket dogs and these people will not bend over (for one thing, they are usually very old and I guess bending over is not part of their education) to scoop up their doggies’ ejections!! Snobbish 16th arrondissement stinks possibly more than the popular 19th arrondissement. By the way, did you know that there is a Musée des Egoûts de Paris? I guess that the city’s bad smell is a cultural thing, part of Paris’s rich history.

Not surprisingly, considering the proximity of les egoûts, Paris is a unique place to buy perfume and perfume stores have been blossoming on every corner lately. Paris does make the best out of its shortcomings. We do not get rid of bad smells, we bury them under perfume! That, too, is cultural or perhaps plainly human! So much for the environment. That might be why Paris has become such a symbol of (cultural) freedom and (social) rebellion, like these two have ever truly worked together, especially in places where freedom is simply bought with money. Another longstanding myth about Paris, I dare say.

Gastronomy too is a cultural thing in Paris. Homey or sophisticated, daring, stylishly overdone, or conceptual, you’ll find some of the finest food in the world in Paris, and to be sure some of the most varied. Parisians, like all supposedly refined ethnic groups, will eat any living creature, just to be daring (or gross).

Indeed you can enjoy excellent food seated at a sidewalk table inches away from dog poop, garbage tanks, and car pipe exhaust… I think that Parisians love it. They have to, since they so willingly put up with it! That is so delightfully Parisian. Indeed, it might be worth the once-in-a-lifetime try, but believe me if you repeat the experience too often, you’ll end up not being able to tell the difference between shit and meat (save for the sauce). That may explain why Parisians are so averse or blinded to change, although they cannot help complaining. I trust that they know by now that change starts with oneself.

So that’s for the smell (and the taste) of Paris.

If your nose gets over it, you can begin to focus on what you see. Chances are, though, you have only come to speed-visit the Eiffel tower, the Château de Versailles, the Louvre, and the Champs-Elysées. Good for you!! They will not disappoint you, unless the personnel are on strike once again!

Bloated traffic everywhere, furious honking all the time, crazy people zooming past you, left and right — left and right, Parisians cannot tell the difference. That could well be a French trait, judging by our political feebleness  — to catch the last ever (that is, in the highly stressed mind of the Parisian) subway, their cigarette butts still littering the earth long after they have died (smoking does shorten life duration expectancy – not enough, I dare say).

All that said, when comes the time to talk about Paris to future visitors, I change into an ecstatic tour guide and hear myself rave about the Eiffel Tower and romantic cruises on the Seine, stuff I never do. Go figure! No need, I know why, it’s because those places are crammed with tourists!

Paris for people is magic in that they find it to be exactly as they had hoped or dreamed it to be but the magic for me is that, once in a blue moon, Paris bewilders me in the most unexpected way and for a fleeting moment I do not find it so bad as I have come to know it… I cannot exactly explain why and would not tell anyway. All truly precious things are better kept secret.

 C.H

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