I don’t know how to begin to explain what it means to live in Paris. Perhaps the simplest way to start is by saying to live in Paris means to be in Paris all the time. As a tourist on holiday, when your flight lands into Paris, the first overwhelming thought you get is I want to see everything, immediately setting yourself up for disappointment, because deep down you know you don’t really have time to see it all. However, if one day, you end up being lucky enough to actually live in Paris, you tell yourself, well, now I really can see everything. To live in Paris means that you get to know it, day by day, night by night, and gradually, slowly, it becomes familiar. Each time you think you’ve seen it all however, it manages to surprise you with a hidden gem every now and again, over there, around that corner. At last, the inevitable realisation that Paris is simply unfathomable dawns on you and you finally understand: you’ll never really genuinely know it. In my case at least, six months wasn’t enough; in the case of Parisians I’ve had the privilege to meet, even a whole lifetime is simply not enough.
Luckily for me, I realized in good time the secret behind its allure lies in its mystery. You play and you wonder and you learn every day. There is that famous Victor Hugo quote that says “errer est humain, flâner est parisien”. Victor, je suis d’accord. I chose the English word “meandering” when struggling to describe my Parisian days to my English friends. Comfortably lost, drowning in the sea of love, where everyone would love to drown, as Fleetwood Mac would say. In Paris, if you get lost, you don’t feel scared… you feel excited. There is a new adventure waiting behind every corner, whether it’s an antique bookshop you’ve never seen before, a cinema showing a Fellini retrospective, or one of Paris’ many idyllic gardens. It still baffles me that the first month I spent in Paris, every day was special in some way. Random days make for extraordinary ones in this city. It makes you crave to fall in love, even better yet perhaps, it makes you feel in love. You walk its streets alone but you never feel lonely, captivated by the city which has stolen your heart.
Like a song, a film, or a book, the city has the power to change your mood, to obliterate your sadness, and if that isn’t everything, I don’t know what is. Sometimes, in loving it so much, Paris becomes heavy with emotion and then maybe you start to understand where all those melancholic French philosophers were coming from. A constant overwhelming whirlwind of inner feelings, you need to express them, to express yourself in any way you can. You explore Paris, it, in turn, pushes you to explore yourself and you are suddenly this effusive, creative person. In Paris, you are the painter, the poet, the actor, the photographer, you are anyone and anything you never even knew a small piece of you desired to be. That’s what the omnipresent beauty of the city awakens in you, you want to travel back in time and be a writer in the 20s.
And as Paris becomes your muse, you ponder over all the things that make it so. It’s the ultimate Parisian haven – Le Jardin de Luxembourg, with the view, the flowery aroma, the sun, you, your book, and nothing else matters. The live jazz, all the time, everywhere. The enigmatic terrasse phenomenon, where no matter what season it is, you will always find terraces full of people, strangers happily clamped against each other. The student-swirling, culture-booming 5th arrondissement. The wine and cheese by the river at the Quais. That one special zen spot that you noticed from Pont des Arts, under the tree situated at the very beginning of Ile de la Cite. The mystically deserted Ile de St. Louis. The forever-altering answer when someone asks you what your favourite bridge is. Attempting to choose time and again whether Paris is more beautiful by day or by night and failing miserably. Or perhaps which vantage point offers the cityscape in the most beautiful light. (The answer to which is by the way, of course, Sacré Cœur from the top of Montmartre.) The magical butterflies that erupt inside your tummy whenever you begin the most painless climb in the world. Constantly being reminded by Parisians how your Parisian choices are intrinsically touristic, hence utterly unoriginal. You have succumbed to the city’s clichés and you proudly assume them.
The wonders of Paris form a never-ending list, so instead of diving into the impossible task of naming them all, I have displayed a few of my photos from Paris, in the hope they speak to you as much as they do to me.