A wonderland to romanticise for a lifetime.
I have to be honest, I spent a good part of my life till now just dreaming about Paris and the possibilities that come with walking down streets where artists like Van Gogh resided. A place that is home to Claude Monet, Gustave Klimt and Audrey Hepburn. A city that gleams in your mind probably a tad bit more than it can ever do so in reality. I mean what can you expect from a place that once saw the likes of Oscar Wilde, Balzac, Voltaire and Ernest Hemingway?
I had heard a whole lot about Paris being over-hyped, how the city could quite well be like any other and though not exactly missable, I was quite often told that I might just end up being disappointed if I go with expectations and a built up, especially, with my through the roof imagination. You are almost setting yourself up for disappointment, people said. So, by the time I landed in Paris, I was almost ready to not feel the magic, not be as impressed as I thought I should be and not come back with my eyes gleaming, head reeling and heart pounding. But I did, I came back with all of that, I came back with a state of mind that can take ages to change, a spirit that rarely goes away and a spring in my step, a smile plastered on my face and more importantly, a gleam in my eyes.
I feel like the reason people fail to feel mesmerised about Paris or maybe this can go for anything in general is because they fail to spot the unicorn dancing around the corner. The unicorn is not always visible, but you still spot it, it’s in your head (no, I am not crazy :P) Paris is a place for the artist. Paris is for the dreamer, the lover, the poet and the novelist. The city sings, the streets speak of a culture and a time that can only be seen through the eyes of someone who has extensively read and watched the lanes in films, the perspective of someone who has succumbed to every word uttered in Midnight in Paris, someone who has swallowed (and I mean swallowed, mind you) the words from James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room or been swept by Grant and Hepburn while watching Charade.
“The artist's job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.”
I spent my first day just taking it all in, the streets, the infinite cafes that the city is made of and how no café is ever really empty. People sipping Rose, smoking a cigarette and indulging, just indulging in finer things. The bustle is evident and while the city seems to be on a vacation, the locals are just as busy as anyone in a tier one city would be, but they never look distraught. Their commute is smooth, the metro is so efficient even a buffoon could figure it out (considering I didn’t really get lost, I must say it’s probably the most user friendly one I have been on, though people have said London’s metro is far far better). I spent a considerable part of my first day just absorbing the city. It can take a while when you have been city hopping in Europe and Paris was our fourth destination.
I was staying very close to the Eiffel Tower and while the Tower is visible from almost all parts of the city, it is quite miraculous up close. The magnanimity of the structure is gripping and the gardens allow you to sit down and have a glass of wine as you stare up at it. The city is well connected by trams and buses but the metro takes the cake. What really fascinated me was the bread and the coffee and of course the cheese. To write an article about the city without mentioning the fromageries that one bumps into at every nook and corner is purely insulting. Tastings can cost you a bit of money but the cheese is so delicious, it counts as part of the experience. All you have to do is pack a bit of truffle and buy a bottle of red wine at the local grocery shop. Sit at the Seine river and make a picnic out of it.
Your travel can prove to be satisfying if you narrow down the kind of experiences and things you are personally looking at covering. I was convinced that I could not afford to miss the museums, libraries and the art galleries. Book shops, cafes and major tourist attractions. Which basically leaves you no time to breathe if you have dedicated 5 days to the city. Paris is a week-long affair. So, I started with Arc De Triomphe. Fascinating but we have our Gateway of India back home and being quite similar, the Arc doesn’t really leave you bewildered and delighted. Been there, done that. Champs Elysees is a glorified and rich man’s Colaba Causeway, but if you aren’t really looking at buying Louis Vuitton, Prada or Chanel, there isn’t much happening on the street other than a couple of cafes, Paul and Ladurée being ones that you should visit for their chocolate éclair and macaroons respectively.
What really made the trip absolutely delightful for me, apart from constantly being zapped and aware of the fact that I was in Paris, was the day I spent at Louvre.
Now some tourist attractions really fail to shock the living daylights out of most of us and that makes me feel like I could as well be strolling along the streets aimlessly, without that terrifying check list in hand, which everyone inevitably makes. However, Louvre doesn’t make you feel that way. The museum is a daylong investment and Mona Lisa is the least of the fantastical pieces of art that would keep you hooked. It’s grandiose and makes one feel like ‘opulence’ as a concept must have originated in France. I came out of Louvre feeling like I witnessed the magic of the city in a few hours, everything I had anticipated, everything I actively hoped to see and live was in that museum. And that brought the gleam, the starry-eyed curiosity and the realisation, that I was finally, in Paris.
While some fail to strike off everything from their list, my friend Vidhi (who I went on the trip with) and I are two people who would go to any length to make sure we ticked off at least 90 percent of what is in the itinerary. And believe me you, the itineraries are precise, thoughtfully made and so water-tight, really now, we should start getting paid for this shit. We spent days in Prague, Budapest and Vienna almost running to the next destination but we made it.
Walking for miles has its advantage when in Europe, you get to see the entire city on foot, you get to see its people, the smaller and finer things that one would miss when one sits in a metro and zips pasts the ordinary lives of regular people. The art of people watching is not just an activity you indulge in when you sit at a café with a cappuccino or a bench in a park or at airport lounges. People watching is an indulgence, one watches people in alleys as you walk by; an old man struggling to cross the road with a stick, a busy young woman rushing for an interview, a cab driver frustrated with his life on the road; little idiosyncrasies pop out as one tends to dwell deeper. It’s a way of life.
Back in Paris in 1863, Baudelaire wrote, “For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite.”
But time flies and before you know it the days are over. You have covered places, soaked in the culture, pondered and partied. I sat at cafes (don’t miss Café de Flore, Café Le Deux Magots, Angelina Café which is where Audrey Hepburn was a regular for their hot chocolate and La Maison Rose on Montmartre, the home of Van Gogh) and wrote on pieces of paper, drank cups after cups of strong, hot coffee and devoured their croissants. We visited libraries and museums and ate Chinese from street shops, Italian at the uber famous Pink Mamma and lots of fish and chips, something I tend to eat anywhere I go. It was just as dreamy, over the top and fantastical as I had expected. Maybe a lot of all the fantasy and romanticism came from my head, maybe the city is a little ordinary and maybe the charm is lacking as people say, but I felt otherwise. I enjoyed Paris in reality and in my head a dozen times more than I did any other city and if that has got quite a bit to do with the drama in my head around that city, I will live with it. Au Revoir.