I watched Midnight in Paris last night, and I think Woody Allen snuck into my brain, stole my identity, and then rewrote me as Owen Wilson's character. It was just such a beautiful love letter of a movie, sweet and charming, and just full to the brim with the feeling of not simply Paris, but what Paris can do to a person, particularly if that person is overly romantic and nostalgic and sentimental about such things. I feel exactly the same way about Paris that Owen Wilson does in the movie, that it's more or less perfect, and that the only thing really up for debate is not whether or not it's beautiful, but about when it's most beautiful, during the day or at night, in the sun or rain. And like his character I would give my left foot to go back to Paris in the 20s, to meet the Fitzgeralds and Hemingway, T.S. Eliot and Picasso, Dali and Gertrude Stein. When I studied abroad in Paris, my school was right in the heart of Montparnasse, and every day I would walk past all of the old cafes, Le Dome, La Coupole, and just think about what it must have been like, to be in a city so bursting with genius and passion and everyone so consumed with art and creative expression, but still full of life, ready at a moment to go out drinking and to parties or to the South of France.
I could write about Paris today, six (SIX!) years after I left it, but Paris shouldn't exist in faded memory. It should be vibrant and colorful, right at the surface of things. So I turned to my old mass emails I saved from my time there, and I found one that sums up that lovely city and all the love I had at 20, still have at 26, and will always have, until I'm old and gray
The Things I Will Miss About Paris:
-the Luxembourg Gardens by school, going there for a literature class with Philippe (aka my most favoritest professor), or taking a sandwich and sitting in the shade underneath a tree, watching groups of old men take their games of Bocci ball incredibly seriously conferring amongst themselves and walking around in slow circles like professional golfers calculating the distance of a crucial put.
-The museums, whether it's the airy train station of the Musee d'Orsay with its endless spacious rooms of Monets and Van Goghs and Renoirs; the luxurious, dauntingly massive Louvre with its giant glass pyramids giving way to corridors and galleries of classical French decadence and classical art brilliance; the Picasso museum housed in a mansion in the Marais with painting after painting of Picasso's beautifully bizarre style especially my favorite, the achingly distorted image titled simply, "the woman who cries"; the Rodin museum, with one delicate, perfectly fluid statue after another and views out to one of the most amazing private garden's in Paris where Rodin himself spent his days and months; the Marmottan museum which starts off modestly but then suddenly after a flight of staircases, leads to the largest collection of Monets in France, including the painting that was the starting point for the entire Impressionist movement; the Centre Pompidou, or the inside out museum, with its crazy tubing and colors standing defiantly in contrast with the old Paris of the Marais surrounding it; and all of the tiny, hidden museums like the Gustave Moreau museum or the Delacroix Museum which are so easily passed by without a single notice yet which hold undeniable masterpieces in their small frames. And I'll miss being able to go to each of these places for free, thanks to my "Art History Major" student ID which Hollins managed to get us all despite well, none of us being art history majors.
-The Metro, being able to get anywhere in Paris in a fairly easy manner, and more importantly being able to get to these places while simultaneously reading a book and listening to music. I'm going to miss the way the metro holds the diversity you sometimes don't see in the streets above, the way Paris is suddenly stripped of its chic-ness and beauty and made to be flawed and human. I'll miss the fact that not only do the different lines in Paris have their own distinct character but even the different stations do, the way line 6 is my personal favorite because it goes above ground for a while and offers one of the best view in Paris, the Eiffel Tower looming big and majestic over the Seine with the miniature Statue of Liberty replica in the foreground on a small island and the Sacre Coeur perched on the top of Montmartre visible in the distance; Line 1 which comes in a close second because it's air conditioned and has automatic doors and takes me straight to the Marais. I'm going to miss stations like Concorde with its maze of blue letters printed on white tiles that if you look closely enough at you can start to make out words and phrases, or the Louvre Rivoli stop which might as well be part of the museum, or the Bastille stop with its mural of historical paintings. I'm going to miss the Metro entrances. I'm going to miss drunken rides on the metro late at night with my friends, and being able to drink straight from wine bottles and not have to worry about being immediately arrested.
-The Boulangeries. There is no such thing as a bad bakery in Paris. The bread is always fresh and always 80 centimes. The pastries are always sugary heaven, and the baguette sandwiches are always dependably delicious. I'm going to miss my neighborhood boulangerie with its lunchtime line stretching half a block but soo worth it. I'm going to miss the way each boulangerie puts its unique stamp on the art of a pain au chocolate, with varying degrees of sweetness in the chocolate, but never too sweet.
- Crepes Nutella. Somehow the cheapest thing you can get in France is one of the most unbelievable, especially when it's done right, with the crepe cooked just enough but still warm and soft, and the Nutella melted slightly so that its perfectly oozy. If you haven't had one of these, quite simply my friends, you haven't lived.
-The Seine, while not as mighty as the James or nearly as large, the Seine has an appeal that does not diminish no matter how many times you've walked across it (which was a lot, there's a lot of bridges in Paris). It's a much a part of the city as Notre Dame or the Louvre, just as integral and just as beautiful. I will never get tired of walking alongside its banks and looking at the different vendors selling antique post cards or used books, and I will never get tired of the way it shines at night.
-English language bookstores and American diners. One thing that being abroad offers that you can't get at home is the feeling of being a foreigner, and more importantly the feeling you get when you're around other foreigners, the bond that forms instantly and permanently between fellow Americans abroad, whether its in an American grocery store where my friend and I spent half an hour talking to an American family from New Jersey about the tragedy of no to-go coffee, or in the awesome American diner we found one weekend where there is a silent mutual love of pancakes and all you can drink coffee in the air, or in an English language bookstore, where the simple act of browsing makes you feel instantly safe and at home. I have no guilt in all of these things because they were few and far between during the semester, but there is something very special about brief moments of Americanness in Paris, and the way you can feel a sense of belonging in the random jumble of fellow Americans who are also missing home and all of the things that go with it (especially peanut butter).
-The smells of Paris,the way you can in a matter of blocks be greeted by dozens of contradictory but somehow harmonious smells, the saltiness of oysters on beds of ice, or a blast of roses and earth from a florist, the rich, subtle aromas of a chocolate store, and of course, the smell that permeates the city, the sweet doughy scent of fresh bread wafting from a bakery.
-Walks in the city. Paris was a city designed to be walked. Every inch of it calls for strolling. I will miss being able to walk out my door and within an hour or so pass several of the most famous landmarks in the world. I will miss the way Paris, while always beautiful, has become something indescribable these last few weeks. I will miss the way a walk in Paris feels like walking submerged in history, both the very far away history of the Bourbons and revolutions and the closer history of Hemingway and Picasso, a history full of foreigners who have come here and fallen in love.
-All day picnics in the park. there is nothing better than spending hours surrounded by friends, with a good bottle of wine, a yummy sandwich and nothing at all planned for the near future.
-The Paris Opera Garnier: one of the most amazing buildings I have ever set foot inside of, not to be confused with the new horrendous opera built in the 80s. The old opera is something insanely unique, and every single detail of the place was obviously painstakingly planned and crafted. I sadly didnt go here for a show (poor college student = me) but I went with my architecture class and just walking around the place it's so easy to imagine what it must look like with all the fancy French people in ball gowns and tuxes gliding along on the polished marble floors, with the enormous chandelier and candelabras glowing from the ceiling. There's a staircase to end all staircases, purely designed for the drama it creates. And inside the theater it's very cool. Marc Chagall painted the ceiling and at the time everyone hated it because well that happens every time something new is added to Paris but now its become one of the things that makes the opera so special, a mystical, soulful swirling ceiling of blue overlooking the Roccoco decadence below. and yes there is an underground lake, so make what you want out of that. And just try not to get the song stuck in your head now.
-Montmartre: the one area in Paris that manages to simultaneously and convincingly pull off chic and Bohemian. It's a little village on a hill that feels very different from the rest of Paris at times, one because the streets are steep and curvy and two because its cheap (er). And it's the home to the famous and now kinda kitschy but not so much in a good way Moulin Rouge which is in the heart of the red light district. I'll miss the fun restaurants we found here, a fondue place with baby bottles of wine, a traditional French food place decorated entirely in a tribute to American movies, and various cafes and brasseries and creperies. And I'll miss one of the other great views in Paris, from the top of Montmartre at Sacre Coeur, where on a clear day you can see the entire city spread out beneath.
-The 17th. aka my arondissement or district. Yes it was almost painfully upper middle class, and bursting with rich old people and their teensy tiny dogs, but I'll miss the quiet evenings here, when the restaurants and bars are full and couples stroll hand in hand down the wide boulevards. I'll miss my neighborhood places, my bakery, my pharmacy, my brasserie, my sushi restaurant (the equivalent in popularity of chinese take out in the U.S.) I'll miss the way the people in these places were finally starting to know me. I'll miss stepping out of the Pereire metro stop and feeling unmistakably at home.
-Cafes, sitting for hours ordering cafe au lait after cafe au lait and never once feeling any kind of pressure to leave. that goes the same for...
-The restaurants, or more generally the food. It is not an exaggeration to say that it is IMPOSSIBLE to have a bad meal in paris. It just doesnt happen. The cheapest, most student-y, fastests meals are still wonderful. You can spend 3 euros in france for a panini from a vendor, and it's better than half of the food that is served in much higher priced american restaurants. If paris really is the city of romance its because everyone is so full and happy all the time from eating. Because the food there, I simply can't do it justice. If you havent yet, go there and eat and you will understand.
-Paris nights. I will miss all of those endless nights out when going home doesn't even seem like an option until past 4am. I will miss how after a bar closes, it's just understood that another one will be open, waiting just down the street. There is no one definitive last call. I will miss the hour long walks from one bar to another when we're too cheap to pay for a taxi, the way Paris looks insanely different at night and so empty but in a reassuring kind of way as opposed to a creepy kind of way. Because its the only time when you don't really have to share Paris, at least not in the massive kind of way you have to share it during the day when the tourists are out in full force. I will miss waiting till the metro opens to go home and walking bleary eyed down the street to my apartment while the rest of the world is getting ready to start the day.
-This is the part where I realize I could write for the next 500 years and still not list all of the things I will miss about my experience. Basically I will miss this city with my whole heart, with every part of my silly self. And I always will. Because in the simplest terms, Paris is lovely through and through.