“Since the thing perhaps is
to eat flowers and not to be afraid.”
I typically have a pretty cynical view of Paris. I love that the city is a center for art and culture, but hate the two-hour-long museum lines; I love grabbing a coffee and croissant for breakfast, macarons for lunch (notice I skipped to dessert there), and onion soup for dinner, but I miss countryside prices; I love the vibrancy and the architecture, but I hate how every time I try to ask a well-formulated question in French, the answerer jumps into an English that consists of exactly three words that I can’t understand. So, usually, I avoid Paris and use it as layover central.
All my cynicism for Paris was developed before I visited in the Spring. I had only ever seen gray, muddy, freezing, must-pay-10-euros-for-coffee-just-to-step-indoors Paris. This past weekend, I visited the city to meet up with a friend who teaches English in Spain. I had forgotten how romantic Paris can be (in a non-romantic way), how full of revelry the 5th gets at night, and most importantly, what it’s like to visit a beautiful city with a good friend. Living away from everyone I know is adventurous and fun, but I had grown a bit defensive in thinking that I don’t really need people who understand me (inspired by the great artists and writers exiled in Montmartre, I guess…) Today, almost on cue, I received a letter from a another good friend who expressed similar sentiments: hold on to those who love you, and preferably, meet up with them in Paris.
I enjoy Paris in solitude, of course, but when I’m alone I’m more likely to rush around people in the street, walk past anyone who addresses me in English and attempt (successfully, sometimes) to cut museum lines. With friends, Paris is a sprawling, relaxed combination of history and future. In Paris, you can attend a forum on modern globalization inside a centuries-old building on the Seine. You can enjoy a honey-braised duck at an old, five-table restaurant that presumably survived multiple wars and the revolution, a different language being spoken at each of the five tables. Paris with friends is, well, like any city with friends, except that it happens to be a beautiful, dynamic one.
I normally try to avoid Paris as a tourist, wanting to blend in, but I had forgotten how exciting it can be as a newcomer. In the Spring, cherry trees blossom around the Eiffel Tower and Champs-Élysées. This time in Paris, I experienced a trilingual conversation (Spanish, French and English) with a waiter and an American-style brunch being enjoyed by clear Parisians. I don’t know if it was the season or the company, but my recent visit to Paris seemed a bit less busy (helped by the fact that cars were limited due to recent pollution) and a bit more relaxed.
Because I have studied abroad before, I frequently take for granted the amazing opportunity I have to live in a different country for a year. This time, I am not just interpreting novels and sleeping on trains; I have kids to look after and bills to pay, so sometimes my experiences can become monotonous. It only took a weekend away to remind me, as my friend said while enjoying a La Durée macaron for the first time, It tastes like a bunch of roses. And she’s right; it really does.