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A Love Affair with the City of Love
I recently visited Paris, and it was the greatest love affair of my life. Upon returning home, I wrote about the experience.
I don't love Paris because it is beautiful. Is it beautiful?
I love the funkiness of the apartments I have briefly inhabited there, the winding creaky staircases and the tiny elevators in the stairwells. The uber-thin walls that prevented the exchange of words between the three of us in the room after 8 pm (in fear of neighbors' complaints).
I love the waiters who masterfully flirt their way into an additional 10 euros on the bill.
I love the click-clack of my heels as I walk the cobblestone streets, and the seeping wealth of Pari's history - from the beheading of Marie Antoinette,to the opulence of Napoleon’s influence and reign to the star-crossed lovers, Abelard and Heloise who, though destined to be together, were severely torn apart ending one of the most tragic love stories ever told.
I love the mystery of the bell tower of the Notre Dame only reached by a long spiral stairway that if imagined might reach all the way up to heaven.
I love walking along the banks of the River Seine and rummaging through the piles of old books for sale from the vendors desperate to make a sale.
I love the Tour d'Eiffel at night, when she radiates her sparkling majesty over the city and holds her lofty position high on the sky scape. I love that love is felt in the air as you sip champagne in celebration as you ascend to her very top.
I love the pace of life as no one rushes, but everything gets done efficiently, the fact that waiters don’t write down an order but remember everything and food is served quickly but with ease. I love to know, and really truly know that there is no work to be done, to see where the day takes you; to see how life unfolds. And yet everyone drives at break neck speed but with courtesy and it all flows together like liquid pouring into a cup.
I love that people park across corners and drive with their cats sitting above the wheel.
I love the metro, the bewildering and perplexing lines that never really seem to end on the map and that can transport you to anywhere, but only Versailles for us. I love Versailles, too. It's castles and the castle's dozens of local prankster teenage boys who cut the hours-long line for sport.
[And back to Paris.]
I love the apple tarts packed full of sweet tart apple, their croissants so light and flaky yet so delectably buttery they melt in the mouth, and their chocolate chip baguettes packed full of dark satisfying chips. No one quite does pastry like the French boulangeries.
I love the quintessential Montmartre village on the top of the hill with it's artistic vibes from the past including Picasso, Dali, pulsating from every corner.
I love the striking Sacre Coure Basilica standing tall and majestic at the top of the many steps upward it's highest point higher than the top of the Eiffel tower with unsurpassed views across Paris and where you sense upon entry as the service is in progression, the very presence of the Spirit.
I love the performers upon those steps (which formed something resembling an amphitheater) with crowds of 300 and 400 casually clanking beers, celebrating life and love and music, from local university students to awed tourists. I loved my 15 minutes of fame, singing with one of the performers and his professional band.
I love being the biggest book nerd of life, I think I get giddy walking into a regular ol’ Barnes and Noble.
[So let me set this straight.]
I do not love Shakespeare and Co. I am In Love, with the rows and rows of beautiful vintage books, a typewriter to write poems, old couches, exposed wooden beams, creaky floorboards, an ages-old piano, and just...charming.
I love that everything there encourages creativity. I love the tiny enclosed bureau, lined with rugs and a blue painted chair, bears the sign: "Feel free to use the typewriter for your lovely writing/creative ventures." I love the notes from customers that are scrawled in all languages (and priceless counsel: should you ever feel lonely, take a trip to Shakespeare & Company). I love the "mirror of love", where hundreds more scribblings are pinned, from the surreal to the touching: "Dear Granny, I would like you to come to Paris with me," read one. "Books insulate this nest of wandering dreams," read another, "there should always be a place where stories reign over commercial enterprise." I love opening a book and a note slipping out from a certain Vikki in Scotland, who found inspiration in the store and fell in love with Pari, as I have.
I love the tattered sheet music with the scribblings of pianists and teachers as early as 1937.
I love standing in the beamed reading room, the light soupy. I love that the rooms upstairs are filled with readers and writers, all jostling for the handful of cushions scattered along the wooden banquette. Images that only sharpen the silence of this morning.
I love that there is much more to see than I will ever see. Many more concerts than I can ever attend. Much more theater than I could hope to understand. All in French. The snippets of conversations that I hear and overhear and puzzle together into something comprehensible that may or may not resemble the actual meaning.I love the music that leaks out of the nightclubs and free jazz concerts, the opera singers rehearsing in an apartment somewhere nearby, the piano at Shakespeare and Co. Bookseller being keyed by a boy, a poet of seventeen and of long blond hair and tawny eyes whose snark knows no bounds (and I suppose it's only in Paris when you meet somebody so purely genius to be improvising and amalgamating works of Beethoven and Chopin solely by ear; he cannot read music). I don't love it because we fell in love, either.
I don't love it because it's stylish. I love the street vendors who throw in a few more goods when we haven't purchased them. The old woman at the Puces de Saint Ouen flea market who, when I return and she lowers the price of the blouse I very much fancied and I thank her, says, "Non, c'est moi qui vous remercie."
I love the people who compliment me on my deeply flawed French. I love the people who say hello to everyone in the restaurants when they enter and good-bye to us all when they leave.
I don't love Paris because of the food. Oh wait, I'm lying.
I don't love Paris because of its history. I love it because of my own.