I talk about Paris A Lot. I think about Paris even more. There’s a lot that’s associated with the city and me. It was the first place I went to on a really big trip away from my parents, my friends, my country. It was where I met my high school boyfriend that led into University, and later, our separate ways. It’s where I always seem to be around when there’s some sort of protest going on. Although, it is Paris, so there is always some sort of protest going on.
A lot has changed in the city I first visited and a lot has changed with me. That first time, we stayed in the raunchiest part of Paris in a tiny hotel that looked like how mould would feel. The elevator was so small that we had to send our luggage up without anyone and meet it on the floor above. The stairs were so narrow that there was no way we could lug our giant suitcases down. But, we sure tried. It’s one of the things I remember most about our stay: trying our hardest to carry our suitcases down the tiny stairs while making sure we didn’t miss the bus. The rooms were so tiny that, when I hit my friend’s foot in the middle of the night, she, not knowing how to tell time on a 24-hour clock, thought it was time to get up and get ready for the day, confusing us both in the process. I remember thinking how awful this place is and I couldn’t fathom loving it. It was just another city I could visit and tick off my list. I can still see the bums in the street, rows of empty Heinekens beside them as they puke up one still going down. I can still see that guy bathing in the fountain, not a care in the world about who is watching. It was my first time witnessing something so bold, so disgusting being done in broad daylight without a thought about covering it up. It sticks with me even to this day when I’ve seen far worse.
But then I also saw the architecture, the beauty in the streets mixed with the putrid air of urine that has always been a problem in Paris, filling the cavernous tube of the Metro, and your nostrils. The dirty, dusty streets call to me with their charms. Now, the raunchiest neighbourhood, the lower-class Red Light District where you can get a hooker for cheap, is my favourite. The 2nd arrondisement, the textile district, the Sentier. It’s filled with history, of greats once visited, of delicious restaurants, and is adjacent to the famous marketplace: Les Halles. The ladies? You get used to them, lined up in a row in front of the Sephora; the younger ones in yoga pants in doorways along the walk to the Metro, alone and working constantly, the Asians always in groups taking precedent in front of the stairs leading down to the Metro, their legwear and boots always on point. And, the older ones, walking about in their furs and their gloves, whom I like to affectionately think of as the matriarchs of the Arrondisement. They’re there to remind you that Paris isn’t just Instagram shots of your latte or cappuccino. It’s the grimy seedy history that is still strutting about.
I used to dream of the St Germaine, of heading to Deux Magots every single day, ready to be like Hemingway, like the greats before us all. But, art and life isn’t like that. You have to find your Deux Magots, your own place to sit and contemplate and drink and laugh. Sure, I still visit the cafe and bar, but I’ve my own kind of place. It may not be a place for whiskeys and late night chats, but late nights have never truly been my thing. Early mornings and contemplative afternoons, that’s where my money lies. So, I wake early, head out of my apartment and take the quick metro over to the Tuileries. It’s my home away from home, where I truly feel at peace. Those green metal chairs call to me as I sip on my cafe au lait from the cafe on-site. My favourite time is before this cafe opens, before anyone has settled in for the day, before the tourists have arrived or have even started lining up at the Louvre or L’Orangerie.
My greatest treasure about being in Paris? I’ve already done it all; I’ve taken in the tourist attractions, waited in the lines, and now I can relax and take in the city’s true self.