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Of my most memorable life moments, one was of going out after a school party, and needing to pee really bad. My French friends told me to just urinate on a tree. It was about 1am, and it was basically just us in the 10th district of Paris. I decided to hold it as I didn’t want to be a bad, drunk American, and well, I had never urinated out in the open before. So we took a night bus to the Champs-Élysées. As soon as we arrived, I really couldn’t wait anymore so I ran into the middle of a bunch of trees that had been decorated for the holidays. Quite ironic that I wouldn’t go in a grittier neighborhood, and ended up doing that on one of the most famous and posh streets in the world.
20 years later, as I am heading to the airport while the snow descended, I stared out the window thankful of my good fortune to have been here. Paris hums in the heart, beats in the brain and pulses with every moment. It energizes and calms, delights and shocks, and gives you as much or as little as you want. Something in the city’s essence makes the simple into the extraordinary, and the extraordinary so simple to grasp. It was here that I learned to appreciate different ways of life which lead to a love of travel; in turn, those experiences helped me embrace my strengths and shortcomings.
There were many little instances in Paris that helped to wake me up. Not in the spiritually enlightened sense, and not even so far as to say that I had an epiphany. No. It took a few weeks after settling into a place and school in the fall of 1997, but little by little, I started to see just how different life could be. Up until that study abroad semester, I had not left California for 12 years, and all I really cared about was school and trying to stay under the radar.
Since that first visit, I’ve never left… Well, my heart never really left. Paris started me on a path of international travel by opening my eyes to passions that I never knew. I’m not talking about the carnal kind (though my first night in a hotel there, I heard, umm, interesting sounds); rather, I’m talking about the full-on way in which the people live.
The city continues to evolve and against the backdrop of such rich history and traditions, some may lament in the gain of the convenience-focus e.g. the ubiquity of Nespresso machines. Then, there is the high cost of living (Paris is the most expensive in the EU and 7th in the world) which is no joke, and the many unemployed and under-employed residents. Still, you can’t really shake the underlying optimism and the nod back to the a slow way of life. You still feel that people take to heart the one-life-to-live mentality and even if they are struggling financially, they can still relish in their human connections. It’s not a coincidence that even in the grittier neighborhoods, parks and public gathering spaces exist and are well used.
Whether they’re eating, drinking or discussing what time the sun sets, it’s a total commitment to the moment. I recall a very loud back-and-forth between a Moroccan friend and my landlady- the topic escaped my frenchless brain, but I surely was prepared for her to tell me to show him out. Then she asked if he wanted more tea and their conversation went on.
There are plenty of beautiful sites to keep you entertained, but it’s the atmosphere here that infects you. You feel it just sitting on a bench. It’s very apparent if you cross one of bridges. Stand still for a moment at a train station, and you’ll sense it. Even in the tourist-centric shops and restaurants dotting Montemartre, St. Germain, and the Champs-Élysées have a certain pulse that makes you want to be present. Even, something so mundane as walking around is elevated entertainment; just be sure, to watch out for the dog poop. You’d have to try really hard to not feel energized and even alone, I’ve never felt lonely. That joie de vivre is a very real thing here.
You might have noticed that my pictures don’t include any awe inspiring grandeur or much of the many beautiful vistas — both are plentiful. For me, the real beauty here is the seemingly ordinary. It’s what the everyday holds. That’s what grips onto my soul and has kept me coming back. My time in the City of Lights is usually spent meandering the streets, making the normative purchase of a baguette and treating myself to a sandwich grec and fries (I know, not what you wanted to hear). If I’m feeling like playing tourist, I walk across the city following the path of the 1 metro line. I’ve spend countless hours just loitering in parks or steps, while watching people going about.
With volumes of novels, movies and individual testimonies attesting to the city’s legendary status, Paris needs no convincing. If the city doesn’t resonate with you right away, give it a little time. Better yet, give it a lot of time. I’m willing to bet that you’ll no sooner leave than want to come right back. See you in Paris.