No matter how overrun the world becomes with tourists or drowned under the glossy pages of travel magazines, there are some places that are still worth approaching with an unjaded eye. Paris is one of them. From the hill of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, the city presents itself with the pastel details and strange soft light that have drawn painters for centuries. When I first saw it, I wished I had a pastel stick in hand and knew how to use it. I was there over the weekend of my 30th birthday, and as little interest as Paris ever held for me (so much more to see in the world! so many places less tramped by busloads of my noisy countrymen!), spending three days walking through the drizzle felt like a coming of age. Maybe I’ve read too many Edith Wharton novels.
I didn’t fall in love with Paris, but I felt humbled. Coming from New York, where architects and politicians were bickering over what to put on the site of the World Trade Center and how quickly they could get it up (no pun intended), I leaned against the Notre-Dame Cathedral that took nearly 200 years and the commitment of more than one kind of faith to erect. Brushing its scrubbed stone, it’s hard to escape the thought that it’s a sad world that fails to build for the unseen future. Through the hordes of tour groups, the Gothic lines and gargoyles of the Cathedral are still something of beauty.
Paris was noisier than I imagined, especially around the sprawling Place de la Concorde, but many leafy streets were quieter than seemed possible coming off the Champs-Elysées overrun with traffic. The food … well, how can you go wrong? But call me frivolous, it was windows full of elegant, well-shaped shoes that made me yank my husband’s sleeve and delay lunch a while. What is it about shoes? I could take some of those French ones to bed with me.
I tried hard to walk around Paris with Proust not on my mind, because I’d just read Adam Gopnik’s unfortunate memoir Paris to the Moon, in which Proust very loudly and blatantly was. It’s hard, though, to spend three full days there and not find your sentences suddenly lengthening with columns of semi-colons that tell stories meandering across decades.
Can’t help it. Paris is lovely. Paris is romantic. Paris is an April city — fresh-faced but wise with the battering of a long, cold winter; introspective; thoughtful; a time and a place when it’s okay to walk the sidewalks for hours and be struck anew with the beauty of spring bulbs; or dash into a cafe with a book or notepad or a laughing friend and sip chocolat with a silly smile on your face.