I didn’t think ahead on our last trip to Paris.
I didn’t expect the lines to be so long in February.
But they were.
It was as if seasons had no effect. London sort of falls quiet in the winter, at least comparatively. It’s sort of nice to walk into the galleries and museums essentially unperturbed.
This being my third trip to the city of lights, I should have known better. I should have booked ahead. Because normally, I am excellent at planning. But the lines at the Musee d’Orsay has us turning away to find other ways to fill our time.
So what is it about Paris that makes it so appealing, in all seasons?
I’ve been struggling with it for a while, and it wasn’t until I was back wandering along the Seine that I figured it out.
It’s an illusion.
Of course I don’t mean to say that Paris isn’t wonderful. It is. It’s a fantastically photogenic city and is rich with history. It’s still retains the pace of a huge city without feeling rushed. It’s enjoyable.
What I do mean is that Paris, or the Paris we expect, doesn’t really exist anywhere but in the past, in fragments of art and history that we cling to. It has become a projection of its past glory in a way that has us expecting different things.
There is a syndrome that exists, particularly among the Japanese tourists, dubbed the Paris Syndrome. It arises from a variety of things, but one of the main causes of this syndrome is that Paris doesn’t live up to its idealized image.
On my past two trips to Paris I always felt a sense of disappointment, my own Paris Syndrome. I have always expected a grand romantic city, baguettes, cheese, wine, the works. I expect long walks along the Seine, sparking lights and perfect weather. I expect that atmosphere of the 1920s, and like Owen Wilson’s character in Midnight in Paris I find myself harkening back to an age that, for me, doesn’t exist. And when I don’t find this ideal I am always disappointed.
So this most recent adventure in Paris began the same way. I wanted a romantic getaway, hoping that maybe this time, the third time, would be magical. Maybe I could find what I was looking for.
After our first attempt at culture was thwarted by the insane lines at the Musee d’Orsay, we DID take a long stroll along the Seine. We talked about Paris, we talked and talked and talked. Our plans fell through, and so wandering became our plan.
And it was then when I truly realized what it was about Paris.
You get drawn in by the history, by the art, by the grand boulevards. You go to Paris because of that ideal image that you have of it.
But once you get there, you can either be disappointed by what Paris really is, or you can embrace it.
Instead of a romantic picnic I’ve had beggars steal our Nutella. Been harassed in the metro station at 1 am. Struggled in 30 degree weather to find our hotel. Been let down by the lines to see some of my favourite artists, in February of all months.
For awhile, I had Paris completely written off.
Until I stopped looking for something that no longer exists. Because once I did that, Paris seemed to open up to me, to finally say
Once I let go of my preconceived notions of Paris and actually embraced it for what it is, warts and all, I understood why it is such an enigma.
It is not only beautiful, historical and extremely walkable. It is alive. It’s present. It has survived over 2000 years to be what it is today. It might not be the Belle Époque or the Roaring 20s, but it’s still magical.
But you can’t go looking for it.
You just have to let it show you on it’s own.
Like I said, I had written it off. It wasn’t even in my top ten. But after just two days I changed my mind.
I found a Paris for myself, a city that has had so much amazing history that until now I had let the history hold back what it really was. It’s just enjoyable. It’s walkable and beautiful. It’s huge, but it’s personal.
What is it about Paris?
Once you take it for what it is, instead of what you think it should be, Paris truly does become magical.
Forget what you know. Enjoy it as it should be enjoyed. Don’t follow the set menu. Try it á la carte.