Versailles in early March.
There is something i have to say about Paris. I feel something towards this city that is akin to emotions i feel towards other human beings. I love it, as most romantic young girls do, desperately with a hunger and a longing that is like loving heaven... putting it on a pedestal in the hopes that it will fulfill my wildest dreams. I do the same with guys, and both never fail to disappoint. It is not wise to put all your eggs in one basket, nor is it wise to worship something/someone who cannot ever love you back. Paris, when i think of it as the City of Dreams, always crashes those dreams to the ground, only to erect a new monument in the rubble- it will not let you be in control. You have to give in, give up your expectations, and let the city show you what it can be...and let me tell you, it is something far better than a Utopia.
It is not always beautiful. Paris can be very dirty, and has that "big city" smell of dust and oil and rotting garbage that most major cities in the world have. It has a certain arrogance, that snubs you and crushes your confidence. The sun does not always shine in Paris. Sometimes it is constantly cold and wet and grey. BUT...there is something in the air. The dirty, smelly air, that sucks you in and, if you let it, will transform you. Everything you do, everything you see, even the horrid people and disturbing scenes, feels like it has been taken out of a book or movie. A story-line with you at the centre.
And you, as the central character, are the pivotal person in so many stranger's lives. If Paris has stripped away your bravado, it gives you back this: the certain je ne sais quoi that comes from believing, truly, that who you are and every action you do matters, and is key to the world's turning. It is not egotism. It is fact. Paris makes every little thing significant: smoking a cigarette while leaning against a bridge. Dropping a book and picking it back up again. Half-smiling when you pass an attractive man (or woman) on the street. A blink of the eye. Turning your face to the sun. Sighing slightly while drinking a petite cafe alone. Flipping your scarf over your shoulder. It all matters.
One of my favourite Paris memories is not a romantic encounter, or a split-second glimpse that haunts me for the rest of my life. It takes place when i was 18, travelling around the world, and at this time i was with my cousin J and her friend N. We had been in Paris for about a week, and after eating out for dinner almost every night had decided to try and save our money by buying bread (baguette of course) and cheese (something as foreign as possible) and fruit juice and sparkling water, which was very cheap. We ate bread and cheese for days. And I mean at least two meals a day were bread and cheese. It sounds terribly romantic, but in reality you go to bed hungry, wake up hungry, and start salivating when you see other people eating food on the street. So one day we decided that in order to distract ourselves from our growling stomachs and shortening tempers, we would take the train out of the city and spend the day at Versailles. We packed some bread and cheese, a few pieces of fruit, and (to save room in our bags) mixed the rest of the fruit juice in with the sparkling water. Dressed up in cute black frocks and scarves, we thought it would be sunnier out in the country, so we didn't bring coats, just layers of cardigans. We had an eventful time. Our train broke down halfway out of the station. We hadn't bought the correct tickets, so we hopped the gate with some ugly American boys who picked us up. We got to Versailles...it was raining. It was cold. We decided, after an hour and a half of wandering around the dead gardens, to try and see inside the palace. We waited in line for another hour, before we decided it was too expensive. So we found a little nook in the forest, out of the wind and sheltered from the rain, and sat on a stone bench and shiveringly ate our bread and cheese. We decided to go back to the city as soon as possible, since we were as miserable as could be.
Cold, wet, and in foul moods, we sat on the train and didn't speak to one another. Looking out at the darkening, sodden countryside we sunk into our own thoughts. Then, N decided she was thirsty. So she pulls out the plastic bottle, and starts to loosen the cap...BANG! With an explosion like a shot-gun, the lid goes rocketting off into space and juice goes everywhere. People on the train scream, and everyone ducks. The three of us look at each other in shock. Was that our fault? Then, because we are too scared to be embarrassed, we start laughing. And laughing and laughing and laughing and laughing. We talked about it for days, and decided afterwards not to mix fruit juice and sparkling water again. We also decided to start eating at least one decent meal a day. And so what could have been a terrible day turned out to be quite amusing.
And so Paris...it is where i will live some day. I love it, i hate it, but it always surprises me. There is no city like it on earth...and if you let it, it can leave its indelible mark on your soul. If you build it up in your mind it will destroy your expectations, but if you let it move you, you will be changed.