PARIS - I LEFT A NOTE BEHIND THE ART
The writer/poet Victor Hugo once wrote: “He who contemplates the depths of Paris is seized with vertigo. Nothing is more fantastic. Nothing is more tragic. Nothing is more sublime.”
The sensical thing to assume would be that 5 nights in a city is in no way enough time to be enthralled by its story. And normally I would agree. But Paris is a city deep with enchantments and I’m not sure there’s any other city in the world that offers you so many of them from the moment you step off the plane.
Apparently there’s a genuine psychological disorder called, ‘Paris Syndrome’. It’s said that Paris Syndrome is the result of disappointment when tourists visit Paris and find it to not live up to their expectations. I mean there’s actual symptoms that go along with it: nausea, dizziness, and anxiety. I had read about this syndrome after I booked my trip to Paris and thought: ‘Yikes, what if I get this?’ I started to wonder if Paris was just another city that people had managed to over-romanticise to the point that people who now travelled there suffered actual anxiety at the disappointment. It seemed kind of ridiculous.
We often see quotes about Paris written over some photo of the city’s views and sometimes they’re pretty deep and meaningful. Some people, I guess, call this hackneyed and overly sentimental. But I’ve learnt something since being in Paris. Paris is loved by creatives; artists, photographers, poets, writers, musicians, and the people who break the rules and colour outside the lines. I mean, historians probably love Paris too - there’s a lot of that. But it’s the people who think deeply, outside of the box, that don’t find the overused romanticised quotes hackneyed. Because they connect with them and believe them to be true. One of my main highlights of this trip - on a personal level - was getting to write some of this piece on my hotel balcony. Is there any bigger cliche than writing on a Paris balcony? If you look beyond the architecture (which, by the way, is breathtaking) and the awe-inspiring monuments, there’s just something that lingers in the air. A feeling, a mood, a concept - I’m not sure which - maybe all of them. But you need to allow yourself to experience that. For someone to actually suffer Paris Syndrome, I can only assume that they have spent too much time wondering why the Eiffel Tower is, in fact, just a tower and less time experiencing the feeling or the mood or the concept that surrounds it.
To elaborate - before I get shouted at for saying the Eiffel Tower is just a tower - of course, there’s a beauty to its intricate design and sheer size. But there’s a tower in Blackpool too - which was actually inspired by the Eiffel Tower - and that doesn’t evoke the same feelings as the Eiffel Tower does. Perhaps, and this is just a suggestion, it’s more about where the Eiffel Tower is and not just about how it looks. The Eiffel Tower dominates Paris. You can see it from many different areas in the city and it’s laser beam at night is a constant reminder of its presence. But it’s more than that. It kind of gives you a feeling of safety in the city - like it’s your lookout.
Last November, Paris came under attack for the second time that year and is currently still in a state of emergency. There are reminders of this: the armed police and army seen throughout the city, and the numerous sounds of sirens heard morning, noon and night. Another attack in Paris is possible, threats are made daily to the city and there were arrests made days before I arrived. But - and it could be that I was just too consumed by the enchantments of Paris - at no point did I feel unsafe.
After the attacks in Paris last November, I was working in London that same week. The UK’s terror level had gone up and the streets of London were swarmed with police - an attack looked imminent. I think that trip was the worst of my life. I can’t tell you how discontented I felt. Using the Underground was almost unbearable. It was clear that everyone was on edge. Like we were all waiting on something to happen and just praying we weren’t there when it did. A stabbing took place in the Underground a couple of weeks later. That’s when the hashtag #YouAintNoMuslimBruv began trending. The trip was unbearable because people were fearful - myself included. But I didn’t feel that way in Paris.
I’m not saying that any one city is better than the other. But they say that Paris is the city of love and I’ve learnt that they don’t just mean the romantic kind. Love is very much present in Paris and within the Parisians - which settles you with a certain calm. It just sort of lingers in the air. So I guess it’s true - love really does conquer all. It’s just like Martin Luther King said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
So why mention the attacks in Paris? Well, they are so recent and the aftermath is still ongoing. It would be wrong to write a piece on Paris without mentioning that. A couple of people said to me: ‘I wouldn’t fancy going there just now’, when they found out I had booked to go to Paris so I want to encourage people to not be dissuaded to visit this inspiring city.
When you come back from visiting any city people tend to ask you: “What was your favourite part?” I guess it depends on what they mean for you to answer properly. For me, this was a family trip to celebrate my Dad’s 60th so there’s that. Then there’s the feeling of just falling in love with a city. But, on a different note - I was shocked at how amazed I was by the Arc de Triomphe. I mean, yeah, the Eiffel Tower does blow your mind when you see it up-close for the first time but the Arc just left me stunned. I had no idea of its size - it’s a lot bigger than it appears in photographs. Plus it just exudes history. I love history - I was one of those kids that read the Horrible Histories book series (the ‘Misery Mary’ one is still a classic!)
Every pillar and every carving of the Arc de Triomphe tells a different story from various wars. It really is a stunning piece of architecture. What captured me was the flame that burns constantly above the tomb of an unknown soldier from WW1. I urge you to read about it.
The Arc de Triomphe sits in the middle of the craziest roundabout I’ve ever seen. There are no lanes or organisation to it - it’s a free-for-all. Drivers who use this roundabout must seriously wear out their car horns! My Dad tells me that no car insurer covers you on this roundabout. Pedestrians can’t cross over the roundabout - I mean, unless they have a death wish. Instead, you get to the Arc by using underpasses. There’s so much intrigue to this one little area of Paris - for example, the Arc’s full name is: The Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile. Étoile means ‘star’. It gets this name because there are 12 avenues that lead off from the Arc.
The Arc is positioned at the top of the Champs-Élysées, which is a 1.2 mile long avenue filled with top designer stores - and a McDonald’s, of course. So you kind of feel like you’re in the area of Paris that is often romanticised. I guess it’s the NY 5th Avenue of Paris. Especially at this time of year when a good quarter of the avenue is filled with Christmas markets on either side of the road.
So there I was thinking that Paris was just this glamorous city full of prestige. And then I went to see the Moulin Rouge building. I’m not really sure what to say about the street (Boulevard de Clichy) that runs along the Moulin Rouge. Sex shops, offers of ‘fun times’, and neon lights pretty much sums it up. There are people in this world that would find it distasteful and, I guess it kind of is in the politically correct world we live in now - but it’s kind of intriguing too. You know you shouldn’t look but you do and consequently do this silly school-girl giggle at certain items in the windows. Eye-opening, but distastefully intriguing.
There couldn’t be a bigger juxtaposition to Boulevard de Clichy than taking the 1 mile walk down to the Opera building. Quickly the neon lights fade into grand architecture and the cheap offers for ‘fun times’ turn into French eateries asking you to actually spend a day's wage for a plate of snails. Seriously. All this in 1 mile.
At this point, I would like to remind you about Paris Syndrome. There are actually people out there who are disappointed by Paris? What more can you ask for? It reminds me of that classic scene in Fawlty Towers (which seems apt to mention after the recent passing of Andrew Sachs), when Basil is having a tough time with one of his guests, who is deaf and is complaining about the view from her room:
Basil: “Well, may I ask what you expected to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window? Sydney Opera House, perhaps? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically...?”
Maybe you need to watch it to understand: video.
I guess you just need to allow yourself to be consumed by the romanticism. Don’t take yourself too seriously and allow yourself to laugh, cry, jeez - pretend you’re Audrey Hepburn if you need to. You’re in Paris. Embrace it.
They say that Paris is the city of love. They’re right.