When my boyfriend and I arrived in Paris on our train from Zurich, I could feel that everything was different. There is such an aura about the city that it’s hard to describe, you really have to be there to experience it but I’ll try to explain it anyway. It has so much promise, so much hope, so many ideals paired with such beauty that if it were a woman, Paris would be the one that you could never really have, even if you spent a life time chasing. The air. When I breathed in the chilled November, it washed my lungs with its own brand of freshness, something sentimental with the faint scent of cigarettes.
We found a taxi quite easily, although it was a bit chaotic as there was a herd of them without the familiar all black or all yellow symbolism that most of us are used to. With our luggage loaded into the boot of the car, we sped off to our hotel down the sweeping boulevards, littered with cafes, florists, gloomy side streets that spidered off into the distance. But the romance really stops here. The evening that we arrived was the night of the Paris attacks.
I’ve left it this late to talk about what it’s like being in a city under the heavy, cruel eye of terrorism because there is so much to say and at the same time, the reality and emotion of it all makes you speechless.
Paris took my breath away because it is beautiful and it is still strong, and the people of the city have hearts and minds that remain open. I firmly believe that fear is a powerful thing but only if we give it power. Someone once told me that we need not accept it because it is not given to us by goodness. And I firmly believe this, even more so after that night where in a quaint and elegant restaurant, with only three other tables occupied, my boyfriend and I heard the news about the horrors that had happened, and were still ongoing. We had no wifi, just an inkling of suspicion that there may be something wrong because of the stream of police cars that passed us on the way to our hotel. It was a couple on the neighbouring table that told us about the events.
When I first started to plan the Paris trip I was thinking of Versailles, a place I had promised myself I would visit by writing it on a blog post last month. I wanted to go to the Louvre and see my favourite painting, the epic (albeit morbid) Raft of Medusa. I wanted my boyfriend to see it and I wanted to be right when I saw that he was thoroughly unimpressed because I was expecting it. I had traced out all the eclair shops and the perfumeries and the millineries I wanted to pop into.
The thing is that Paris is so much more than that, so much more than the glamourised, sun-kissed, peony-laden pictures you see on Instagram. (I realise half of you that read this already know as you’re not from Asia, and that you have probably been on like 100 French exchanges before) but my point is, what we want isn’t necessarily culture when we visit a city. What we want is an idea that we have of a place to match up in reality. Paris still takes my breath away because against all the propaganda, the media constructs, interpretations of its history, it fights for its reality at every moment, every day and I don’t ever see why it would stop.
|On our first day, we decided to explore the city. I had been there countless times before but each time was like a dream that I just could not remember the details to. It was a story without time. Luca had never been before, so he and his gps and me with my little hotel map set out in the late morning. The sky was a misty grey, brimming with the possibility of a shower although if I try to remember if it did, I can’t be certain that it rained. That’s the effect travel has on me, it’s all one big dream.|
Our second and last day was spent wandering around different parts of Paris that we hadn’t seen the day before, including a very long afternoon tea at Angelina. As we prepared to leave, knowing that we would be back again, the sunset was spectacular. Pink, purple, the sky was a watercolour fantasy. As we were driving to the train station, the Eiffel Tower reaching into the wisps of clouds stood tall, watching over the little cars shuttling about beneath.