While Walking in the City

There are many stark differences between New York and Paris, particularly the many striking qualities that separate Parisians from New Yorkers in terms of mannerisms and habits. Immediately upon moving to a new place the cultural analysis begins and the two societies are scrutinized and deconstructed in order to somehow better understand these new surroundings. However, I find the similarities at times to be more interesting than the things that separate the two places and the people that inhabit them. Though it is sometimes more difficult for me than noting the differences, comparisons that liken the two groups of people to each other can certainly be made.

Perhaps the most intriguing relationship to me, however, is the similarities that I see not in the inhabitants but in the physical constructs of the cities themselves. The organization of a city is so interesting and complex. So much goes into the physical structure of a city, most obviously for me the urban planning, but also all the cultural and historic influences on the configuration. Nevertheless, whether constructed in the grid-like pattern of New York, or a system based around the center of the city like Paris there are certain qualities that are seemingly unavoidable in an urban setting.  Despite this complexity and difference in make up, cities, by nature, are all dense and busy. New York, like Paris, is a cultural hub and boasts a seemingly infinite amount of museums, galleries, bookshops and culturally enriching opportunities. Be it Paris, London or New York, many are naturally attracted to this hodge-podge of activity and will gather in these places. This results in rich cultural histories and highly idealized images of these major cities.

These cities to me, as well as many others, seem like the ultimate destination as a result of this; places where anything is possible. Furthermore, the result of the incredible amount of recorded activity that occurs in these urban centers makes them seem gargantuan. So much time is spent learning and hearing about famous neighborhoods in New York, such as Gramercy or Harlem, and there are infinite amounts in Paris as well. Montmartre seemed like such an amazing place to visit when I first heard about it, having been the residence of countless famous artists. Additionally, monuments like the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe seemed so unattainable before I moved to Paris.

This is why the realization I have had, both in New York and now in Paris is so strange to me. I have had to come to terms with the fact that these staples of history and culture are not only attainable but they are often easily accessible, close to one another, and often much smaller than imagined. This is a phenomenon I have noticed in every city I have visited, and I suppose it is indicative of every Metropolis as a result of the aforementioned density. These areas are for the most part easily traversed in a matter of hours, if not, as is often the case, minutes. Greenwich Village was home to the beatnik movement, and is associated with a slew of artists, including Bob Dylan. Yet, all of this is encompassed in a few blocks, which I frequently walked through to visit friends in some of the NYU dorms.

It’s a hard idea for me to convey. The feeling I experience when I walk down the Champs Elysees and realize it’s overrun by movie theatres, tourists, and is in fact quite short isn’t necessarily disappointment; it’s just a strange sensation. While most of the places are breathtakingly beautiful or interesting I still can’t help but feel underwhelmed at certain moments when I realize the countless time spent dreaming and fantasizing about a place that, once seen, leaves me shocked at the tangibility of it. I don’t want to seem unappreciative of the amazing opportunities and sights that living in two capitals of the world has given me. I love New York, and now Paris as well. I find the two cities to be amazingly beautiful and recognize that I will never truly understand them or see everything they have to offer. Nevertheless, it is interesting to walk to work and see the Empire State Building, or walk home from school and see the Eiffel Tower when these were once things I only dreamed of seeing, or read about in books.

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