A man sits in the corner with a very small, very sad looking dog. The sound of the buzzer on the metro doors is informing the entirety of Saint Michel that they are closing. Of course, the French rush on from every direction and have no sense of letting people off first. The fact that the sign saying “02” does in fact mean that another train will be there in two minutes does not deter them from worming their way into the last inches of space in the metro car. They show up nowhere on time, but they rush in the metro. The dog makes very triste eyes at me, but his face is located too close to the man’s bare feet for me to have more than a moment of sympathy before turning immediately to a strong urge to vomit. It all smells like urine. Right then, I hated Paris.
The station is crowded and men are leering and I’m still nervous about those pickpockets that everyone speaks of constantly. I notice a man spit and I’m just happy it didn’t land on me and then I remember it’s 2011 and I shouldn’t have to worry about being spit on because that’s absolutely ridiculous. It feels more like I’ve entered Hell than one of the major cities in the world. How can people actually live here? How can anyone like it? They must all be lying to themselves.
Twelve hours later, I walk down the Seine and watch the roofs meet the sky and I think about how I couldn’t think about anywhere more perfect than right here. Everything is quiet and slow and easy. I wished it could all go on forever, the Seine never ending. I think the city is so beautiful, so sadly beautiful. I think about how old it is. I begin to comprends why everyone has been inspired by it, I think. I see its beauty. I see its ability to encourage thought. I feel more rooted to this place than anywhere else.
Worrying about fitting in is gone. How could I possibly not work here? It feels perfectly correct. The people don’t matter. I could walk this river for years and not have to speak to a soul. I’m more connected to Paris than anyone has ever been in the history of the world. Who needs anything besides a baguette and some red wine? Maybe a couple cigarettes. I’ll sit on the bank and swing my feet and tilt my head back and just think. Je pense donc je suis. Cogito ergo sum. I think this is the most beautiful city. I think I’m meant to be somewhere else.
My question is this? Can there be a balance between hating Paris and loving Paris? Is it a city about which no one can be indifferent? It seems that people are either blinded and distracted by the beauty or disillusioned by the smell. I tend to oscillate between the two extremes, as it seems most of my fellow temporary transplants do. Woody Allen said, “Americans are raised to love Paris,” when speaking about his most recent film Midnight in Paris. This city has become a symbol of romance, of class, of fashion, and sophistication.
I just want to think of Paris as something normal, like any other place. I can’t though. I think of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein in the Latin Quarter and I’m upset that it isn’t still like that. I walk through Montmartre and I think about James Baldwin and traveling with only pennies in your pocket. It all seemed so perfect. I ask myself where that Paris went. Then, I think maybe it was never here or it’s still here but hiding.