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Paris, This Present Otherness

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The contemplation of Paris, the City Of Light, and all its euphemisms — all of which would be a sin to deny.

Though its poetry stands intact, and Victor Hugo’s beautiful laments transcend time itself, Paris left me broken-hearted.

A catalyst! That’s what it was. The genesis of my love affair with Paris, I simply had to go! A lifetime’s desire to walk the roads of Esmeralda, and to face Quasimodo’s demons. Also the Mona Lisa, but most of all the impeccable breath that escaped me at the sight of an authentic Claude Monet… It was all there, a perfect, timeless setting. Missing a narrator, perhaps, a few sneaky camera angles,  and I would have fallen desperately, horribly and irrevocably, in love with the City of Light. 

Hell Is An Outrage On Humanity

With a map in hand, and with no fear for embarrassment nor condescension, I made my way through Montparnasse.

The coordinates did not fail me, but my internal vocation for geography had long abandoned me.

Distressed and confused, a glimpse of hope appeared to be crossing the street in front of me, a woman.

I approached with all care and attention, and folding my map away I was interrupted by her harsh and hasty, “Pas du tout! Pas du tout! Je n’sais Pas, pas du tout!”

Robbed of my protagonism, I felt betrayed by my apparent senseless approach.

Was I a bother to this woman? All I wanted was an indication, or at least, and hopefully, a confirmation of direction.

Pas du tout! Ringed in my ears as I quickly realized this Parisienne had had a long day, with no interval for tourist tolerance.

Thus began my epiphany.

A Society That Admits Misery

The following day a lady occupied my shoes. She was lost, and she came to me for direction.

It was a busy square, or perhaps a busy day — one of the two –, and I had just come from contemplating more artwork, museum musings of which I shall always plead guilty. I don’t remember much of her, the memory never crystalized. I do remember her exasperation, the resemblance in our hair, and the imminent displacement of her pace.


She asked if I could help her, in French. I thought for myself, how dare she ask me for directions? I’m a tourist!

“Moi aussi, je n’suis pas d’ici.”, she exclaimed. Oh, I realized, everyone who’s not from Paris is a tourist.

Beaucoup de Parisiennes manquent d’humilité, d’humour.

Victor Hugo’s words will put you at ease, fool you and proclaim you an expert wanderer of Parisian blocs, but be not mistaken.  This is no Dostoevsky’s St. Petersburg.  In Paris, the barrier is deeper than some literary expression, it leaves you feeling altogether inadequate, and perpetually apologetic for the nuisance caused by the tourist, the other.

It’s a strange feeling to realize you disturb the landscape, and that, life in the city goes on, despite you.

So at the end of the day, what is it that makes us love Paris? We become moved by our passion, despite our disappointments in the city. We learn to love its shadows, to value its silence, and to find the beauty in the city’s most remote corners.

I love Paris like I love humans: it’s full of flaws. It exemplifies human frailty, it speaks of human fluidity. Parisians are not rude, they are tired of flooding tourists who pay no respect to normalcy.

 Paris is full of just that: tired, normal people. 

And sometimes, us, tourists, forget that.
For a more Parisian feel, listen to Un Jour Comme Un Autre, by Brigitte Bardot.

Original photographs by Pierre Lauret, D Julien, Martin Mutch and Simon Yu.

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