I have taken a brief hiatus from writing due to a lack of inspiration and conflict on the direction my writing shall take. After my trip to Paris, my mind is made up.
Winding streets, cars rushing by, café upon café. I shall join the throngs of Americans captivated by the city of lights. As I peddle through the streets, I am overtaken by happiness in the romance of the streets, the people, the food—and even the dogs. Paris is a city of leisure, and of discovery. Around every corner, behind every park, Parisians decadently sip their coffees and eat pastries, often book in hand. At their feet rest crumpled bags overfulowing with freshly baked baguettes. The bread is in company with fruit and other produce—the figs I sampled, as big as tennis balls, ooze sweetness.
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.,” once wrote Hemingway. I am captivated, alas after 3 days. It is a city of wonder, of romance, of discovery. It will indeed stay with me and I will indeed be back soon and often, perhaps as a resident.
Upon my arrival in Paris I am to trek across the city. I set out to walk, staying true to my urban mantra of discovery through feet and pavement. Yet the walk is too long. I am to be north soon to see the first familiar face not from Europe. As I walk, the Parisians in suits, dresses, and simply stylish clothes peddling their way through the streets enthrall me.
Moments later I peddle through the streets! To feel like a true local is a difficult concept. One can visit the locals’ cafes, shops, and parks, but until one experiences something truly and utterly unique to that city or culture one does not feel like, say a Parisian. As I peddled my way through the city, heavy bag on back, equating it to the feeling Kerouac must have had carrying his 60-pound rucksack through Paris in the 40s, I truly felt Parisian.
In the city for just moments, I felt a sense of belonging. I rode along next to other bikers— unmistakably French, clearly not tourists. Though I may have been lamented a tourist by locals, I felt as If I belonged, that I blended in.
In my trip to Paris, I grew a profound fascination in experiencing Paris as did the Lost Generation. A deep believer in the ideals of those Americans in self-done exile, inspiration for my move to Italy, I traversed the boulevards and paths of the writers, poets, and artists. The most profound experience in linking myself to these heroes was a trip to Shakespeare and Company. Upon entering the sadly now tourist overrun wood paneled bookstore, dressed as I imagine Kerouac and others of the Beats, I asked a young worker for directions to those works by the Beats. Books in hand briefly rummaging through the shelves of the store, brief pauses in his swift maneuvering through the people and shelves, he was reminiscent of young intellectuals in Paris of past generations. Loosely fitting blue oxford, sleeves rolled up this elbows and tucked into his pants. Blonde hair long but neat, combed to the side hanging over the edge Upon further investigation, it appeared he was from Britain, an expat living in Paris. We spoke briefly on Kerouac and I asked if he was aware of the chief influences on the writer.
He brought me through the store and handed me Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson. “I have heard of the author, but in a different context and have never read this work,” I embarrassingly spoke as I retreated backwards. He stated with pride, but a subtle distance, that this work had inspired him to travel. Though a brief, subtle moment—alas a moment of connection—it was a time of real connection and humbleness. I do not know the story of this man—whether he was a writer living in Paris earning a modest sum working in this shop as I romanticized. But I do know that an expat in Paris sharing the very work that inspired his life adventure was a profound moment. He handed me the book, “If you trust me, get it.” I swiftly walked out of the store tote in hand, with the works of R. L. Stevenson, London, and Hemingway (It is said that Hemingway used books exclusively from this shop in Paris, I would’ve felt unfilled if I had not left with at least one work by the author). I left the store smiling, feeling accomplished and fulfilled. Just on the journey home alone I nearly finished the work by London. I am saving the exploits of R. L. Stevenson for a time of tranquility.
The Louvre, external beauty by night, internal beauty by day. “Miles and miles of hiking before great canvasses,” once wrote Kerouac. “Thousands of clearly defined figures with swords and above them the calm mountains, trees on a hill, clouds…” he continued professing his enamor with Brueghel’s masterpiece Battle of Arbelles. The beauty and surreal space—the Louvre itself—is the real treasure. Run past the Mona Lisa, even past the Egyptian wing. Happen upon the hidden treasures of architecture and discreet works. Vermeer’s L’astrologue! The softness of the figure transcends photographs. It is purer than reality, untarnished by blemishes and faults of the natural and manmade world. Jan Van Eyck, never has existed an artist of such precision and skill. The one work, in a room all my own, unassuming, clashing against a tan tasteless wall, presents Van Eyck’s wonderful mastery of perspective. It is a window to the Dutch landscape, one that fails to end.
As I depart from my company for the night I head to the Arc de Triomphe. I traverse the underground passage and as I arise from the ground am overtaken by the massive structure. Alone with the eternal flame of Paris and the arc, save two officers and two girls, gorgeous Parisians, casually sitting and smoking on the arc’s side. I feel at peace. It is odd indeed. In the heart of Paris, an area traveled by thousands of tourists, surrounded by speeding cars, it is a moment of surreal contemplation and merging with the city. Alas, for a brief moment I feel that I understand Paris. But that moment is fleeting as reality sets in. Spoiled by cars honking and tourists’ cameras flashing.
I travel down the tourist overrun Rue Bonparte to Ladurée. Save the handful of filled tables in the café, the counter is empty. The pastries I devoured were fantastic, but what was most memorable was the man I met manning the counter. With a starchiness and formality he takes my order—simply a canelé and three macarons, off his recommendations. As the store is all but empty we begin to chat. He commences the exchange beyond formal customer and salesman by asking of my origins. As the words New York leave my lips, his face lights up. His blue childish eyes and childish face glean with joy and excitement. A distinctly French face, it had the softness and kindness of a young child. His expression, of such joy, was simply reminiscent of a child upon entering a place of wonder—whether that be a candy or toy store. He tells of his trip to the city months earlier. I profess my love of Paris. He laughs. I leave the store and sit eating as I stare at the Arc de Triomphe.
Paris has inspired me to write. I have written draft after draft, paragraph after paragraph for posts over the past weeks. Each one feels unconvincing, whether not true or simply boring. I write when I am inspired, never simply to write. Paris gave more than I could ever hope to write about. A lifetime in Paris, a year in Paris, even a month in Paris will simply be live changing.