Dreams of Paris
I wrote a reflection of the impact that exchange had on me last year. This is more of a peek into my consciousness, another attempt to capture the elusive quality that Paris holds in my mind. It’s always around this time of the year, the beginning of my sojourn in Paris that I feel the most nostalgic.
I rarely remember my dreams. Usually, when I wake up in the mornings, I’m straight out of bed already a little late. On the rare occasion, I hit snooze, fading in and out of many reveries of which I remember tiny snippets, evaporating in the growing light. This week, I’ve had three dreams of Paris.
It’s rare enough that I remember a dream, and for them all to be of Paris, it must have some significance. Perhaps I’m worried about the Paris marathon. But as I woke from the second dream, I remembered Zhuangzi and his butterfly: What if I wasn’t visiting Paris in my dreams? What if the real Chris was in Paris, living the life I was meant to live, and just having a series of hyper-realistic nightmares about never making it out of Toronto?
In my dreams, I see Paris as I remember it: in the winter, spring, summer, and fall. It’s been so long since I’ve been there that I’m not sure how reliable my memories are. I know that I’ve spent half a year there, but sometimes, it feels like a fever dream. Could a city really have had all the wonder that I’ve attributed to it? Is it possible that Paris really exists as it exists in my dreams?
Paris is a city of architecture. Every monument in Paris is larger than life. From the pointed tip of the Eiffel tower, to the gilded roof of Les Invalides, from the voluptuous curve of the Arc de Triomphe, to the engorged dome of the Basilica Sacré Cœur, to the glittering pyramids of the Louvre. But it’s not just the big, it’s also the small. It’s the gently slopped Mansard roofs, it’s the tree-lined boulevards, it’s the residential units atop the boutiques, it’s the 304 metro stations dotted in the arrondisements. I always found that I walked slowly in Paris.
Paris is a city of art. So many artists have come from away to call Paris home: Piccaso, Van Gogh, and Modigliani were all drawn by the bright lights of Paris, and spent the rest of their lives in France. So many of their works continue to reside in Paris, in the 130 museums of the city, the majority of which I could visit for free when I lived there. Paris took a boy who knew nothing of art and showed him Delacroix, Manet, and Twombly. Now he still understands little of art, but will keep his mouth shut and eyes open when he goes to museums.
Paris is a city of fashion. Though referred to in the same rarefied tones used when speaking of London, Milan, and New York, I’d like to believe it lies a cut ahead. Everyone dresses to impress, and no one dresses like Emily. But even the Emily who was born in London and worked in New York wanted to attend Paris Fashion Week. Taking the metro at different times throughout the day and sitting at cafes throughout the city was more than enough to expose me to the variety: I could wear whatever I wanted to, so long as I wanted to wear it.
Paris is a city of food, but my fascination with its gastronomy can start and end at the bread. I like carbs, and I will have rice with my pork belly even if it’s a bit soggy, I’ll eat pasta even if it’s not al dente, and I’ll have fries even if there’s no mayonnaise. I will certainly no longer have bread, unless the crust is crispy, the center chewy, and the moisture perfect. I can still remember what it felt like walking into a Parisian bakery. It smelled warm, and it tasted bright. The baguette is stiff enough that my teeth aren’t enough to separate the portion in my mouth from the rest; it requires jerking my head one way, and the rest of the loaf another. Heavenly with cheese, with jambon, with the oil left over from baking escargot, and even with just butter. I know there are croissants and crepes, macrons and mille-feuilles, but I like the bread.
Paris is a city of nightlife. It’s no Amsterdam and certainly not Berlin, but the after-hours entertainment has its own flavour, a hangover from the gaslit bistros of the Belle Epoque. No loud English stags along the canals or grungy goths in Brutalist clubs, but a sort of traditional sloth. Happy hour runs from eight to ten because dinner ends in the same time period. There are few dimly lit bars, but mostly warm-lighted cafes, teeming with throngs of people, groups of as many as six crowded around tiny coffee tables, drinking demis of beer and chainsmoking cigarettes. In the winter, there are heat lamps. In the summer, the heat drives the more cost-conscious patrons to the parks and to the Seine, clutching bottles of wine. Nightclubs exist, but Paris on a Friday night is packed with people in front of cafes, parties spilling onto the streets, and me taking it all in, as well as taking in a copious amount of alcohol.
Paris is a city of romance. And how could it not be, with every cityscape, every painting, every boutique, every meal, and every café offering a silent reproach: “wouldn’t this be nice with a special someone.” Walking down the streets during the golden hours of the afternoon alone feels more lonely than in any other city somehow. Paris will always be inextricable from whiffs of fantastic young love: beating hearts and fluttering stomachs. I yearn to share the joy of discovering Paris anew with someone, to watch their eyes light up as mine once had.
Paris is the City of Light. Thousands of books and movies have immortalized its name and drawn a thousand more each to its doors. To the smell of tobacco and piss evident from even the airport. To the filthy streets and unsanitary Seine. To the ancient edifices and transport. To the dark winters and the crowded summers. To the irate locals and the oblivious tourists. Yet, I think her as close to perfection as any of her romanticized depiction. And to the myriad songs and poems singing her praises, I add my own.