I cannot say exactly when I fell in love with Paris. I suppose I came by it gradually. Before I knew that this love had seized me irrevocably, I thought that if there was one place in the world I was truly in love with, it was Florence, Italy. That if I had the wherewithal, it was where I would have chosen to live. For the art. For the history. For the Florentine sensibility I imagined it to have. For the gelato and the loggia in the Piazza della Signoria. All contained in a coherent little package. Including the tourists who came for the day and didn’t know what their guides were keeping from them.
But one day—when we decided to spend six months in Europe in between consulting jobs that later failed to materialize—we ended up living three months in Paris, one month in Nice, another month in Florence and the rest just sauntering around Europe. I think the courtship with Paris began then and, now, I prefer the nonchalant beauty offered by Manet, Monet and their brethren to the monumentality of Michelangelo and company; the light and flamboyance of gothic churches to the symmetry, harmony and mysterious depth of Brunelleschi’s dome in Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore; art nouveau and beaux arts buildings to massive austere Florentine palaces; the square behind the Cathédrale de Notre Dame to the Loggia dei Lanzi; macarons to gelato; and the urban urbane sprawl of Paris to the musty rusty weight of history in Florence. But Florence is still my second love.
Since that time, we’ve been back to both cities several times, but always, we stayed longer in Paris. Once, for six months.
Our shortest sojourn was two months. Often, we stayed for three. We felt we had to allow a place to sink its teeth into us and for us to soak it in. It took the accumulation of months, across the years, for the sinking and soaking to come to pass.
We reached that limbo in between being tourists and residents. We had a bit of that sense of place elusive to a casual tourist exploring and taking snapshots. But yet, we couldn’t really settle in and assume a nonchalance and savoir faire that comes with being in our own element. Still, we knew why we came and we lived with the inconveniences of being transients.
We also could assert this about being a tourist-cum-occasional-resident: we had the luxury of taking life more slowly, more mindfully. And many things looked and felt familiar―almost like coming home. At the start of every visit, we could easily sniff out where to go for groceries, good baguettes, great pastries and the best croissant aux amandes (almonds) in the neighborhood we inhabited. We also no longer recoiled when we ran into things that a city tries to keep away from tourist areas—things that, in fact, usually plague modern cities. Such as stumbling into a couple who freely rolled out a thick blanket to settle in on a sidewalk for the night. That would never happen around the Eiffel tower or the Champs Élysées.
We were also, fortunately, rather easy to please and were quite open to new experiences. We found many things to amuse us in between museums, food shopping, and some art making and writing. We enjoyed a stroll; we people-watched in the gardens and everywhere else we could find a place to sit; and we got lost on interesting streets and in things unfamiliar and unexplored. Getting lost often led to new experiences.
Paris does its best to please. It’s a city well-honed in the finer things in life and obsessed with perfecting those that it’s already excellent at—food, the arts, fashion, pursuit of pleasure. I believe Parisians make hedonism attractive.
NOTE: I wrote this piece a few years back as an introduction to a book no longer available. My latest novel, The Golden Manuscripts: A Novel has scenes set in Paris so, I’m resurrecting it here.