After spending most of 5 weeks in the city of light, I will bring home a small notebook full of scribbles for a series of unwritten postcards. It is clearer than ever to me that everyone has only their own personal, maybe also intimate and therefore private, version of Paris. Ask anyone who has spent even just a few days here, or who has imagined their alternative to Woody Allen’s overnight in Paris, what’s most memorable – you will rarely get two responses that connect together.
Of course each of us would immediately reach for pen, paper or ipad to share our “best of” lists of old treasures and newly discovered favourites covering restaurants and gourmet treats, museums, galleries and exhibitions, fashion boutiques and shopping districts, wine tastings and cooking classes, design and architectural hotspots, and of course, cultural and literary landmarks, of note. Just as they are constantly reviewed and updated by an industry of trade and specialized guidebooks and websites that market every celebrity and eccentric’s insider knowledge, in at least 5 languages.
What I might want to remember and document in my genre of long postcards could easily prompt distracted impatience in others. Instead here are some of my eccentric observations from this spring for which there are ‘back stories’ I can recount. Nothing new or radical here, but striking again to me, nevertheless, and in no order.
- Language matters. all. the. time. «Je prendrai un tartine, svp.» «Vous voulez uunnnnneeee tartine, madame? » And so, so, so much more.
- Discursive etiquette structures every interaction. There are no short cuts. « Bonjour, madame! » « Bonjour, est-ce que …»
- To breath Paris air is to talk, by whatever means, wherever the occasion calls. Corollary: to dine alone, listening only to oneself, is to be a bag-lady-in-waiting étrangère. « Évidemment. »
- Sweet surprises (not only patisseries) are behind the next unmarked door. Personal favourite: postcard archivist-collector «Mouvement artistiques du XXè» storefront around my corner. «ouvert du Mardi au Samedi de 14 h à 19 h (sauf Salons) et sur rendez-vous». Incredible.
- Your name, your mother tongue + your ethno-cultural back story define your identity. A corresponding (read ‘of suitable quality’) fashion sensibility definitely adds credibility. More than ever, one presents oneself as a « marque ».
- A very long history of objectifying all women and ‘the woman’, observed in several major exhibitions of art and fashion, in French film and theatre and in advertising, vibrates a sexism that feels as if it’s always there, hardly below any social + cultural surfaces. Discuss.
- Incredibly, smoking still seems to be cool here. A constituent element of breathing and talking in Paris (see above). Observed: e-cigarette boutique in my ‘hood (3rd arond.) holds black and white martini evening with overflow attendance.
- «bio» food-talk is everywhere, alongside occasional protests and media stories that France’s food production system is being threatened, by … air pollution. Go figure.
- Technology has its limits, even in Paris. Even though there’s a map, guide or app for every place, taste, or occasion, to be a tourist who does not speak any French here, appears to be a continuously frustrating experience for everyone. OH at take-out sandwich deli, “Excuse me, do you happen to have an English menu?” “Non.”
- Either because I look like the know-it-all librarian that I am (!), or because on occasion, I have looked enough the part of ‘local’, I have been asked for (and given) directions (E+F) by both locals and tourists on a bunch of my ‘outings’. Speaking of marques.
- To be outside your ‘ordinary life’, to visit another world (like going through the wardrobe) for a longer while, is also to know yourself that much better when you return ‘home.’ I’m ready for home, especially since spring has finally arrived.