Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Where I've Been: Paris

My relationship with the City of Light was not love at first sight. The first time I laid eyes on the French capital was in March of 2004, when I snagged a $350 round-trip ticket from Washington to Paris for Spring Break. I spent much of that week trying to not slap the hell out of waiters, cashiers, and one metro station attendant who better be glad there was a plexiglass window separating my hand from his face. But the people on the street were polite and courteous and gave me no attitude whenever I asked what arrondissement I was in or for directions to the nearest McDo (in my defense, I was on a student budget).

Because of that, I decided to drag my family along for another try. Maybe it was because we had a ten-year-old traveling with us, but everybody, including the amazing waitstaff at Café Odeon, showed us the utmost respect and made sure we enjoyed ourselves. Many thanks to "Shrees le chef," as they dubbed my little brother Chris; he'll realize when he's like 30 how much we pimped him on that trip.

Also, forget the Paris you see in Meg Ryan-type romance movies. I mean, that's Paris too, but real Paris is very colored. Folks from all the former French colonies - from Africa (North and Sub-Saharan) and the Antilles to Indochina and the Indian Ocean - paint Paris more shades of brown than you can get mixed at Home Depot. Good-looking brown folks, too! And this diversity is manifested in the thousands of nook-and-cranny nightspots dotting the city, where hip-hop, house, rock, lounge, soul, samba, and salsa all get played sometimes under the same mansard roof. I don't want to even start on the food in a place where even a dollar-bag of cheap croissants from Ed is packed with lip-smacking buttery goodness.

Paris is like New York in the sense that when you exit almost any metro station, the scene is on-and-poppin, and each neighborhood has distinct characteristics that keep you firmly rooted on the same side of town. Barbès, Montmartre, and Pigalle in the north are all different, but united under an urgent energy transcending Barbès' controlled chaos, Montmartre's bohemian chic, and Pigalle's titillating trashiness. More centrally located, Le Marais is all nouveau flash and glamour, whereas the Opéra and Place de la Madeleine are old-school opulence. The Champs-Elysées in the west and the Bastille in the east form the poles of Paris nightlife, while the Puces de Saint-Ouen flea market just outside the Périphérique has hotties, hoodies, and hummus all in one place. And that's just the Rive Droit; Left Bank, I hardly knew you.

There are, of course, the "must-sees" - the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe - but I was moved more by the ethnographic busts and scale models at the Musée D'Orsay, or the intriguing design and exhibits at the Institut du Monde Arabe (where, incidentally, I had my first official Parisian date!). But, like anywhere, it's the atmosphere that seduces you: the stylish old ladies with poodles in pea-coats, the inexpensive wine and inattentive drivers, the canned mackerel with mustard sauce, catching the eye of someone still on the train as it pulls away from you and the platform, movies like Amélie, First Ladies like Carla Bruni, and the packing of as many unnecessary letters into a language as possible.

Paris, je t'aime*.

*Unlike it's amazing, multicultural predecessor, I do not expect much from the whitewashed New York version.


pink gloves said...

wait wait wait.
Ok i am first. I am sure Paris is lovely, i would like so love to go there. SOunds nice.

Darius T. Williams said...

Such great pics. I'm trying to get my friends and I to go to Paris.

Nobody not really... said...

With the experience you had there the first time, I wouldn't have expected you to go back. Glad to hear it was better the second time around.

Soldier said...

oh u're makin me "homesick"... i honestly love the rude people in Paris, they helped make me a dynamic person...

OH MY GOD ! YOU have NOT seen the LEFT bank ??? What is wrong with you ? the left bank is YOU !!!

It's real, it's inspired, it's young, it's fresh... Montparnasse, Boulevard St Germain & St Michel, Rue de Rennes, Quartier Latin... LIFE ! lol
I mean the eiffel tower is on the left bank, nuff said !

Anonymous said...

I lived in Paris for five years and know my neighborhoods quite well. Now, when I return to visit family and friends I stay in the 13th (great neighborhood, no tourists here) eat and play in Le Marais, to me, the best neighborhood in Paris, perfect for Sundays. All of my favorite restaurants are either in this neighborhood or surrounding it. The Bastille, you can never go wrong and Oberkampf is like The Village in New York. Check out my posts on the markets that I photographed in the 13th when and if you have time. The Italians there are so sweet to me when I come to buy my proscuitto di parma. They, like me, love to flirt. So, ladies, know that when you go to Paris, get ready to flirt and eye contact is EVERYTHING.