The best way that I can put it is that Paris happens to you.
I had the opportunity to join my friends there for a whirlwind five day trip this past July. Jess and Diane are two of the loveliest friends and Francophiles that you will ever meet. What began as a whim to meet them in Paris culminated in some impulsive decisions that gave me the chance to prove what Audrey Hepburn said, "Paris is always a good idea."
Gertrude Stein, a writer who, according to Ernest Hemingway, is the one who coined the phrase "lost generation," was one of many artistic expats living in Paris around the time of the second world war. Stein fell in love with the city enough to pen a memoir about her life there, aptly titled "Paris, France." She opens with these words:
"Paris, France is exciting and peaceful."
It could not be more true.
There is something very comfortable yet special about Paris. The architecture, the fashion, the weather, the food - everything has an ease about it, like it isn't trying too hard, and yet there is something undeniably unique about it all, in the best way.
Stein's writing, although she was an American, is a lot like it - comfortable yet special. If you haven't read her, the biggest difference you might notice is that she is not big on punctuation. She played by her own rules, and was a total Boss Babe before that was even a thing -living with her longtime partner Alice Toklas and hanging with the likes of Picasso. Her salon in Paris was the equivalent to a literary Beyhive.
You can sense this kind of comfortable special-ness in her memoir when she talks about Picasso, not in a "and here is the time I met the great Picasso" sort of way, but as a little side note about what kind of dog Picasso thought that she should get. Imagine being on such common terms with greatness that you don't even have to make a big deal about it. To further emphasize this nonchalance, nowhere in this memoir does Stein even mention the fact that Picasso had painted her portrait in 1905. It's a matter-of-course, every-day kind of amazing.
That is how it feels in Paris. Everything is amazing, yet it's only natural. Like Stein said, it is "exciting and peaceful." You can sit in a little cafe that has been there for what feels like (or has been) centuries, and your waiter (who will be handsome) will smoke a cigarette off to the side before taking your order. You'll eat the most delicious food, even though it's only lunch on a Tuesday, served on unpretentious tables in the open air, and some little dogs will go scampering by on leashes, and everyone will be riding bikes in the most elegant and understated fashions, somehow never slipping a stiletto from the pedal.
It's the same with the Eiffel Tower. You'll stroll along a side street maybe wondering what to have for your next amazing meal or savoring the last crumbs of a macaroon, and there she'll be, Madame Eiffel, just surprising you from around a corner. It will take your breath away and also feel like the most natural thing, like the sun shining in the sky, as if it's been there all along and yet you're seeing it for the first time.
Five (amazing) days in Paris is not enough to make me anything close to an expert in describing it, but I have a nice analogy for you courtesy of Stein herself:
"I never get over the pleasure of the use of French as it is used by anybody French," she writes, describing running into a certain Monsieur Rosset on the fourteenth of July. "The fourteenth of July he said, the fall of the Bastille, quelle masquerade. I can give no impression of the word masquerade as it came out of him. I realised what a feeble word the English word spelled just the same really was."
In much the same way, I think Paris can be felt so much more than it can be described, just as the translation of a word loses so much of its essence despite having the same meaning. I don't think of it as a place that I have been to, but somehow, as something that happened to me.
Hopefully the pictures below will do at least a little justice. And most importantly, I want to thank my friends for being the most wonderful travel companions, and taking countless steps (literally and figuratively) to show me so much of this beautiful city, including numerous places where Hemingway worked, slept, and drank, and otherwise indulging my unknown need for an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.