As Merlin so eloquently put in an earlier post, this city has been the backdrop of so many movies and literature; its imagery is so recognizable to even the least traveled person. So, it's hard not to feel like you know exactly what to expect. Visiting Paris is something like renting a movie after seeing the trailer a million times - after it's won all the awards and you know at least one contrarian who thinks it's overrated. You turn it on and have this sense of déjà vu. You anticipate every plot twist. We arrived in the City of Light and this was the view out our window. Paris just can't help being Paris.
While the accordion players and mimes may be milking it for tourists, street performance is still a very real thing. Around the corner from the entrance to Notre Dame, this duo improvised a frenetic, intriguing performance that conjured up images of loss, mania and electrocution (at least to me). In Paris, live music mixes in the air with the shouts of small protests and zooming Vespas. There's a baguette in just about everybody's hand or bag, or strapped to the back of their bicycle.
We pride ourselves on examining a place beyond its most known characteristics, to experience a place beyond its cliches. But it would be dishonest to just deny the fact that most of the images or themes conjured up by the word "Paris" are ever-present. Men kiss each other on both cheeks and couples get hot and heavy on park benches. The people are affectionate and attractive. Though, at this point, The City of Love thing seems almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. You get the sense that half of the people you see are on their honeymoon. This couple chatted with their photographer nearby Notre Dame.
Oh, the Notre Dame and the Sacré-Cœur and the Arc de Triomphe. At some point, though, you begin to take these things in stride. If you're us, you begin to think of the column at the center of the Place de Bastille as that thing that directs you home at the end of the day. This made me think of my life in New York and how I used to orient myself using the Empire State Building. This is probably the best part of any great city: everyday life just can't help but swell right up and around the extraordinary objects.
The first time I came to Paris, I was a teenager on my very first trip to Europe, harboring an unrequited crush. I noticed lovers everywhere - and the fact that everyone wears black. The second time, I was madly in love, traveling for the very first time with my boyfriend (who spoke French!) and noticed nothing but him. (Spoiler alert: we're still together). This time, strolling along the Seine, I couldn't help but notice the children. To be fair, they were rollerblading right at me. But it wasn't just a river for couples anymore. I saw it filled with families and people just trying to get home before the bottom of their heavy bag of potatoes broke.
Every so often, you see people with cameras raised up, as if in prayer, capturing that tall thing standing before them, for which they've made this cultural pilgrimage. And you'll take your own picture, too, because it's really very pretty. Paris has everything you're expecting, but you just may be surprised to find yourself more captivated with that tense game of frisbie going on than that certain something in the background.