(…and exactly like the way you see it in the movies and/or read in English literature.)
OK. So. Let’s talk about how I fell in love.
It happened on my annual solo Christmas trip in 2013. If you’re special enough in my life, you’d know how much of a love-cynic I am. I’ve never fallen in it, I don’t understand it and, dare I say, I don’t quite believe in it. Rom-coms make me giggle, but leave me gagging; I’d rather watch Bruce Willis blow up Russian terrorists. So it’s fair to say that when this looming trip to Paris – the city of love – came around, I was nervous of what part of me it might awaken. Yikes! But, when it happened… swoon dot com, indeed.
Paris is like a painting come to life, it makes you want to believe in love – especially if you’re me. Well, you can’t be me, but if you’re like me, get it? The low-lit street setting, the sparkle in the sky, the jazz echoing in the air: all of it can’t help but scream for you to love somebody. It’s like the city doesn’t understand any other emotion. And rightfully so, I fell deeply and madly in love with this intangible thing that’s known to engulf almost every living being that sets foot on its cobbled streets. So did I, fall crazily in love for Paris’ architecture, its snobby culture, its sophisticated monologue, its carbohydrates and sugar (sorry, PT), and its stylish inhabitants, starting from my co-passenger on the Eurostar, a French model. Calm down, boys.
Whilst I did hope for a certain ‘Raj’ to sit next to me on the Eurostar and unsolicitedly teach me all that I needed to know about love and lingerie [if you’re Indian, you’d understand this DDLJ reference; tough luck if you aren’t.], but instead I had a French model accompany me for the two hour train journey. Tres bien! More beautiful than words can describe, this babe of a woman was generous enough to draw up a custom-itinerary for me. But it were really her departing words that stuck by me, “We’re not as rude as we’re made out to be, if you ever get lost, ask a Parisian on the street and they will help you, Don’t follow the cliche”. And so began my love affair with the city and its people. Right from the 86-year old florist who gave me a bunch of roses for free at the Sunday market, to the bouncer of a club who offered me his entire packet of hot French Fries while I waited an hour outside for my friends to join me. Yes, there’s a pattern of freebies from men here, but let’s not focus on that. Point is, French people are too lovely, and you shouldn’t go by the cliche of it being otherwise.
There’s so much uninhibited happiness floating in this city, that even I couldn’t digest it all, and that’s saying something because if you’ve met me in person, you’d know my capacity to giggle and smile. The mystery behind all this glee proved itself to me when I decided to take a series of photographs around the city, based on my five (or less) minute chats with the humans around. Not dogs, just humans. My conversations with these strangers were mostly in broken English, some even silences, but comprehensive enough to tell you a story. And God, I love a good story. The album titled Parisian Stories can be found at this link – click through, it’ll make you smile, I promise you that.
You will not be treated as a tourist here if you don’t want to be, especially if you’re travelling alone. However, it’s easy to be that awful tourist in Paris who lines up for hours at the Louvre to get a glimpse of Mona Lisa. It’s also easy to spend an entire day narrated exclusively by Lonely Planet and then head back to the hotel lobby at sundown to eat a boring ‘fish-of-the-day’ meal from the buffet. What’s challenging is to come to this city and treat it like you own it. Don’t walk around Paris with a backpack, sneakers and a paper map – because apart from looking like a wanker, it’s not how you will fall in love with Paris. If you really want to love Paris, don’t follow guide books, s’il vous plait! They’re horrid for asking you to line up at Notre Dame for hours. Don’t get carried away by boat tours at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower, or let a man sketch you at the top of Montmartre. The only aspects in which you can be a cliche is when you wrap a scarf around your neck (if you’re a man reading this, good luck nailing the perfect wrap – no one wears a scarf better than French men. No one! ), light up a cigarette, dab a brightly-hued lipstick on your pucker and start walking. Be a cliche in having croissant for breakfast, macaron for lunch and Nutella crepe for dinner, every single day; let your tastebuds have a party and allow your metabolism to go take a hike.
In theory, Paris is every bit of a cliche it’s made out to be, be it in a Woody Allen movie or an Audrey Hepburn quote. But it’s really how you decide to let it unveil itself to you. If Paris was a girl, she’d be one donned in a lavender pink tulle dress, gliding along the isolated pebbled path by river Seine, barefoot, under a shower of shooting stars. She’d be that magical. No matter how anti-romance you are, don’t let its fairytale deter you, because this city has the power to make you understand ‘love’, and not like the way lovers do. Let the beauty of this city embrace you just like a marshmallow enveloped in the silkiness of a warm cup of hot chocolate and dance to the percussions of its breeze.
Go, fall in love.