I thought tonight, like a lot of people, about the first time I was in Paris. This was in Shakespeare and Company, the English bookstore at Mile Zero on the Left Bank. I remember standing in the stacks eavesdropping on this American kid, maybe 20 years old, hitting on a cute blonde German girl. He was working in the shop, he’d arrived just two days before, and it’s safe to say the kid was totally Paris-drunk. Three days ago I was on a plane with no plan and no money, and now I’m living here, working here, he marveled to his new friend. He told her he wanted to do travel writing but was afraid it was “done”. It was like a bad regurgitation of Before Sunrise but it was also kind of insanely adorable in its earnestness and its purity.
I don’t for a moment pretend to know Paris for real, and it’s a little weird to talk about loving a city you’ve visited twice. But I’m telling this cheesy story because even as an American tourist who speaks maybe 30 words of French (20 of which are food), I think it shows how incredibly there’s still just something about Paris that allows it to be new and extraordinary for everyone. No matter how many times you’ve read A Moveable Feast or watched Charade, Paris is still there for you, letting you feel like you discovered it for yourself. I mean, here I am—watching the news and for some reason blogging about a time I was rudely listening to strangers in a bookstore. (And of course, I wrote it all down at the time, because it was Paris.)
People photograph the Eiffel Tower incessantly, as though there’s a single view of it that hasn’t been captured before. Even the professionals gather in front of Notre Dame by night, setting up their complicated time lapses and slow exposures to capture the beautifully lit façade and the light playing off the Seine, as though there were not a hundred postcards in a hundred souvenir shops of nearly the same image. What a delusional, gorgeous way to think.
It’s tempting to feel crabby and cool about people like this—photographing everything they see, mooning over Paris that doesn’t exist anymore and maybe never did. But really, what a beautiful thought: that you can still find something special and beautiful and truly yours in this city that already means so much to so many, a city on which so many people have already poured infinite ink and praise and blood. So let the American guys with literary dreams land on the doorstep of Shakespeare and Company. Let the Japanese retirees snap photos to their hearts’ content. It’s Paris, and somehow it’s new again.