This past weekend meant Paris. I took off from Rome on Thursday for the place that the world tells everyone to go. Paris. Madeline cartoons, bathroom Eiffel Tower wallpaper, talk of crepes and chocolates and macaroon, Ratatouille – the food and the film, escargot, baguettes. It all told me to go. So I obliged, I did. I went.
Veni, Vidi, Vici, Paris.
And I get it, I understand. Why did Hemmingway and Fitzgerald run to Paris during the 20s? Because it’s romantic, idyllic, busy, yet planned. It’s crème and charcoal coloring. The seine. Here people wander through the Louvre and then lock their love on a bridge. Here they eat crepes because they can. Here the women have short hair. Here, they are so elegant that they don’t need cascading, rolled curls. They wear hats and less makeup. Maybe a red lip. It’s simplistic and confident. The city and the women.
I went to meet a best friend and roommate in Paris, another Katie. This Katie joined Rome Katie and I and another friend for a weekend away. When I told the bakers in Trastevere that I was headed to “Parigi” for the weekend they all said, “Ahhh,” looked lustful, and went a bit weak. Even the Romans have time for Paris. Although, today they told me “Roma è piu bella.”
Paris whispers romance. It whistles tunes. It plays clichés on its accordions. It tells you to love and love hard. It tells you that opulence is ok. Think the extravagance of the Louvre. I stand before the Winged Victory statue and catch my breath. Thousands contemplate Mona each day. We consider Venus de Milo. We are here for beauty. We’re here to observe it. Paris says yes. Paris says you must.
There is the opulence. Versailles on Saturday morning. Room after room of state chamber with gold and tapestry and chandelier and mirror. Paintings and busts. Gardens and gardens and gardens. Here, one was not enough. Bigger, they said. More! Here, we lapped luxury. Here, we have a hall for mirrors. Look at yourself looking back at yourself. Become part of the opulence and decadence. Play the grand role.
Eventually, the French people felt the disgust in this hollow materialistic love. They revolted. Yet, revolt in and of itself is another opulence – allowing the dream and actualization of desire of a bettering, an increase. Then, it becomes a matter of what to love.
Monet loved lilies, loved pastel coloring. The Musee d’Orsay teaches this. Manet loved his ballerinas, their elegance and grace. Champ-Elysees means Elysian Fields. It ends at an Arch of Triumph. Sacre Coeur watches the snow flurries fall on the city. We watch the Sacre Couer. The Eiffel Tower sparkles each night. These are the loves the Parisians can count on.
Sunday mass at Notre Dame presents a language I don’t understand. In Paris I have no little language crutch as I do in Rome. I look back at French quandaries with blank stares. They switch to English for me. I am completely outside, but they let me borrow the love of their almost monochromatic city.
Brunching at a boutique café means tea and baguette and banana jam. We sit in front of a full-wall window. We become the living dollhouse art. We could become someone’s Manet ballerinas. We sit among the French, living in their neighborhood way. Loving their baguette and morning conversation.
Here’s what I love. The French ride the metro with a book in hand. They read as they sit, stand, and walk. They pack into the neighborhood Chez Gladines in the Latin Quarter and joke with the bar tender as they wait for a table. They let us do the same. A man comes and kisses our hands during dinner. Our waiter grabs us each and plants a kiss on the cheek before we leave. They are elegant beyond belief, yet here they are casual with friends. They love. They love their Paris. They love it so much to make all the buildings looks similar, block after block. They love it enough to pack it with art and good deserts. They loved it enough to fight for it, revolt for it, die for it. Parisian snootiness should be accounted to the fact that the city knows it is worthy of love. Is superiority of the superior wrong? Is it wrong to have a superior? Wrong to love something, to place it as superior? Maybe. I don’t know.
I know Paris is a place of romance – locked on the bridge, slow moving as escargot, frozen and sure as the Winged Victory.