Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Parisian Dreams

Of all the places I’ve been to, Paris is one of three destinations that really stand out for me. I don’t know if it’s because of my French DNA, but I always miss Paris. Last year at this time, I spent my days and nights strolling through the cold Parisian streets, marveling at the small wonders hidden in the nooks and crannies of the place. I stood below the Arc de Triomphe and looked up at the names of wars and battles fought, some of which my own great-great-grandfather and great-granduncles were a part of. I’ve always wondered what on earth would make my ancestors want to leave a city so refined, beautiful and serene for searing, wild and untamed African shores. Paris definitely speaks to me. It whispers and tells tales of a country rich in history; a place once seeped in colonial wars; a place filled with hope, dreams and aspirations.

The first time I went to Paris, I was struck by how large the city really was because Paris, in fiction, is always illustrated as being made up of the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre and The Champs-Élysées. I don’t find the city to be romantic at all, not in the traditional sense, even though there are people all over the place who have no reservations when it comes to public displays of affection. Instead I think that the tranquility and serenity that is embedded in the very thread of the cultural fabric of French society is often mistaken for romance.

The French are very socially inclined and a family orientated nation. They are also very relaxed and laid back in their approach to life and this is evident in the subtle nuances of their everyday lives like, for instance, eating. The French eat quite leisurely, savouring every bite like it’s their last. They also only work for approximately 30 hours a week, which is a norm and a standard in most businesses across the country. Walks in the park are also common and a part of every day life; and so is socialising over coffee, which is a favourite past-time and is epitomised in the depiction of Paris as the “street-side café” capital of the world.

French culture is often perceived to be based on a sense of erudition and superiority, and immersed in pretentiousness, or so many believe. Even if this is true, one can’t help but want to revel in the allure of such refinement, grace and elegance; such sophistication, charm and finesse. The Parisians in particular, seem to not have a care in the world, nothing fazes them. The atmosphere is saturated with the stench of promises of placid, balmy, dreamy days followed by long, languid, consoling nights under the stars…filled with laughter and friends.

I’m always interested in those parts of a city or country that is very rarely portrayed by travel channels, brochures and catalogues. In Paris, that has to be La Défense…or the real city of Paris as I call it. It is France’s main commercial and business hub and houses most of the country’s financial and corporate institutions. It’s an interesting spectacle because people don’t ever expect to see skyscrapers when they visit Paris.

As I get lost in my reverie, I can envision myself walking down a tiny cobbled street, on my way to have a café au lait and a fresh butter croissant from the Patisserie around the corner. I love Paris. I love the air, the atmosphere, the subtle innuendos, the street-side cafés, the crusty baguettes and warm brioche, the dingy hotels, the laid-back-care-free lifestyle, the art, the history and the views from the Eiffel Tower. I love the accent, the language, the pretty boys in Yves St. Laurent shirts, the men donning French-inspired cologne on the Métro de Paris, the under-ground highways, the chaotic traffic, the little souvenoirs sold in tourist shops, the viaducts, the Seine and the McDonald’s fish burgers.

I miss Paris.


  1. Thank you for taking me back for a tour of Paris... I miss it too... everything about Paris gets me the woman, the shopping the beauty... Paris I think is an extension of myself... the parisian life is one I would love to live.

    Unlike you I do think Paris is the most romantic city in the world long walks through one of the many districts where lovers are to be found on every corner its just beautiful to me.

    My favourite walk in the world is the one from the Louvre till the Arc de Triomphe its about 3km's but the culture in those 3km's sums up all that is beautiful about Paris. I've walked that stretch of Paris about 5 times and I always discover something new

    And who can forget I spent my most memorable night ever in Paris ;)

  2. It's a pity our Contiki tour gave us such little time in Paris. More reason to revisit I suppose.
    I loved Montmartre, not so much the stairs that led all the way up to the church.
    I reminisce with my stomach and I will never forget that perfect chocolate tart from a pâtisserie along the Champs Élysées. It was a life's purpose and dream all whipped up into a satin filling, rich without ostentation.

  3. You've transported me to another world altogether that leaves my tastebuds wanting. Just yesterday my friend Celene brought her cousin to meet me and he was everything French men are thought to be. Absolutely devine! It was not just what he looked like, it was his manner and his accent and... *sigh* When are we planning a trip?

    EOW- It's not fair to tempt my curious mind :)

  4. Wow the pics look really nice!

    I miss Paris too.

  5. Edge - I once walked for 13 hours straight in Paris, I was all over the place...just walking the entire day.
    In my opinion, Paris is often mistaken to be romantic because of the serenity, the "care-free" atmosphere of the place itself...it makes people feel liberated and less inhibitive, so theres no limitations and they're free to express themselves. People always see what they want to see, its cognitive dissonance.
    It's hard to explain and put into words and my psychological self wants to but I have no energy :)

    Saaleha - Theres nothing like an authentic Parisian pâtisserie. In some ways, with our Albany and Sasko, I feel robbed sometimes.
    Definitely worth another visit.

    Emmy - I'm actually planning to pay a visit at the end of July/August...stillin the planning stages tho :)

    Trinity - See, when I'm not nagged to hurry up because it takes me 2 to 5 minutes to take various photos in different shots, the results are amazing.

  6. Azra i get where you coming from but we will just agree to disagree on this one. EMM- what is it that your curious mind wants to know... Ask and i might tell... Lol Saaleha- montmarte is a strange hedonistic and fun place. Sacre couer is a beautiful church those stairs are a killer though but the view from up top well worth it

  7. That first picture of Paris is awesome! I really like it :)

  8. I wasnt really all that up on parisian culture but your writing has invoked some interest. I really enjoyed reading this..you have a way with words. :) i am tempted to join u on your trip: would be the perfect tour guide:p. i havent been to paris, but to bologne and calais. For some bizarre reason i really longed for the cobbled streets to never take me anywhere. Those infinite small cafes on every st. And the calm leisurely pace of socialising really encapsulated the whole french experience.

  9. Hey Azra

    Enjoyed your post on Paris. Having been to Paris a few times and to different parts of France of a few times too I have to admit the Parisians are the most obnoxious, arrogant Frenchies around.

    I really feel Paris is a beautiful city and love chilling at the steps of Montmartre (avoiding downtown Paris like the plague), but the problem with this beautiful city are the inhabitants.

    The French from the South (Nice, Marseille) and the West (Savoie) are much friendlier and don't have that "Oo la la, look at me in my pretty city" attitude. I used to think I was the only one who noticed how full of it the Parisians are until I worked with a Parisian girl who plainly told me what a bunch of arrogant frogs they are.

    The problem with Paris is Parisians, take them out of the equation and it it truly becomes a brilliant destination !!!

  10. Geek - Thanx

    Sofi - I've been to other parts of France, Lille etc. and I like the country in general but I loved Paris.

    Shoobz - I dont take note of the Parisians...and I must say that my encounter with a few of them was surprising. They were very helpful and accomodating.

    I guess its subjective. Alot of people complain about the British too...but in all the time I lived there, I only ever met great people. I suppose its also what you pay attention to. I didn't give the Parisians and their arrogance a second thought, so I thoroughly enjoy every French experience without letting them ruin it for me.