Paris…the city of lights and romance. The first time I went to Paris I was in my mid-twenties – almost two decades ago! It was my second time in Europe but the first time I was awestruck by the sheer overload of beauty. The fashion forward people, architecture (particularly Haussmann’s architectural renovation in the “everyday” structures), the symmetrical gardens, galleries, luxury brand names and food overwhelmed me. It was such an extreme contrast to Toronto. Everything in Paris was made with such artistic detail. At twenty-something years old, I felt I had found my soulmate.
But my soulmate wasn’t perfect. She did smell a bit of urine, had aggressive drivers, a male population (not excluding cops) that had nailed catcalling with their eyes (and sometimes hands), and an ethnocentric attitude. I remember sitting outside of Le Select Bistro in the Montparnasse area and overhearing an American couple trying to order in English (naturally, since the menus were written in English). Their innocent faux pas was met with disdain and a haughty tone from their server – who adamantly took their order – in French. Paris had spunk. And I loved that about her.
Everyone was drinking, everyone smoking, everyone was beautiful…no one was worried and it seemed everyone was having a great time. Even the homeless and destitute were reading Rimbaud or sketching nudes.
That was then. Paris has changed. Since the Charlie Hebdo and November 2015 coordinated terrorist attacks, tourism naturally slowed down. And with it, followed an anxious city and nation. Every major corner, tourist site and attraction had French military armed with finger on trigger ready to fire. There would be no catcalling. Merchants grew weary and with it came a warmness and willingness to speak English with tourists. Pierre and I were almost always given menus in English. Which disappointed Pierre as his first language is French.
But the biggest difference between my first visit to Paris and my most recent was seeing the displacement of refugees. They were living in scattered shanty camps in the St. Denis area. The squalid conditions, desperation and hopelessness I saw was heartrending and harrowing. The image of two shoeless men fighting each other for a discarded lunch on what was one of Paris’ hottest days, is burned into my memory bank and will probably haunt me until the end of my days.
Despite the apprehensive state, the unyielding dichotomy between the opulence and the destitute, I still love Paris. The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Arc De Triomphe (just to name a few) still stand strong and beautiful like the Goddess of Liberty leading her people ahead. Although Paris is no longer my soulmate (my little ones took over that role), she will always have a significant place in my heart. As first loves always do.
Gorgeous pictures! Appreciated reading about your take on Paris then & now. I’ve never been (only got as far as Calais in the mid-90s) but your lush photographs and honest, heartfelt words really place a picture of Paris in my mind’s eye that’s hard to forget.
Thanks for stopping by Kris. Never been to Calais. So much of France, the world I want to see! It may be a different experience for you. I’ve been to Paris over half a doz times but the last time I went was over 10 years ago. That said, it was wonderful to see the awe in my daughters face the first time she saw the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel tower. Which means Paris is still a magical place. xo
Truly stunning photos of gorgeous Paris. So good to read ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ about the city I always wanted to visit. Never been there but get the romantic and stylish feel just by its name. And I always fall for people speaking in French. Lolzz Neither I, nor my Husband speak this language though. Your gorgeous photos have convinced me that I need to book my travel as soon as I can 🙂
Oh if you’ve never been Esha, you must go. So many iconic places to visit. And of course the food!!! And you can totally get away with English.!xo
Sandy Noto says
That’s a fascinating perspective on Paris from then to now. I went about 15 years ago and people were a little standoffish. It’s made me put off going back on a few occasions but I’ll have to reconsider. Things change. So sad to hear about the refugee displacement. My father was a refugee in the 80s and was a maniac about always having a fully stocked kitchen when I was growing up because of it. He always said that everyone has morals until they’re starving.
Sandy, if I were to go again, it’d be off season. I usually do go in the early spring months and winter months but due to the workshop, I ended up smack in the middle of high tourist season. My father says the same about starvation as he lived through the Korean War. My mom tends to over buy food…I think they’re making up for lost time!