Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Riddle me this

All this talk of French women has got me thinking. Why do I even like France - or more specifically - Paris?

There's actually a good reason for me to ask. When I went to Paris a few years ago, I hated it. That's right, the whole time I was there I kept noticing everything awful about the place. I had a good time and saw some neat stuff, but all I could think was that it reminded me of New York, - but with short buildings and everyone speaking French.

Not at all like the impression Venice made on me the year before, or Heidelberg a few days earlier. I fell in love with both of those cities nearly the moment I stepped from the train. In the case of Venice it was the very second I emerged from the station and saw the Canale Grande right there. The clouds broke just then and the sun lifted everything like a rising symphony, glinting off the water and the still wet cobbled street.

Heidelberg was a bit less of an instant blast of emotion. It crept up a bit at first and was in full swing by the time Steffi and I where halfway up the main shopping street there. By the time we climbed the fourteen million steps up to the castle, I was in love with the place. Maybe it was the company, but I think I would have been taken with Heidelberg anyway.

I never really wanted to move there though. Heidelberg was nice, but not a place that called for me to live. Venice - I wouldn't mind living there, but not for a long period of time. The faded grandeur is awesome, but the haunted feeling of the streets at and the way there always seems like there is something dark just below the surface, would be too much. Venice is a place to live when you write a book, or a place to go when old age reduces life to dark halls of thought.

Paris, on the other hand...I want to live there. Even as I was walking the streets, despising the place, I couldn't help but feel at home there. Maybe it didn't stun me with beautiful sights because it all seemed familiar. Even watching 'Taxi Driver' in French on a bad television, in an equally run down hotel room across from Gare de l'Est, didn't strike me as particularly odd.

I even went so far as to look at apartments with a real estate agent while I was there. Some people go to the Louvre, I looked at Paris apartments. But I got to drive in a Smart car and learn about real estate from a guy who spoke very little English. I, by the way, speak no French - or, at least, none to speak of.

So, what was it about the place? What is it about any place? Why do we fall in love with certain places?

I still don't know what did it - maybe a lot of things. Perhaps the lemon tarts I found in a bakery on a side street, or the Greek gyros down in the Latin Quarter, or the gypsies playing music on the Metro (not just in the stations, but on the trains too), or the buildings, or the beautiful women, or the music listening stations in the McDonalds in the movie theatre district, or the Opera Garnier, or...heck, I have no idea.

Anyway, despite hating the place - I loved the place too. I wish I could figure out why.

14 comments:

K said...

Whaaaaaaat!!!? No beautful memories of Saskatchewan???? But, we have FLATNESS! Glorious flatness...

I beg of you, correct this tragic omission in your post immediately!

Wendy said...

"In the case of Venice it was the very second I emerged from the station and saw the Canale Grande right there." I am sure that must happen to everyone. I just did that about 2 months ago and felt the same way.

Unlike you, I loved Paris when I was there 2 years ago and thought I could spend time living there, maybe going to language school. Perhaps you need to go back and see how you feel now.

I have a deep connection to NYC that I can not shake and is unlike my love of the European cities I have visited and been wowed by. It may just take time or visits for you to sort that out.

Killer Bits - Saskatchewan? I have always been clear in my mind that is just a great Canadian myth and the province, in fact, doesn't actually exist....

Shawn said...

Addendum (for Bits) - It's been said that I somehow forgot to mention my beautiful memories of Saskatchewan. Not so at all. The reality is that I couldn't find a way to accurately convey the way my heart swelled when I first gazed upon the glorious flatness of Canada's most not mountainous province.

Ah Saskatchewan, when I first stepped from the airport at Saskatoon, I was amazed that I could clearly see all the way down to your Regina. I knew then that I would love you, despite your Moose Jaw.

How could I not feel close to a place with a name that is not only hard to spell, but that also has two rivers bearing the same hard to spell name?

Indeed...I do love you Saskatchewan. You, all twelve of your residents, and that one Mountie who rides through but is actually from Edmonton, Alberta.

Wendy - It was just sort of strange to not like Paris and yet love it too. I would definitely go back again - and again.

Laura said...

Having never been to any of those places (though they are on my short list of travel plans right behind Ireland), I can't say anything other than there is always something about large cities that I both love and hate. I think Paris, being a larger city than Venice or Heidleberg has that apparent home-like city feel. It has a lot of great things, but also that dark underbelly of every city that you don't like to think about.

thephoenixnyc said...

I don't think yoru feelings are that uncommon. I have a love/hate relationship with Paris as well.

In fact I will be there in September.

Kate said...

Hello! How could anyone NOT love Saskatchewan? Have ye not seen the amber waves of grain? "Land of Living Skies"? No, seriously. I think SK is pretty. But I'm a child of the prairie.

Having a love-hate relationship with where you live makes life interesting. If you live where you love to visit, then you'll have to find a new place to visit & love.

tshsmom said...

I would love to visit those places, for the history. I'm not a city lover, so living there is...out of the question!
Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Eastern Alberta, N Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Eastern Montana...you've seen one; you've seen them ALL!

K said...

I am vindicated. Gracias. You may go about your business again....

("Regina" jokes? Puh-leeeeze. We locals refer to it as the vaj)

Melissa said...

Having never been to Saskatchewan, I can only speak to Paris. It is the cleanest large city I have EVER been in. I heard all about how snobby the waiters are and that you shall insult them if you attempt to speak french.

They may have been insulted, but hid it well.

The women were beautiful - I swear I saw a super model in the subway, but she was probably just another tall chic french woman. The food was delicious - avocado shrimp salad I will have again and again.

For some reason though, it did not stir my soul the way that Italy does. If France is the home of the hot chick, Italy is the home of the lusty male. Boy do I love lusty males!!!

Miranda said...

*grin* My money is on the lemon tarts.

I turned down a trip to France to go to Virginia and Washington D.C. I can't say I regret it, but I have to admit, I didn't find any lemon tarts in D.C.

Shawn said...

*grin* My money is on the lemon tarts.

Spoken like a true pregnant woman!

Virginia and D.C. are cool too. I like the free museums in Washington.

Melissa said...

Cannot believe you did not respond to the "lusty males" taunt.

Josh would have never let that slip by.

Shawn said...

M - I'm clearly off my game. Sad...so, sad.

Slade said...

I loved Venice instantly as well--I could never live there because the constant flooding scares the mess out of me.

Germany was WONDERFUL! The people, the beer, the food--everything

But I have to say that Paris was my most fav city that we visited. I did't have a problem with the French-speaking thing because everyone we spoke to spoke English. I loved the fresh ham/cheese bagettes early in the morning that the street venders were selling, the 8 euro coffee we had on the Champs Elese (spelling?), and the E. Tower was amazing.