People often ask me - 'What's Paris really like?' I start to tell them and sometimes I see their eyes widen in surprise and their mouths drop open in shock. Oops I think. I'm telling that person about the wrong Paris. Or am I? Is there a 'real' Paris?
Did you know that one international embassy in Paris has an emergency hotline for their citizens? This vital phone number is for those who have come to Paris and been so shocked at what they've seen, and wracked with disappointment, that they need immediate counseling and emergency evacuation back home.
One Paris I know is old and beautiful and her buildings whisper stories to me when I pass. She encourages me to think of those who created the delicate and beautiful architecture that stands proudly. She reminds me that others walked those streets before me long ago and tells me to imagine those who would have passed me in days gone by.
But then there's this Paris. To poop or not to poop? That is the (up to) 450 Euro fine left ignored by too many dog loving Parisians as they let Gigi, Bobette and Coco relieve themselves wherever they want. It's as if these Parisian's feet don't touch the ground where other's dogs have pooped. Explain to me why the French think their dog poop is so decorative and then look aghast at my manners when I (egads!) don't eat my toastie with a knife and fork? C'est bizarre!
Another Paris however makes me weak at the knees - when I slow to pass a Pâtisserie. How much more 'French' could those delicate colourful eclairs, croquembouche, religieuse and paris-brest be I ask myself as I stare longingly at all that lays before me. So many pretties (and so many damn calories to consume).
But oh Paris! With all that is delicious, is it absolutely necessary to cheapen yourself and sell woeful offerings of food just to please some tourists? Do you really think it's fair to those who visit you for the gastronomic delights you're famed for to have rows of cafes in 'touristy' areas selling pizza, hot dogs and woeful versions of croque monsieur? When did you start caring what any foreigner wants, let alone start pandering to their 'takeaway needy' food needs?
Dear, dear Paris. Romance is in the air as I walk across the wide bridges crossing the glorious Seine. I cast my eyes around and I see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Grand Palais. As I wander through your winding cobblestone streets, tiny curiousity shops beckon me and art galleries pull me in. I see chimney pots and tiny peaked attic windows and I wonder who lived there hundreds of years before.
Uh oh Paris. Today I went to the 18 arrondissement. This is where angels, let alone tourists, fear to tread. It's, um, eclectic here. You can buy all sorts of goodies (even while sitting in your car waiting at a traffic light) - stolen TVs, drugs, hot phones ... So convenient eh? Who needs the Eiffel Tower and all those tourists? Trouble is though that that's all making some areas miss out on tourist dollars. I don't support gentrification over authenticness, but an even distribution of the tourist dollar would help your ailing economy.
This Paris had me at 'hello'. Well not really. It actually had me at 'food market'. Walk around the markets and you'll see roast chickens turning on the spit, their golden brown skin crisping as the chicken fat drops down lovingly onto small roasting potatoes (with burnt bits!). Actual slabs of freshly made butter are ready for a warm baguette and rich foie gras begs to be put onto thin crisp biscuits. Selecting one cheese is impossible - you must get three to satisfy your love of soft, your passion for blue and your desire for sharp and bitey. Seafood is fat plump scallops sitting proudly in their shell, bright orange salmon fillets waiting to have the skin pan fried to perfection and whole fish with bright (if somewhat dead - not surprisingly) eyes and glistening silver skin.
Ultimately though, there is no 'real' Paris. She's not one nor the other. She is what she is. A huge and grand city, full of people from all walks of life who are rich and poor and in between. She's steeped in history and slow to change. If you want to visit Paris just consider one thing though. It isn't up to Paris or the French people to make your Parisian adventure everything you've ever dreamed of. That's just not the French way. However if you accept Paris for all she's been through, all she has and has not, and all she really is and is not (rose coloured glasses preferably off) you'll never regret coming.
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