Dear Paris, oh Paris
with your smell of piss
It's not that I don't love Paris. It's just that it's been a while since I've "unromanticized" the city for myself. With experience and the help of somewhat depressing French movies, I didn't expect Paris to be the most romantic city. The first time I set foot on Paris it was a cold, rainy, and gray city. The fountains were frozen and turned off, the gardens were brown or bare, the air was so thick you could not see the Eiffel tower. I stared at the immense line of people under the most famous tower in the world, and I thought "There's no way standing in line for hours is worth it!" (it was -12C that day). So I didn't go up the tower... I didn't go up to be at an even more freezing top... Not even for the unviewable view that the city had that day.
That was what I got for going to see a city in January and think it would be fun to be walking around. I was there with a friend for New Years, and right around midnight on December 31st, somebody had pulled the emergency break in the subway, where I happened to be at the moment (on my way to the Seine river to celebrate!).
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining about being in Paris. I like Paris. I love Paris! But Paris is a city, a big city with lots of people, lots of smells, lots of good and bad things, lots of problems. As I walk down the metro I think "How wonderful it is to have an underground transportation system!". But at the same time I am reminded of other things as I see people asking for money in these tunnels, or as I get a good big whiff of the smell of urine mixed with who-knows-what. The tunnels reek of it, the streets do too. I also read Paris was the city with the record of most metro tunnel suicides. As I was walking today, I saw a man walking in front of me "pull over" to the side to pee by the corner! It wasn't the busiest of streets, but there were many cars and people around, businesses, and apartments.
One of the first French movies that I watched was "400 Blows". This movie does a pretty good job at de-romanticizing the city. Later, I watched "35 Shots of Rum". Both movies have a greyish scheme, one about parent negligence and abuse, the other about the monotony of the life of a family in Paris. They show the plainness of living in a city like Paris, the problems, the human faces that live and work there. It's not the typical touristic Paris, with the beautiful gardens and romantic candle-light dinners by the Seine. Paris isn't shown as a magical, extraordinary place, but instead a rather somber one. The beautiful thing of these movies and is that they show the human faces that live in Paris. And more than the streets, the beauty, and the astounding art of Paris, I will take with me the stories of people, and the history of those who walked before me on these same streets.
Dear Paris, I'll think of your people and not of your piss.