The first time I saw Paris I was too entranced by the romance of the wrought-iron terraces to realize that the taxi was circling l’Arc de Triomphe. I was in an overwhelmed daze.
Seeing for the first time the things I had watched in movies and read in textbooks–the wrought-iron terraces and the perfectly hedged parks and the century-old ‘Metropolitan’ signs–was unreal. The magic of Paris that absolves everyone of all other thoughts and worries soon transgressed my mind and I let Paris move me.
But when descending from the clouds I was sick with fits, suddenly realizing that I would really be on my own, leaving everyone I loved for months. I’m the kind of person that yearns for adventure but relishes the comfort of sameness. Some things would stay the same, but everything else would change forever, for better or worse–it’s too soon to tell. I wouldn’t come back the same. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me sooner.
I used to tell myself that I’d dreamed of France–of Paris–for so long that I had forgot there was a whole entire world around me. I’d say it to myself when I would get dangerously fixated on something and needed to take a step back, or to remind myself of those guys who I had yet to realize weren’t worth my time. Or, of course, when in French class and I’d daydream of all the romantic qualities that I could one day surround myself with.
It would always be there, but there were so many other places to be, things to do, people to meet.
So I went to Japan, I went to Kenya, I went to Japan again. Each visit was special to me. In Japan I saw an old civilization both resistant and welcoming to fast-changing technology. In Kenya I learned where humans came from, found beauty in simplicity and begrudging dissent of the exploitation in forgotten corners. Each time the world made a little more sense and at the same time it drew a dozen more questions. Each time I touched back on American soil, I felt myself having changed.
Yet I still had to see France.
When you dream of something for so long, in that deep fixation that lingered in the back of my mind–like I had with Paris, with France, with my first real love–you can’t help but fall so hard and deeply. I’d dreamed of Paris for so long and it was finally here. At first the magic makes you ignore unsavory aspects. But slowly, the magic fades and you see it for what it is, and it might not embrace you like you wanted it to. What you thought no longer is and the come down feels like a betrayal of your dream.
Paris is for lovers in the sense that someone decided it so and couples from all corners of the earth gather. But what’s so romantic about cigarettes lining the sidewalks like a red carpet, or the metro drowning in the scent of piss?
Perhaps it’s someone else’s dream. As the subject of so many stories, so many paintings, films and fashion, there’s no way to see how it couldn’t draw someone in. But the first time I saw Paris…well, maybe after seeing it for the first time I’ll need to see it with these new, changed eyes now that I’m no longer dreaming.