There are cities that can frighten people on their first visit. Paris is one of them.
Thanks to magazine articles, movies, and books, you arrive in the City of Lights with ready images in your head, sure that you already know it from inside out without having set foot in it before.
But then your first, second, third, and fourth disappointments take away a bit of your expectations. A taxi driver refuses to take you from A to B just because you have luggage, or because where you wish to head to isn’t far enough. At a street café the garçon doesn’t even bother to look at your face when he presents the bill. The up-and-down, to-and-fro Métro stairways complicate the lives of mothers carrying babies in pushchairs, the elderly, and handicapped people. Of course, there’s also the communication struggles that most tourists, whether leisure or business, who don’t speak French have to go through when a Parisian curses them for their linguistic inability, reminding them that the locals don’t have to speak any idiom other than Molière’s.
As soon as you become aware of the real Paris, rather than the one from the romantic films, you think about exploring the many museums the city has to offer, but where to start first? You may wonder, “Will I get to at least fly over a few of them, like the Louvre, the d’Orsay, Picasso, Delacroix, the Centre Pompidou, Dalí, Carnavalet, and the homes of Victor Hugo and Balzac, for instance, in such a short period of time? Apart from that, I must also stroll along the Champs Elysées and climb the Arc de Triomphe, then make the queue to enter Notre Dame and Sacre Cœur, walk down Rivoli Street, turn at Place Vendôme, and get back to the Tuileries Gardens … and if I don’t take the bateau-mouche tour, my children will most likely kill me! All this with a digital camera in one hand and a camcorder in the other! How can I possibly see things with my own eyes since reality is always different from what’s behind the lenses?”
Wouldn’t you rather just forget about those obligations and simply order a coffee while you observe the passers-by on St. Michel Street? Or what about stopping by at a temporary exhibition at the Institute of the Arab World? Perhaps take the time finally to admire and not just look at the works of art in the almost-empty Richelieu wing of the Louvre while desperate tourists spend long and stressful hours in the middle of the crowd in the Denon wing just to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo? Then wouldn’t you enjoy attending the spectacle at the Garnier Opera House or a funny play at the French Comedy Theatre? I’m certain it’d be fun for you to ride a Ferris wheel at the Tuileries Gardens at 10:00 p.m. with the city lights at your feet.
Yes! Walking free and light-hearted in Paris with no obligation to go here or there, taking no photos from the top of the Eiffel Tower or doing anything else everyone does.
I know how difficult it seems for someone who is in Paris for the first time just to lay back, but to enjoy this ferocious yet magnificent city truly, as the Parisians do, without stress and without rush, you must return at least three times to this city of lights, hopes, disappointments, fashion, and, of course, romance. Once you’ve learned the city’s pace and personality, you probably wouldn’t wish to live anywhere else in the world, and you might even start snobbing the first-time tourists – just like the natives do.
Luciana B. Veit