Wednesday, May 24, 2017

10 Years Later: Exchange at SciencesPo and How I Hated Paris

From the Archives: How I Hated Paris 

Over the years I've been struck with the amount of foreigners and French telling me they hate Paris. They find the Parisians are awful human beings, the streets dirty, the service industry mean and dismissive and more. How dare they say this about my favourite city in the world? But I understand. Paris does not give off a good first impression. It's a place that takes time, effort and the right circumstances to truly fall in love with.

When I first arrived in 2007 I hated it too, but not for the same tired reasons. I had never seen a place so perfect and beautiful and it was exactly this divinity that repelled me. Because perfection and beauty are two of the coldest bitches out there—cold enough to slow my pounding schoolboy heart to the sad and melancholic tremor of closed doors, used toilet paper and unknown love.

For when you first peruse those streets with the low rise white immeubles, in a world that sparkles as if christened by baby angel tears you feel as if you've fallen into glossy magazine or a cheap postcard, inviting you to accept a visual promise that could never be kept.

How can I describe this accurately to you? You could tell that capitalism and efficiency were the last things on the creators’ minds (for better or worse). As an old architect acquaintance of mine once told me, ‘Democracy has been cruel to architecture. The most beautiful cities were produced under autocrats.' Seems so. Paris Center does not have a millimeter of the dreadful dreary box buildings where they pack humans and offices like they do sardines, and the boring grid system and that was product of the boom of the 50’s and 60’s of North America.

The fundamental problem, when I arrived starry eyed and without a clue, was that everything was beautiful but nothing was real. 

That's how I felt anyway in that first sad month across the sea. Some may enjoy that cold postcard feeling, it makes great Facebook albums, but for me I felt claustrophobic and depressed, stuck in a 2-D world.  As I looked for an apartment near SciencesPo I remember just walking around Les Invalides with my mouth catching flies when I saw the shining MAGNIFICENT top of La Tour Maubourg (the grave of Napoleon) as I exited the metro and the Eiffel Tower peeking over the horizon on the other. All I wanted to do was take a jack hammer to the core of Paris'  hardass bitch soul and bury myself inside forever. But alas my stimulation was limited to my ocular senses as I saturnly slid from one postcard site to the next.

And while I hung out with cool exchange students that first month, like the smell of old cheese in a Frenchmen's fridge, the feeling of isolation refused to leave and got worse. It was all too much. The tiny winding streets, the hidden courtyards of buildings and balconies that all face each other, cafĂ©’s on every corner with beautiful people drinking out of dollhouse size coffee cups, each bridge crossing the Seine is made with care and detail, the Eiffel Tower winking at you every hour through the darkness, lovers partout in the most passionate embraces that make old tourist bible-belters glare in disapproval; you see it all and your heart melts and cries at the same time and you wonder, ‘How can I be a part of this all, how can I make this mine?’ All I wanted to do was feel less like a tourist in this place I was to call home. But it felt impossible as an outsider who spoke passable French with a Quebecois accent.

My misery followed me for the first while in Paris. I simply could not peel myself out of the postcard. I walked and I walked, I mingled with international student after international student and yet, Paris did not feel like it was mine. My misery was probably compounded by the fact that I had just left an old sweetheart behind in Canada, as well as the frustrating administration involved with settling down (internet, insurance, it was all so hard). No matter now though.  What's important is that the metaphorical old cheese smell did indeed leave the fridge.  And oh boy did it ever.  I had French kisses, fell in love with a French boy, I made some of my best friends there and I experienced the insanity and dynamism that Paris has to offer when you know where to look and what to do.

Ten years have passed since I was an international student and I am thinking that it is time to return to the place that I have come to love.

See Also..

  Indie Guide to Paris: Eating

A Night in Paris or How I Tried to Get an Interview with Kavinsky

A Day in the Life

France: Le Mans and an Adventure Outside of Paris

Get more photos and embarrassing and awesome details here.