The first thing we did after we arrived in Paris — before we even made it inside the apartment where we’d eat fresh baguettes, drink supermarket-bought Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Ruinart and plan our daily adventures for the next month — was to find the nearest café and have a coffee.
Because, coffee is life.
We’d found our apartment fairly easily, which is no mean feat in the city. But when caffeine runs through your veins as much as exquisite cheese runs through the French people’s, we needed our hit. So, we walked about a hundred metres to the left of our apartment building to the nearest café.
And there, I was completely thrown.
As we walked in, echoes of ‘bonjour!’ rang out from the staff as they went nonchalantly about their business. The place was filled with red — red walls, red ceiling, red furnishings — all offset by the black and white tiled floors and brown wicker chairs. There were oodles of mirrors and tiny photos in frames.
The next part sounds like I’m making it up, but the song that was playing as we walked in the café was La Vie En Rose, while the middle-aged balding manager in his white shirt tidied at the bar and the pretty little waitress, seemingly plucked straight from a French film set, served us our ‘deux cafés’. It was all very … French. And beautiful. For want of slapping myself in the face, I asked my beau the most ridiculous question. “Is this a Paris-themed café? I mean, are they all like this?”
“Is this a Paris-themed café? I mean, are they all like this?”
Before my adventure in the City of Lights, I had prepared myself for the trip with two books in particular. Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast told of an old city full of cafés, restaurants and plenty of character (and characters) amounting to all kinds of inspiration for a tragic writer like myself; the kind of city whose existence you bemoan one minute and then bestow feverish praise upon from the rooftops the very next.
The second book, The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton told me to prepare myself for travelling to a place I had longed dreamed of, but one that I would be bitterly disappointed with. I was to expect a dichotomy of the things I had imagined in my head and the place I would actually experience. He wrote that sometimes we can experience a far better version of a city by never travelling to it; that we’re better off sticking with the image of all that we dream it to be.
I was also to expect to bring a different kind of ‘me’ on holidays (as opposed to the various others or the actual ‘me’?). It was all a very high-brow, intellectualised argument discussing the philosophy of travel (but then, would you expect anything else from de Botton). After reading through his book, it seemed I would have a much better experience of Paris by never leaving my home and that I would find myself lamenting the trip after shocking slaps of reality to my face. I was to prepare myself for a city that would let me down somehow with its romantic facade stripped away, one creamy-grey layer at a time.
All I can say upon reflection of my stay in that blessed city is that perhaps de Botton’s own experiences had been disappointing. I tend to think that a pessimistic view of a holiday in the rear-view mirror isn’t quite all that it’s cracked up to be.
Having two books that catapulted me into conflict with a romanticised view of the place on one hand and a cynical view of it on the other, I arrived in Paris with absolutely zero expectations. I was Switzerland – neutral. A blank canvas.
Perhaps it was Hemingway who had it right: “Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.”
“Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.”
Paris is just that. Nothing is simple there, not even your feelings. And that’s the best part. Within five minutes of being there the place had a most profound effect on me. The next month offered up the usual tourist clichés, to be sure. But the city also created some of the best memories, far away from towers and luxurious boulevards. Along ordinary streets, in tiny jam-packed bars, we encountered some fascinating stories and people.
But before all that, all I could end up saying as I drank my espresso, staring out the window at an old lady walking her dog while carrying a loaf of bread, is that Paris: you had me at hello.
Fable and Fizz would like to acknowledge the Whadjuck Noongar people as the traditional owners and continual custodians on the lands and waters this content is primarily written on. I pay respects to their Elders — past and present. This always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.