The Art of Paris
The first thing we did when we arrived in Paris, while waiting for our apartment owner to meet us, was to find the nearest café and have a coffee. So we walked into Le Favorite de Sam and I was completely thrown. As we walked in, echoes of 'bonjour!' rang out from the staff as they went about their business. The place was filled with red — red walls, red ceiling, red furnishings — all offset by the tiled floors, wicker chairs and mirrors. The first song that played as we sat was La Vie En Rose, while the middle-aged bald 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?"
Before my adventure here in the City of Lights I had unwittingly prepared myself for the trip with a selection of books. Hemingway's A Moveable Feast told of an old city full of cafés, restaurants, plenty of character (and characters) and all kinds of inspiration for a writer. The kind of city whose existence you bemoan one minute and then want to praise from the rooftops the 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. I was to expect a dichotomy of the things I had imagined in my head and the place I would actually experience. That sometimes we can experience a far better version of a city by never actually traveling to it; to stick to 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 other or actual 'me'). It was all a very high-brow, intellectualised argument discussing the philosophy of travel (but would you expect any night else from him?). It seemed that I would have a much better experience of Paris at home and that I would find myself lamenting the trip with shocking slaps of reality to my face. That the city would let me down somehow with its romantic facade stripped away.
All I can say is that perhaps de Botton’s own experiences had been disappointing. No offence to the man, but I tend to think that a pessimistic view of a holiday isn't quite all that it's cracked up to be. Maybe Hemingway 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 is just that. It shattered every preconception I had made within five minutes.
Because all I can say, is that Paris: you had me at hello.