“Luxury is not a necessity to me, but beautiful and good things are.”
– Anais Nin, Henry and June.
Paris is a lover – an experienced lover.
She knows her attributes well and does not flaunt them; instead, she allows you to marvel and she veils her eyes demurely when you approach. She looks up from beneath long lashes with the glance of one well-seasoned in the art of love. Her beauty requires no introduction, no explanation; she needs no novelty, no glitter, no games to attract her suitors.
Paris knows her charm.
And it is her charm – that magical je ne sais quoi – that is her beauty.
“Come,” she murmurs and beckons, “Come and know me.”
You take the metro line 4 at Mouton Duvernet and get off at Châtelet. You walk down the cobblestone streets of Le Marais, dart in and out of eclectic vintage stores.
On Rue des Roisiers, you discover L’As du Fallafel.
The owner ushers you away from the long line and welcomes you into the warmth of his restaurant. He proudly displays a clipped article from the New York Times. “This is the falafel destination in Paris, indeed in Europe” proclaim the confident letters.
He stuffs six falafels into the pita, followed by creamy hummus, crispy chickpea fritters, fried eggplant, and then he balances four more of the precious morsels on top.
“Never done before!” he declares with a wink, “Only for special VIP customers.”
Over the next ten minutes, you float away into a dreamy falafel heaven – interrupted only by one stranger, with whom you share part of the dream – and then floating, floating, still.
Just across the bridge, past Nôtre Dame, is “Shakespeare & Company” – a small bookstore that hides an English major’s paradise behind its unassuming doors. Here, the greats – Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Allen Ginsberg, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin – once mingled and found inspiration.
You weave your way through piles and rows and shelves and boxes and cases of books, and find an unoccupied armchair. Here you sit and think, perhaps Anaïs Nin once sat upon this faded velvet – the very thought thrills you and you shut your eyes, clear your mind in the hope of receiving some sort of spiritual revelation.
The plot, the stage, the singers, the audience, the opera house fade away in the symphony of sound that reaches deep inside your core and explodes. The impact leaves you only a trembling shell, a frail frame that continues to crack and flake away in submission to impassioned intensity.
During those three hours, you feel more than you know: This is Truth. This is Beauty. This is Meaning.
Your conviction crescendos past the resounding final chord, into the applause, into the closing bows, into the lobby, and back out into the night.
Outside, Paris is ablaze.
People are everywhere, shopping from stall to stall, walking, strolling, hand-in-hand, arms around waists, paused on the sidewalk, intertwined in the shadows.
“Dried strawberries, please.”
You munch and stroll past the Christmas market down the Champs-Elysées and stop at a curious sight: fifty people standing in a long queue outside of a tall black gate. A party?!?!! You ask the bouncer what they’re waiting for, and he tells you, “This is Abercrombie & Fitch.”
Ten minutes later: A modeling job offer? Check. Four new gorgeous friends? Check. A VIP night out on the town? Check.
Downstairs in Harry’s New York Bar, people tap their feet to live jazz. Upstairs, you order a hot dog (they did make the first ones in France, after all), and try to decide on a drink. Harry’s New York Bar invented the Bloody Mary, and the White Lady, and the Sidecar, but … you’ll let the bartender concoct a new creation.
“Something sweet, please.”
But wait – people from across the street are beckoning. No, it’s too late, you say. A free drink? Oh, and they say this is Footsie’s? That famous stock market bar where drink prices rise up and down throughout the night?
Well then, a detour doesn’t sound so bad after all.
Laughter and frolicking into the night concludes with an exchange of life stories over milk and muesli. In the gentle cadences of your friend’s voice, you find iron strength and courage. She laughs about life’s struggles and shrugs aside pain and suffering.
You bask in the glow that is her life.
Another evening beneath the stars, you wander past Cadolle on Rue Saint-Honoré to the counter of Café Angelina on Rue de Rivoli. As you wait for your cup of hot chocolate, the rosy-cheeked girl at the register asks coyly if you are single. You nod, puzzled.
She laughs and nudges the tall young man beside her. “He thinks you are very pretty!” she says. The young man turns a deep shade of red, and quickly calls up the next customer.
Outside, the small cup provides a comforting warmth for your fingers, but oh – that rich nectar, that velvety brown ambrosia that slides so smoothly down – chocolat chaud that nourishes something far deeper and far more essential, satiates an innate thirst and longing of the soul.
You are drunk.
Inebriated, tipsy, buzzing.
Intoxicated not from alcohol but from this – the lights, the tall glasses of red, the crisp air, the murmured “Pardon” on the trains, the browned edges of crepes, the intricate lace of lingerie, the curtained rooms of Palais Opera.
But to know Paris is to know that you cannot know her.
Yes, you can see all of her masterpieces, visit all of her historical treasures, taste all of her cuisines; you can stroll down the Champs-Elysées, shop in Galéries Lafayette, get off at every metro stop, explore every street and shop and museum and restaurant –
And still, there is always something.
Something just inexplicable.
When you walk with her at night, you wonder sometimes if maybe – yes, this must be it, now this is truly Paris – for a moment the air becomes heavy and saturated, you touch the thin glass of a whisper and hold a dreamy wisp between your fingers – high above in a circle of lights, you gaze down upon a glowing city, pulsing, shimmering, throbbing in all its splendor.
But the moment quickly fades, and the magic vanishes into the night.
You are drunk from Paris, intoxicated by her beauty and her charm. She is a city where you need only eyes to see her beauty. Her architecture, her fashion, her food, her ballet, her street corners – beauty is everywhere.
But because you are surrounded by such obvious beauty, Paris teaches you to see beauty where you would expect it least.
Beauty is a peeling lock clamped to a bridge.
Beauty is the first gray hair on a young man’s head.
Beauty is the remains of a half-eaten waffle.
And you realize – yes, Beauty is everywhere – not just in Paris, not just in other cities and locations around the world – but in Living Life.
Paris teaches you to be drunk off of life.
Life is not always beautiful.
But to live life to the brim and burst with living – now that, is Beautiful.