There’s already so much I can say, so much has happened since my arrival, and yet the words escape me. Like water through my fingers, the words flee in liquid form towards the sink of oblivion; nothing seems fitting of the wonders I’ve seen, of the majestic beauty that is Paris. I turn to writing because the words are palpable and retainable. There are things you can write that you simply can’t say, just like there are things you see that you simply can’t write about. That’s precisely why you won’t find all your answers in a book (no matter what the reviews on the back cover tell you).
I thought about sitting here and listing the various places, with names and coordinates; about describing the colors and odors, the identifiable scents that Paris exudes. I thought about going through this post sprinkling an adjective here and there; about mustering up some adverbs to go along with the esoteric verbs that I’d dig out of a dictionary. But then I thought, that’s just a travel guide, and I think the world has enough of those.
Let me start off by saying that in order to explore new cities one not only has to be adventurous but a masochist as well. If you’re like me (and I hope you are) you’ll understand that the best way of exploring a city is by getting lost (here’s where the masochist part comes in). I’m not going to tell you where to start, and I wouldn’t even dream of pinpointing where you’ll end; that’s entirely up to you.
Pick a metro stop, any stop! Every quartier has its charm, every arrondissement has its secrets. Follow the unmistakable blue exit signs and look for the light, or better yet, let the cold breeze creeping in through the passages guide you. Rejoin the milliards of Parisians walking about in that way that only Parisians know how: a pace both rushed and elegant in its own way, a rhythmic clock with heels for minutes and cobble-stones for seconds.
To your left: (most likely) a hobo asking you for money; everywhere else: Paris. Take it in! You’re in Paris! The woman munching on a baguette waiting for the traffic light to change. The child effortlessly having a French conversation with his mother. The hint of coffee and freshly baked bread and the scent of perfume from the girl standing next to you. The loud roar of the mini-cars speeding off in the distance, and the incessant crackling retort of a Vespa on standby.
Leave the maps at home along with your stereotypical apprehensions, and your fear of getting lost. There’s a metro station at every turn, and if it gets to the point where paranoia gets the best of you, you can ask! It’s not the worst thing in the world, I promise! Go ahead and take back that old Parisian charm, the one that somewhere along the way became irrelevant in the travel book-shelves you know and love. It’s time to fill that adventurous void inside you.
Finally, when the unforgiving cement eats at your calves and the cold weather infiltrates your bones, you will surely regret being in the middle of a strange city without any notion of where to go. Fear not! Coffee is extra strong and cafés are prominent and plentiful. You’ll find that you can sit with a cup of coffee for hours on end, without disruption, without commitment. You’ll taste the essence of Paris, and you’ll say to yourself: Once I was lost, but now I am found.