A week and a half ago I fell madly in love with Paris.
I was traveling with my father. I’d never been to the city before and I wasn’t sure quite what to expect, but in my mind I pictured a dirty metropolis filled with rude, American-loathing Parisians. The night before we were to leave, I practiced my French in a desperate attempt to mask my identity as a dreadful American tourist. Too bad the only word that stuck with me the next morning when I woke up was ‘bonjour.’
But from the moment I arrived, Paris was nothing like I’d expected. The people were - get this ‒ FRIENDLY! It was breathtakingly beautiful, but not in that standard “Oooh…a pretty sunset, aaah…a gorgeous mountain” sort of way. There was something inexpressibly elegant and charming about Paris. I tried to journal about it but found it impossible. The way passion can seize your heart and infuse its authority over your every pore: that's how Paris’s magnificence and splendor arrested me. It just was. And I felt it.
With newfound sanguine vision, I leapt across the street in excited anticipation. As I reached the banks of the River Sienne, I noticed a French dreamer seated just a few steps away from me, perched against a stone overlooking the river. His head was tilted upwards in the direction of the marvelous Notre Dome, but he was actually gazing pensively across the river. And as I observed him observing the world, it hit me that I’d never before looked at life in such a passionate way, so rapt. And I’d never looked at another human being the way I was looking at him.
From the interminably entangled roads, to the luminous Eiffel Tower, to the clandestine cobble paths alongside the Sienne, it was clear that Parisian culture bred romance. I found that even the outdoor cafes encourage "l'amour."
I’d gone for lunch one morning at Café de la Paix and chosen to sit outside along with my baguette and espresso and enjoy the warm sun. Immediately I was struck by the fact that all the chairs faced outward in the direction of the sidewalk and street, as if lined up to watch a play, and as groups of people came and sat in them, they didn’t rearrange the chairs to face one another. Instead, they sat side by side and barely made any eye contact with their dining partners as they ate their meals and drank their coffee.
I had it explained to me by my French waiter, who answered my question about why all the outdoor cafes position their chairs with the ingenious reply, “If, ma cherie, they faced one another while they ate, how would they ever catch anyone’s eye?”
On a different afternoon I discovered an enchanting rose garden off the bank of the Sienne and decided to take a stroll. The weeping trees overhead shaded the path making it nearly indiscernible. Nonetheless, the trail beckoned me, as if wanting to divulge its plethora of hidden secrets. And divulge it did.
As I walked along the path I noticed a seemingly contented couple lounging on a park bench with a bottle of red wine situated between them. As they sat together in quietude and exchanged profoundly expressive gazes, I was overcome by the sheer loveliness of the sight. I realize that couples drinking wine together is not an unusual occurrence; in fact, I’ve shared many a bottle of wine with ex-boyfriends of my own.
But this was different.
Unlike my to-the-minute, planned-out Saturday evening dates where sharing bottles of wine over dinner is as common an occurrence as the notorious goodbye kiss, with all certainty I knew that this singular mid-afternoon moment between these park bench lovers was uncalculated, impromptu and most of all, sincere.
They were behaving according to how they felt, and they felt love.
As I lifted my eyes from the quixotic scene in front of me and began to look around, I realized there were couples everywhere doing equally romantic things. With each turn of my head there I saw some dreamy-eyed duos spontaneously embracing, others holding hands as they nonchalantly sauntered along the path, and a few sitting along the fountain enjoying their lover’s succulent lips.
I started to feel as if Parisians simply exhaled love. They exhaled love, and I breathed it in as if I’d been suffocating for years. The air did something to me. It ‒ strangely ‒ changed my pessimistic single girl’s eyes and I began to see life through romantic colored lenses -- the power of Paris.
The romance, the rose garden, not only did they uplift and inspire me, they sent a surge of ecstasy straight up my spine.
I’ve never walked through Central Park, where smog is the most dominant power in the air, and seen couples in the middle of a weekday afternoon sharing bottles of wine and looking longingly into one another’s eyes. Instead I see men in 3-piece suits yakking loudly on their cell phones and women in sports bras squeezing their 30 minutes of cardio into their cramp-scheduled days. .
I couldn't help feeling that in America, romance is planned in advance and reserved only for “date night.” But in Paris, where romance is entrenched in the culture, it appears to be as natural and effortless as breathing.
And this wasn’t the only thing I noticed when I returned from the land of love. I was watching one of those pop culture shows, I believe it was “Access Hollywood," and they were listing off all the latest Hollywood divorces: Kenny and Renee: splitsville; Tori and Shanian: done; Jamie-Lynn and AJ: over. Sadly, the list went on. And on. And on. This got me thinking about “Hollywood endings” and how these same stars glamorize love, how they portray happily ever after endings in our American movies while their real love lives are unraveling faster than my severely snagged sweater. In fact, when it comes to marriage, barely any of these couples uphold their vows and remain loyal “til death do us part” companions.
Maybe the grass is always greener, but my experience in Paris left me with an uncontrollable hunch that the bedrock and foundation beneath each of the adoring pairs I saw in Paris during my short stay was love. And it seems, at least to my naked and at times naïve eye, that a Parisian must fall in love and even marry, because they feel love deeply, like breath in their lungs.
In America we say, “I do.” But in Paris, they simply do.
But enough of scowling. I took something from Paris that I will always cherish. I took away the knowledge that this kind of all-consuming, breathtaking, mind-numbing, inescapable, in-your-face love ACTUALLY exists. And as an unattached hopeless romantic who’s seen the syrupy, sentimental flick “Love Actually” 15 times (actually), the mere thought that it exists makes me giddy.
With this knowledge in my head and pristine hope in my heart, I am confident I will not settle. I will not accept anything less than this type of love; Parisian Love. And if it takes me until I'm 40 to find it, I will wait. Because I've felt it stir. It begins with the unlocked heart, springs through willing bones and ignites every crevice of the soul. I know it, because that is exactly what I felt a week and a half ago when I fell in love with Paris.
Marissa Kristal is a freelance writer in New York City. Since receiving her Journalism degree from Indiana University in 2002 Ms. Kristal has written for print and online publications such as The St. Paul Pioneer Press, The Forest Lake Times, Handlebars.org and Foodservice.com. She also has her own advice column at www.fazed.com - an ezine geared towards teenagers and 20-somethings. You can contact Marissa at email@example.com.
Forever Love in Paris by Marissa Kristal
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