There are two ways to experience Paris--as a visitor and as a local. I’ve done both. My first touristic Parisian holidays were amazing. When I passed a boulangerie, I would inhale the aroma of fresh bread deeply. When I visited pâtisseries, I smiled, because the pastries and chocolates were artistic, beyond edible. I didn’t want to blink. The images I’d fashioned over the years were real. I was constantly gazing up and around at the different buildings, absorbing all that centuries of architecture had to offer.
In 2003, I began a tumultuous love affair with a half-French, half-North African man. We met in America, but finally he moved back to Europe to be closer to his family. For almost five years, I came to Paris at least twice a year, visiting him when he was living here, or meeting him when he wasn’t. It was our joining destination. It was exciting. it was French. I embraced the long meals, cigarette smoke, wine, and accordion music. They say that Paris is the “City of Love,” and it’s true that for five years love brought me here, although today I can’t tell you if it was romantic love for the man, or for the city itself.
Eventually, the more I came to Paris, the more I began to feel that this city was just like any other city. I realized as my relationship ended, so did my appreciation for Paris. The Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, the Louvre Museum, Notre Dame - these sites became lost to tourism for me. I started to notice and hate how often the skies were gray, how the roads were scattered with dog excrement, and how all the buildings were the dull color of sand.
I stayed away from Paris for about a year, but destiny would have it that I fell for another French man who lived in Paris. Again, the long distance trips; again, visiting the same monuments. My relationship progressed, but I felt no reignited spark for the city.
Then I moved to Paris. I came happily to be with my now fiancé, but uninterested in what Paris might have to offer. Then, like many people who find themselves living in a new country with a new culture and a new language, I yearned for the familiar. So, I embarked on odd pursuits to rebel against French routine. I began searching for martinis in a city where it is not customary to drink hard liquor before dinner for fear of dulling the taste buds. I searched for the best hamburgers, cupcakes, Chinese food, and Vietnamese pho noodle soup. All of a sudden, I wanted to cook clam chowder and bake cheesecakes.
Slowly, I also started to visit less touristic destinations, and felt my heart begin to pulse again. I discovered places, mostly parks, where you wouldn’t imagine you were in Paris.
My favorite is an immense public garden called Le Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the 19th arrondissement. Here, you feel like you are living in a Chinese calligraphy painting as the park is filled with exotic trees and Chinese and English gardens. There are also cliffs, bridges, an enclosed waterfall and a lake. At the center of this lake is a small island. You can only reach its peak via a suspension bridge and atop this peak is the temple of Sybil, a monument modeled after the Roman temple in Tivoli, Italy.