It seems to me that Paris is a kind of reminder; a place that always brings memories to the surface, even if it is your first visit. Memories of movies set in Paris, or long-lost quotes about the city that you’ve heard, somewhere, sometime.
There is something special about Paris, something indefinable. In fact, it always seems the kind of place that needs no more articles written about it, or lists made of its loveliness. Paris does not need a single other person to sing its praises – and that’s kind of why people keep doing it, I think. That sense of your own unique experience, your own romance with the city that is yours alone, but also has been had before, a million times, by others.
We spent this past Christmas in Paris, as we’ve done times before. The weather was bitter and biting, made more so by the amount of time we spent out of doors. Walking here, strolling there, bustling, hustling into this bistro or that café, puffing hot breath into the frigid air. The Metro was cold, and the wind blew on the streets. Even the museums were cold, and it seemed that the only seats available at the cafés were the ones next to the constantly-opening door. It was a chilly Christmas this time; but it was Christmas in Paris, which meant that for all of its discomfort, it was still glorious.
We attended a Christmas Eve concert at Sainte-Chappelle, a Gothic chapel in the Medieval Palais de la Cité, which was the home of the kings of France until the 14th century. The chapel was built by Louis IX to house his important holy relics, most importantly, the crown of thorns said to have been placed on Christ’s head at his crucifixion. Believer or not, the chapel is a resplendent, holy place that can’t help but fill one with awe. (It is also unbelievably freezing cold.) We listened to the choir sing and the symphony play, and suddenly, we weren’t cold – or, at least, not as cold. The music seemed to rise and swell and fill the chapel with light that dazzled the stained glass windows. In Paris, it’s easy to forget that music like this is not heard every night, that only in a city like Paris can Christmas Eve become an event with a famous orchestra and talented, world-renowned singers.
It made me wonder, as we spent the next days of our trip attending other musical events, or gaining admittance into chateaus and museums, what it would be like to live someplace like Paris. A place that is always beautiful, even in the winter cold, the trees stripped and the ground mud and wet. What would it be like to live in a place that was designed to be gorgeous, where every turn of the street is a new photo opportunity? A city to see world-class artists every week and look upon the greatest art in all of the world whenever you had a free afternoon. Would you grow ambivalent? Would it all blur into a meaningless, lovely haze until you forgot your good fortune? Or would you live in a persistent state of awe, amazed daily at your luck?
I don’t know, because I do not live in Paris, or a place like Paris. But Paris, again, seemed to be a reminder. A reminder to look about, to look up, to let beautiful memories and poetry I’d read before to run through me. A reminder of my good fortune to live in a world that has a Paris in it.