8 Magical Things That Happen When a Writer Visits Paris For the First Time
Spoiler alert: You will fall in love with all the cliches and find yourself amongst the romantic cafes, forgotten streets and aged cobblestones.
I am not the first writer to fall in love with the fantasy of the City of Lights, nor will I be the last. Even in January, the cobble-stoned streets are alive and well, the very alleyways themselves bustling with art, love, history. Paris in the rain is just as magical as Midnight in Paris would have you believe; and from almost every vantage point of the city the Eiffel Tower rises unbidden from the fog like some great mechanical beast.
Everywhere I go in Paris, I can't help but look up. In a city with long-standing ordinances against high-rise buildings, it's hard not to. Even in the winter gloom, the gray skies overhead coalesce with overarching rooftops that must be centuries old; tendrils of verdant ivy curl down balcony after ornate, rustic balcony.
Foreign Uber drivers drive in a frantic maze to rush down streets piled haphazardly one on top of the other, and by this I am strangely reminded of San Francisco.
When the skies open like formerly dammed floodgates, drizzly bits of rainwater settle in my hair like pearls. Even stormy skies are beautiful here. It's the kind of place, the kind of city, that makes you feel dizzy with hope.
And as I look up and realize how many thousands upon thousands of people have stood upon this very same spot and thought this very same thought, I can't help but feel connected to all of them, somehow. Those lonely travelers or love-soaked souls. The smiling couples or girls with cameras held delicately in their hands. The compulsive wanderlusters and lovers, the globe-trotters, the stylish French girls navigating the streets in their furs and crimson lips.
Even other tourists have their appeal for me, because I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a sucker for tourist attractions in foreign cities and faraway places, and the sound of broken, yet still familiar English syllables spilling from the spaces between cultures.
There are entire worlds in the words we don't say. In the spaces between lines. These are the things I strive to write, the elusive fleeting things I look to capture, the dreams and feelings and experiences I want to pin down to the page and conquer. And these are the things that come to life in my soul as I stand at the base of the Eiffel Tower and look up.
Even in a short time, you feel completely immersed in a foreign way of life.
How attractive the pull of another lifestyle can be, how magnetic the culture, how encompassing its way of life.
In no time at all I grew completely enamored of the way in which the crowds of people spilling every which way on aged city streets seemed to live in the cracks of history itself.
Ancient churches and cathedrals aside, even worn-down apartment buildings have a kind of magic to them, an old and special charm.
Even ducking quickly into quaint alleyways for candid photo ops feels akin to pulling on a beloved coat or old pair of shoes you can't bear to get rid of. And I don't even live here. (Le sigh.)
You realize what you truly love about traveling.
There will never be anything I love more than the little hole-in-the-wall spots, the unassuming restaurants and cafes you learned about by word-of-mouth, the pleasantly dilapidated used bookstores.
As much as I adore visiting historical landmarks and wandering through famous museum exhibits, even trying iconic cuisine (give me ALL the fromage), there's always a mysterious appeal to what's not in the guidebook. The cramped bar down that tiny, tilted street, its weary cobblestones shining almost new in the rain, just holds such a warm allure for me.
You can take what you've learned with you wherever you go.
You will realize how much you can learn about people by observing their approach to attending museums.
...and travel in general.
That girl with the fancy camera? Not such a brand spanking new tourist as you are, but she still loves the Louvre. (And who wouldn't? My personal favorite, plucked from the museum's myriad mind-boggling exhibits, has got to be Napoleon's apartments – and its sparkling chandeliers, gilded candelabras and famously ornate furniture. Utterly to die for.) Those tall boys in their grandpa sweaters and glinting hipster circle glasses loping by with long-legged strides and smiling shyly at you? It's their first time visiting Paris too.
Even the people about whom you've heard so much of their legendary snobbery? They turn out to be not so rude at all, though French restaurateurs will almost always seat an American at the worst table in the house. I'm not so mad about this; I'll take what I can get just to be here, sipping a foamy café au lait and spreading fragrant cheese on my baguette. I'll even tip, too.
Pro tip: You'll almost always get a better reaction when you tell them you're from California.
You may or may not have a French waiter write you poetry.
Prepare to be schooled on Baudelaire. Said French waiter may or may not speak four languages and remain endearingly embarrassed over the sound of his own badly-translated syllables, but he actually speaks English surprisingly well. Even more surprisingly, the poetry he slips you on the backs of several slips of receipt paper is pretty damn good.
You will stand at the top of the Eiffel Tower as it starts to sparkle.
As you watch its shimmering golden lights cascade over this poetic dream of a city, you will feel your soul come to life. And you will realize that when your soul starts to sprout feathers and grow wings, it's best to let it fly.
You will drink near sickening amounts of café au lait.
And then you will drink more, because the coffee just doesn't seem to be as strong in France. In the spirit of full disclosure, you will eat ALL the food and do ALL the things, because when in Paris for the first time, you will realize just how overwhelmingly big such a relatively small city can appear – and how you could probably live here for a decade and still not see everything.
You will also learn that it's fairly impossible to eat bad food in France. Even if you slip and accidentally order something you don't typically prefer (gotta love the language barrier), chances are you will still end up wolfing it down, because I'm pretty sure bad food doesn't actually exist in the country. Also, escargot is so much tastier than I ever imagined it to be.
You will fall in love with Parisian architecture.
You will love it all, but especially the office spaces, because they are the MOST chic. But it's in an unexpected, pleasantly lived-in and completely attainable way that most Americans, with their love of large, modern spaces and minimalist characteristics, wouldn't even consider.
You will realize that all big cities are the same in certain ways.
And what's an adventure in a foreign city without getting a little lost along the way?