My son spoke of distant cities he would like to visit one day. When asked if why Paris missed the list, he simply responded that he doesn’t ”get” the whole Paris infatuation.
For me, it started on a backpacking trip with my best friend on a pre-dawn train from Calais to Paris three decades ago. It built on the near-empty train that abruptly filled with commuters in Amiens, bound for work in Paris. There was a captivating texture to their clothes, a scent to their coffee and croissants, and a melody in their voices. It exploded with the first sighting of the Arc de Triumph’s manic traffic circle, St. Chapelle solemnly tucked on the Île de la Cité, and Sacre-Coeur glistening on the hillside.
There is a sense that time is suspended as you swim in the beauty and intricate texture of history, architecture, art, food, style, and humanity. There is also a sense that in a thousand years, you could not scratch the surface of the mystique and depth of Paris.
It was a feast for the eyes, senses, and soul. Hemingway’s reference to Paris as a moveable feast makes perfect sense. The memories stay with you, go with you, never leave you.
On a recent trip, my wife and I set out to dinner and to experience the pinnacle of culinary expression at a two-star Michelin rated restaurant. We were not disappointed and for reasons beyond what you might expect. Yes, the chef’s mastery of the ingredients and the creative presentation delivered, but there was so much more, in the perfectly starched and pristine white shirts of the staff, their solemn voices and warm hospitality, and the perfected symmetry of the place settings. We could hear the quiet workings of the kitchen mingling with the muffled sounds of voices and vehicles outside on the Rue de St. Dominique. We broke every rule of fine dining, including a way too early for Paris reservation, we shared bites of our food, and we laughed far too much.
I told my son that Paris is more of an experience than a place, and the details stay with you. I don’t think he bought it, but one day I hope he will feel it.