Sunday, September 16, 2007
What I am about to say has probably been said 1,000 times before but I'll say it again anyway. Paris is quite possibly the most perfect city on the planet.
It's not just beautiful, it's ridiculously beautiful. The streets, the river, the bridges, the buildings, the markets, the parks. All of it is simply intoxicating.
Paris is my kind of city. A city where bread, wine and cheese form the holy trinity of a meal. A city where each neighbourhood has its own personality. A city where you can dance in the streets in the middle of the afternoon.
Yes, Paris has the Louvre, the Seine and the Eiffel Tower. But did you know it also has the Techno Parade? I discovered this fact by accident when I went for a walk on Saturday morning and found myself in the middle of a crowd of tens of thousands of ravers twirling their arms and dancing on top of bus shelters as the annual Techno Parade wound its way through the city.
The Techno Parade was a spectacle unlike anything I've ever seen before. It was a giant, writhing, moving dance floor. Each float had a DJ playing house, techno or trance with the volume cranked up so high and the bass set so deep your ribcage expanded and contracted with each beat.
Tens of thousands of people flooded the streets and danced behind, beside and in front of each float. The floats were spaced about 100 metres apart so that you could hear each DJ in turn. The whole thing was moving so slowly that the parade took eight hours to complete a small loop of the city. It was absolutely incredible. The music was amazing and the crowds were mind blowing.
Check out the kids jumping over the fence and dancing on top of the Colonne de Juillet in the middle of the Bastille.
Another highlight of the trip is the neighbourhood I'm staying in. I knew nothing about the Marais other than the fact that it's the gay area. I figured it would be the safest place to stay as a single, female traveller. Also, the gay area of any city usually has good food, good shops and good people.
Upon arrival, I discovered that the Marais is also home to the historic Jewish quarter. My apartment is next door to a synagogue and there are always men dressed in black suits with long beards and big hats milling around. I love the contrast of seeing these deeply religious men standing on the street as gay couples walking hand in hand pass by on the sidewalk. This kind of diversity is one of the things I missed most when I was living in Japan.
I was a little nervous about renting an apartment over the Internet but it's turned out to be amazing (the photo at the top of this post was taken out of the kitchen window). It's a tiny studio on the top floor of a six-story heritage building. It's owned by a sweet older woman named Monique who lives underneath the studio (she also runs a teddy bear shop nearby, which probably explains why she's so sweet).
Speaking of nice people, I don't understand why Parisians have a reputation for being rude and bitchy. I have been here for just over a week and I haven't met one rude person yet. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and say that people in Paris are friendly and welcoming. People in the shops seem happy to strike up a conversation and no one seems to mind my rusty French. I even had one waiter go out of his way to compliment me on my French (or maybe he was just after a big tip).
Unfortunately, the stereotypical French male who aggressively woos the ladies with proclamations of love and beauty has been very elusive. I admit that I came to Paris thinking I would be chased down the street by men who would decide they couldn't live without me five minutes after meeting me. Nope. I'm just as invisible here as I was in Japan.
So instead of meeting French men, I am hanging out with Japanese tourists. I hope I'm not going to turn into some creepy Japanese groupie when I get back home (note to Japanese people in Vancouver: Let's hang out!). I met my new friends, Yoichi and Takaaki on top of the Eiffel Tower. I noticed them flashing the peace sign when they were posing for pictures and I instinctively knew they were Japanese.
In a move that was uncharacteristically smooth, I walked over to where they were standing and asked them in Japanese if they would mind taking a picture for me.
It was the perfect icebreaker. They complimented me on my Japanese, we started talking and the floodgates opened. We ended up spending the entire day together. They insisted that we pose for pictures together, which is why I have a whole series of photographs of me at various Paris landmarks sandwiched between two Japanese guys flashing the peace sign.
Spending the day with Yoichi and Takaaki was fun but it made me realize how much I miss Japan. This has been an incredible trip but it has also been tinged with sadness. I still think about Japan and the people I've left behind every single day.
At least I've got bread, wine and cheese to ease the pain. And some of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen.