As with most major events or mishaps in my life, I like to blame my mother for my love for Paris. Thanks to her and her iron fist of TV censorship, I spent much of my childhood ogling happy musicals, many of which were about Paris.
There was Gene Kelly in American in Paris (whom I would also like to blame for ruining my taste in men- I will never find a suave tap-dancing painter who can pull off a red necktie while dangling off a lamppost) and Leslie Caron in Gigi, a film that I later on discovered was actually about a woman training her granddaughter to become a ho. A high-class ho, but a ho nonetheless. Why my mother allowed her seven- and five-year-olds to watch Gigi and yet banned Pretty Woman still baffles me to this day. The only difference between Julia and Gigi is, as far as I can see, the hot pants.
So why I never visited the city of lights in all of my twenty seven years remains a mystery to me. Life tends to get in the way of your plans, you find yourself swayed in unexpected directions. Every birthday, I’d promise myself that I’d see Paris that year (I have tens of journal entries to prove it), but then university/jobs/friends/relationships got in the way; and suddenly, twenty years had passed.
When you find yourself living a somewhat conventional life with a sickeningly responsible work ethic (I turned down free trips to Sharm El Sheikh, Beirut, Dubai and Cyprus for the sake of my work duties- did I mention free trips?), you look back on the opportunities you’ve missed out on with regret. And I hate regret. It’s up there on my list with Nabila Ebeid, snakes and fart jokes.
Maybe it’s the gay man inside of me (I love sequins. I improvise cheesy cabaret songs in the kitchen when I cook- I even have an ‘I Love Butter’ sequence- and I once re-enacted the entire Moulin Rouge duet between Ewan Macgregor and Nicole Kidman on a table- singing both roles), maybe it’s my unabated adoration of French gastronomy; but I’ve held onto my idyllic vision of Paris for years, no matter what people warned me about Parisians being rude, arrogant and smelly.
All I could think of was Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy walking the Rive Gauche in Before Sunset, and all I wanted is one photograph of me sipping my café au lait by the river banks, with a necktie elegantly wrapped around my neck (again, I blame Gene for this). And then I can honestly die happy.
By die happy, I mean that every time I get plane fever and think that the plane will crash (which is, um, every time), instead of screaming out ‘I’m too young to die!’ or think of the unborn children/unpublished books/unclimbed mountains/untasted ice cream flavours that I’ve yet to meet, all I can think of is ‘But I haven’t seen Paris yet!’
And then one day, I finally did. A string of mishaps, coincidences and a sudden bout of bravery led me to book my flight to Paris without a map, itinerary or accommodation (until the very last minute) and very, very little money. I didn’t care. The trip was a beautiful experience, especially because I knew I deserved it.
Why, you ask me?
Let’s say I was part of a business partnership for a few years that I invested all my time, energy and money into. And let’s say that I woke up one day to find that my business partner had frozen my assets, sold my share of the company and left me penniless and stranded in a foreign country with not even a ticket home.
Fast-forward one year later, and I’d worked my shapely butt off to pay off my debts, and when I sold the only remaining asset I’d managed to hang on to, I did exactly what the logical, sensible me wouldn’t have done- and I bought myself a trip to Paris. After all, I earned it.
Every dream, every musical fantasy I’d had about Paris was true. The city lights do shimmer, the cobblestone paths do wind, and there are buskers on street corners playing Aznavour classics at sunset. The people do roll their eyes and say ‘Ohlalaaa’ as if they’re having an eyegasm, or ‘Coocoo!’ affectionately instead of Hello when they enter a friend’s home. Charming, witty and extremely Mediterranean, they roll their words off their tongue in such an effortless, musical rhythm; that even ‘Pardon me, where’s the train station?’ sounds like the sexiest thing I’ve ever heard. Drool. Pick. Jaw. Off. Pavement.
And yes, the Parisians can be rude, but they’re rude in general about everything; so it’s nothing personal. They’re as grouchy and aggressive as the average Egyptian taxi driver. All you need is a bright smile, a little skin and a flutter of ze eyelids; and they move swiftly from C’est Quoi Ca? to Mais Oui, ma Cherie!
And the food. Don’t get me started on the food. Parisian portions are small but unbelievably tasty; so good that even a random brasserie in the middle of nowhere can serve up a Croque Madam or crepe or a macaroon that’s so delectable; you may lose the will to cook every again. I know I did.
And I don’t care how cheesy or touristy the Eiffel Tower is; seeing it at night made the seven-year-old in me finally happy, and all the mishaps and misdirections over the past few years seemed worth the journey. Maybe my love for Paris all these years has been more of an idyllic dream that kept me going; knowing that one day I’d have my baguette in one hand and my bike in the other as I rode alongside the quai de la rapée at night.