Paris is truly a beautiful city. But the Parisians? I can’t be too sure yet about the depths of their inner beauty, unless it’s hidden really deep.
Paris is a big city like many other big cities. People move quickly, work long hours and stay out late on the weekends. The crowds of 20- and 30-somethings that make up the majority of the population are more interested in starting lucrative careers than beginning new families, making the number of young children noticeably lower than one might expect.
Yet at the same time, Paris is a city unlike any other in the world. Its status as a global capital of culture, art and music is almost unrivalled. Unlike many other European capitals, Paris was left virtually untouched in the devastating Second World War, allowing it to preserve and maintain its elegant 19th century tenements and boulevards.
At times, it feels more like a delicate work of art than the home of more than 2 million people.
But I just don’t think those 2 million-plus people realize this.
I hate to turn back to childhood literary allusions, but Norton Juster’s “The Phantom Tollbooth” is simply my favorite book. The book details the expansive adventures of Milo, a simple boy who goes on a fantastic quest in the Kingdom of Wisdom, discovering the joy of learning and the exploration of the mind.
Along his journeys, he passes through the twin cities of Illusions and Reality. Reality is a dirty place, full of harried people and bustling industry, yet completely absent of any visible buildings. Nearby, Illusions is a golden paradise of urban planning, and yet it is, as its name suggests, imaginary and empty.
You see, Reality was once as beautiful as Illusions pretends to be. But when the people of Reality discovered that they could get from one place to the next much faster by looking only at the ground rather than at the beautiful city that surrounded them, the city started to fall into disrepair and eventually disappeared, leaving the hurried citizens moving quickly about in an invisible and dirty city.
I’m worried that Paris is becoming Reality. The people here move around distractedly, shoving others aside and avoiding looking up at the lovely city that surrounds them.
And unlike the ingenious people of Milo’s city of Reality, the Parisians take speed walking one step further — or deeper. Rushed commuters board the infamous Paris metro at one stop and get off at the next, deciding it is easier to zoom underneath the graceful Baron Haussmann-era boulevards than on top of them.
Parisians have complaining and eye-rolling down to an art. No matter how quickly the metro runs or how attentive a waiter is, or even how warm the first spring-like day seems, it is never enough. There can always be more, the beleaguered Parisians tell themselves during their numerous cigarette breaks.
Maybe when spring finally arrives, life will slow down and people will start to remember the city that surrounds them. Maybe they will look up, instead of down, and see the rainbow that stretched high above the city two days ago.
Maybe then they’ll join this poor, hopeful visitor in that lovely place where the splendor of Illusions and the actuality of Reality meet.
I’ll be waiting, looking up.
Nick Andersen is a sophomore journalism and history major from Milford, Mi., is spending the semester in France.
E-mail him at email@example.com
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