The book begins with the acknowledgements; an homage to those who influenced the production and experience.
To the audible murmurs of eavesdropping strangers who said, “Everyone in Paris is rude.”
To trusted family members who informed me that, “I’ve never heard anything good about Paris. All I know is that the city is dirty and everyone smokes.”
And lastly, to my close friends who said, “No, you would love Paris. I can just see you there.”
A preface is a place to voice side notes and struggles, and this one is no different. Attempting to tell a story about a city that has been touched by many painters’ brushstrokes, writers’ pens, and travelers’ feet is not an easy feat. Paris is the city of love and light. It is the flickering specks of the Eiffel Tower at night, reminiscent of your childhood fireflies and dreams of far off lands, that draws even the most off the beat traveler to visit this bookend of European society. I was no different.
The story begins with the 284 steps, rot iron handrails, and concrete spiral steps within the corner blocks of the Arc de Triomphe. The Arc, reminiscent of the one that curves over Washington Square Park in New York City, marks the epicenter of Paris. Atop the monument, the city lies out in front of you like a pop-up children’s book. The coy yet flirty demure of Paris welcomes you into the whimsical world of Madeleine and Le Petit Prince. Each step mimics the flip of a page. The Sacré-Cœur on page one, the Champs-Élysées sprawled across page two and the metal jewel of the city, the Eiffel Tower, peeks out of page three as your fingers and feet begin to delve deeper into the story.
Each arrondissement is home to a different type of character in the Parisian storybook. In the eighth arrondissement the scents of Chanel No. 5 waft down the tree lined, two-way road. Coco Chanel and her signature scent embody the spirit of the high end Parisian shopping district. Colors of Tiffany blue, Ladureé mint, and Chanel black line the streets and create a rainbow of swatches that flow down the street like the River Seine, which lies a few miles south. People stroll underneath the wide-open sunshine that casts itself upon the Champs-Élysées while swinging Louis Vuitton bags to the beat of taxi car horns. The same sights and noises that George Gershwin embodied in his composition “An American in Paris,” almost 100 years ago. Despite countless days and nights, much like Coco Chanel’s little black dress or Gershwin’s creation of sound and spirit, the ideals and lifestyles within Paris have been preserved. The city’s simplistic pastel architecture and effortless chicness draws people in to experience the robust culture of such a minimalistic city.
In the dead center of Paris, the Tuileries Garden creates a runway of singing sunflowers and silent grass, allowing the Louvre to take center stage. The geometric glass pyramid doubles as an entrance to the sprawling museum and adds to the buildings royal grandeur. Visitors scattered in the courtyard parallel the plethora of paintings that lie behind 12th century walls. As the character of the first arrondissement, Leonardo da Vinci’s smirking muse, the Mona Lisa, is framed behind glass, tracing tourists with her creamy brown eyes. Begging for attention, her frail curls, composed posture, and enigmatic mouth draws people in like Medusa. Only instead of turning hopeless victims to stone, Mona Lisa enwraps her alluring demeanor around the souls as if she is a Renaissance cupid. No less of a human than her fellow characters, Mona Lisa showcases the delicate timelessness of art. She sits against the wall as a stagnant oasis within a cigarette smog city echoing with the sounds of Louboutin heels. The silent personality should not be underrated, even against some of the books more vibrant characters.
Home to the flirtation of Moulin Rouge cabaret shows and sacredness of the Sacré-Coeur, a church and monument for those killed in the Franco-Prussian war, the Montmarte district embodies the undeniable charm and indisputable pleasure available at each characters disposal. Ivy vines creep up apartment exteriors as if to taunt residents with scents of lust and passion. Through his tumultuous past and traditional magnetism, Ernest Hemingway is the personification of the eighteenth arrondissement. American by birth, Hemingway found a home and an inspiration by attempting to balance sin and sustenance within Paris. There to foster his talents in writing, Hemingway often found himself enraptured with the slow-sipping cultural giants of his time. Just as the steep cobblestone streets and shining red lights of Montmarte enwrap the eighteenth arrondissement, Hemingway’s fatal attraction to the city’s sinful side was forever entwined in his craft. Pages turn as flasks continue to pour in the city of love and light.
In the seventh arrondissement, just a river and a monument somehow became the Seine and the Eiffel Tower. Monet’s ability to take the ordinary elements of floating pastel flowers upon stationary waters and create an individual, idyllic landscape makes him the protagonist of this district. In Paris, the Eiffel Tower triumphs over each Boulevard, Rue, and Avenue. The iron beams curve and converge to mark the location of the tip. Once a hated part of the arrondissement’s skyline created for the 1889 World Fair, The Parisian North Star shines along the Seine as the cities emblem. The tower alone stands without emotion or feelings. It is the character of Monet who instills vibrancy and life with each brushstroke. A flick of green sprouts the grass, a wave of hazel draws the eyes to the Seine, and dab of charcoal builds the Eiffel Tower stroke by stroke.
Each character is a story on their own, but together they create chapters within a never-ending Parisian storybook. It is the conglomeration of the designer, the muse, the writer, and the artist that provides the heartbeat in the city of love. On the surface Paris is one city, but when you open up to the first page of the Parisian storybook, a plot is laid. There is a home for the sinner and the saint, the dreamer and the doer, the architect and the artist, and it is only by reading that you discover where your home is. Our eyes act as the metro as they transport us into these new places. We watch the past and the pages wiz by out of our peripherals, trying to grasp it as we are propelled into an unknown land. As the paper turns, the mind follows. Each chapter is marked with black bold numerals, and is a welcome sign to a new place where new people greet us. A person, an entity, or a ghost of Paris’s past prepared to spill their secrets and story.
Located in the Musée d’Orsay along the banks of the Seine is a wood plaque from the home of Paul Gauguin. Inscribed in it is the phrase, “Soyez mystérieuses, soyez amoureuses et vous serez heureuses.” The inscription reads, “Be mysterious, find love and you will find happiness.” The world of Chanel, Mona Lisa, Hemingway, and Monet stems from this phrase. Being Parisian has nothing to do with place of birth. Only by reading the storybook does the haze of mystery evaporate into clear photos of each characters storyline. Falling deeper and deeper in love with each sinking page and chapter. True happiness is found as we spiral into the story and find ourselves standing street side with our favorite characters. A baguette in one hand, our book in the other, and the city laid out as a two-page spread in front of us.