In the first week that I got here I finished the book Eat, Pray, Love. It was a wonderful read, really, I thought*. In the book, while in Italy, she strives to come up with a word to describe her experience. Just one word to envelop the comings and goings of this beautiful elusive culture. I won’t tell you what word she settled on, so if you want to know, find out for yourself.
While my dear friend Anna was here visiting, we spent several hours at cafes around the city. Many of these hours were spent debating what Paris’s “word” should be. We threw them out at each other over and over, consistently vetoing the other’s offer for this or that reason.
Then, on the metro one night, we were seated just next to a couple that was standing up. They seemed to have just met, or perhaps were on their way back from a first date. She was beautiful, wearing a dress and heels and statement-making red lipstick. He was awkward, wearing a business suit and seemed to be aware she was a little out of his league (and she was). As they talked, he got bolder and bolder, sometimes touching her arm or her waist. Several times he leaned in and just before he got his kiss, she would lean her head back and laugh. It was a lot of fun to watch, probably not as fun if you’re the guy, but for me, hilarious.
(Photo via http://blog.yanidel.com/2009/07/04/metro-flirt/)
In conversation afterwards, we decided Paris has so much in common with this woman. You go into the city and you see this architecture that is just breathtaking, the intricacies of the buildings constantly surprising you. And then, while you are still pondering the beauty of it, you get on the metro which smells like urine, people are shoving you this way and that, and sweat is pouring from every person on there because there is no air conditioning.
Or you get up in the morning, already sweating because you have no AC, take a shower in your horribly awkward handheld-shower-head shower, leave grumpy, and then exit your apartment to the most charming colorful flowers you have ever seen.
Or you bring home a box of orange sorbet and open it to find that each portion of sorbet is individually packaged in a hollowed out orange rind and it is so delicious you want to die. Then you open another box of popsicles to find they have ALL melted. And the chicken soup you just bought has mushrooms in it.
Or just when you’re racing through the metro trying to make it to an appointment on time and feeling sorry for yourself because everything here takes SO LONG, the most haunting violin music comes drifting out of somewhere in the metro station, and you are lucky enough to be a witness, for a moment, to someone (who may play with a symphony or may be homeless – there is no way to know) pouring out their heart through their instrument to a crowd of bustling perfect strangers.
This is Paris. Just when you are ready to decide that you love it, it puts mushrooms in your chicken soup. And just when you decide you are over it and you hate it, it puts your sorbet in an orange.
So what is the word? Elusive? Non-committal? I don’t know. I don’t know that Paris will let me find out. But I can tell you it’s something I will keep trying to figure out, and I hope I do before I am done here.