I arrived in Paris in an early January afternoon; the city was bathed in a golden afternoon sun. I predominantly explored Paris on foot, and I suppose that I was, as Virginia Woolf would have suggested, “street haunting”. After rereading Jean Rhys’s magnificent Good Morning, Midnight in October, there grew a kind of urge in me to go back to Paris for the sake of aimlessly wandering about its cobbled stoned streets in such of creative inspiration. Paris transcends merely pretty buildings and novelty food; it is a curated museum of cultural significance, and by walking its streets, we too become part of its history. On city-walking, Lauren Elkin writes: “as we progress through the cityscape there comes a point when we are no longer just reacting: we are interacting, created anew by this interaction”.
My fascination with Paris predominantly comes from its rich literary history. Coined by Gertrude Stein, the Lost Generation refers to the group of American expats and artists who moved to Paris as an antidote to the aftermath of the First World War. The likes of T.S. Eliot, F Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso, James Joyce, and Ernest Hemingway to name a few circulated the various arrondissements and cafes whilst working on their respective projects. Playing host to some of the most brilliant minds of the 20th Century, Paris was the definitive cultural hotspot of Europe during the 1920s.
In my tour of literary Paris, perhaps the most significant visit was to Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, where the aforementioned writers would congregate and drink and discuss their work. I spent my first evening writing in the comfort of its cafe, facing the construction site that was the Notre Dame cathedral. As I’d been the year prior, it was a little jarring to see the integration of various building machinery and its stunning gothic architecture. After a few hours of pouring over the titles on offer and ashamedly playing with the resident cat, Aggie, I walked along the banks of the Seine, the City of Light glittering before me. I stopped for a glass of red in La Recyclerie before swiftly walking home to my Air BnB. I was very content.
The following day saw me walk from Luxembourg Gardens to Musee D’Orsay, Rivoli 59 to Montmartre in time for catching the sunset. I had selectively come to the city in late January, partially for monetary reasons, predominantly as grow restless in the interim period between my January assessments and Spring semester. The city had a calm kind of quiet to it, and although the evenings saw the city come to life, the daytimes were peaceful and solitary. Being a flâneuse, a “female city-walker”, has historically an act of transgression; early 20th Century women bound by strict social conduct were not permitted to roam the streets freely.
Today, however, the conflict is a more internal one. There is a struggle in finding comfort in solitude or being alone, particularly as a woman. I won’t deny that going abroad alone feels initially strange, and I was certainly asked a lot about what it felt like. But I found a great deal of comfort in my own company, perhaps for the first time in quite some time. I became so consumed by writing and reading that any fear of being singled out quickly dissipated. On my final evening, I spent the early afternoon back in Shakespeare & Co. and ended up meeting two wonderful people who too, were by themselves.
After saying goodbye to my new friends, my final stop of the was in hopes of catching the Eiffel Tower alight. I waited in the early evening with little luck, before heading back to the nearest Metro station to get to Gard du Nord. I didn’t particularly mind though; the Paris I was interested in wasn’t soaring above the city or atop Montmartre. Instead, the Paris I had come to see was a feeling manifested in the alleys and bars alight with people and sound and music. I left the City of Light in the gathering darkness, with a renewed sense of curiosity and intrigue about the people I watched disappear from the comfort of my train seat.
Leave a Reply