Why go to Paris if there are other options I haven’t visited? My love affair with Paris is close and personal.
I grew up in a bilingual Italian-French household because my grandparents relocated to France in the 1950s, and my mom grew up there before moving back to Italy to attend university. She strictly speaks French with her brothers and sisters, so I happened to learn Italian and French at the same time.
Most of my relatives live in France, but not in Paris, some in Provence, some in Lorraine, so I’ve had the occasion to go to the capital only quickly and never as long as I would have liked.
Apart from these sort of family ties, I think having a literature-obsessed mother played its fair role in making me romanticize Paris beyond ordinary. I grew up reading French authors such as Balzac, one of my faves, Stendhal, Flaubert, Maupassant, Baudelaire and Rimbaud, and at the same time dreaming of visiting the places these novelists and poets describe so well in their works or loved to hang out in.
Yes, this is why I’m longing for a week in Paris, to entirely spend it wandering the streets Balzac used as settings for his plots and romantic intrigues, hanging about the Quartier Latin and its richer counterpart Faubourg Saint-Germain, cross Rue de Grenelle in the look out for the hotel belonging to viscountess de Beauséant, where the daughters of Balzac’s Père Goriot enjoyed their night out instead of taking care of their father just the night before his death, or Rue Cassini, where Balzac himself celebrated the steps of his growing literary success.
In all my modesty, one of the very first things I would do is to sit in one of the cafés artists used to gather in to discuss, get inspired, meet, introduce each other, exchange comments and feedback, write their poems, novels, essays, and drink their unmissable absinthe. Like them, I would open my notebook, which will probably resemble a banal laptop, and order my green tea pretending it to be absinthe like my most favorite bohemian poets, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and Verlaine, always used to do. I doubt I will be able to produce articles comparable to their work, I would definitely need absinthe for that, but I do think sitting in one of Paris’ legendary cafés such as the old Procope, will be an inspiring experience.
Due to my hopeless museum addiction, I won’t be able to avoid a visit (a day-long visit) to the Louvre, but probably my shadow won’t darken many other museums’ or galleries’ entrances. I want to wander its alleys, backstreets, cross its bridges, taste its croissants for breakfast or entering one of the many brasseries-bistrots for an onion-based soupe à l’oignon gratinée introduced by a mandatory anise-based Pastis. I would challenge proud Parisians and their notoriously rough manners to understand where my accent comes from (they usually mistake it for Provençal, maybe due to the region’s contiguity with Italy), and I would eat a proper cous cous, typical Moroccan dish, emblematic of the city’s cosmopolitan spirit.
As one of the highlights of my stay, I would show my sinful side by posing in front of the storied Moulin Rouge, in Boulevard de Clichy, at the foot of evocative Montmartre near Place Pigalle, and take a picture of myself as if in a painting of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, famous illustrator who loved celebrating Paris as home of perdition by immortalizing the femmes fatales populating the nights of Pigalle district, scenes from the Moulin Rouge with its legendary can-can dancer La Goulue, and from aristocratic living rooms he himself belonged to.
Hard to say who I would take with me on this journey through suggestive and vicious Paris, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my partner in crime will end up being my mom with the inevitable French allure that follows her even though she relocated back to Italy more than 30 years ago.
Although Paris is certainly not an offbeat destination, it will be my mission to find and capture all its hidden gems and unexpected perspectives that most visitors are likely to miss.