The ticks on my list indicate that all that I think are necessary sights have been ‘covered’; it is naturally the most artificial (not to mention superficial) of lists a visitor of a place can make.
At every turn, there are tourists; nearly everyone gets caught up in everything French. Even the Americans attempt to say Bonjour, Bonsoir and Merci reasonably well before lapsing into the familiar curled r’s.
The city spirals out in a roughly circular fashion, and I walk for a long time, only to get the Eiffel tower back in view again after crossing one of the numerous bridges. The sunny day makes the scene more inviting; I take out my camera, snap, and grunt in frustration that the pictures I take will never resemble the postcards.
The steamier side of Paris materialises in the infamous Montmartre/Place de Clichy area, a street on which I admittedly passed through on purpose after climbing up to gawk at the Sacre-Coeur. At 7 pm in the summer, the area is crowded with panting tourists, street performers and immigrants. Prettily known as the painter’s hill of Paris, Montmartre was a buzzing hive artists and other bohemian activity at the turn of the century but has since degenerated into an area for seedier activities – even bohemian living and irrational French sensibilities had to bow low to rising cost.
Today, the only paintbrushes I see belong to painters who work solely for the tourist trade.
I walked halfway across the city from the Latin Quartier to the Bois de Boulogne, crossed several bridges, passed the various neighbourhoods and was accosted in the middle of the road by an middle-aged Parisian who spoke little English and said many things to me in French at the roadside.
He tried to wish me a good time in Paris and offered me to show me around (I declined politely with a bit of alarm), though I suspect that was not all that he actually mouthed in French.
Many times I thank God that the bookshops carry only French books – they prevent me from spending time and a lot of money in them as I had done in London.
Parisian fashion that has been celebrated as haute couture for so long remains alas, inaccessible for the working class. Street fashion however, is now no different from the rest of the fashion that exists circumscribed in Europe; translating runway fashion to streetwear however has resulted in the mass production of cloyness rather than class. I am amazed that women with walking aids, still shop in them nonetheless.
The last full day in Paris is for last minute shopping, circling the main streets one last time, and cheese-buying. My limited French becomes embarrassingly obvious when I wish the cashier Bonjour instead of Au Revoir when paying. She looks at me pointedly, and tosses a curt Au Revoir before turning to the next customer in line.
I return with legs like jelly after a rather distasteful time in spent in the Metro, and not long after, a demonstration complete with French flags and some weird costumes happens along the Rue des Carmes where I am staying, and everyone, including me, rushes for the camera.
The photo is taken, and then I turn to an effeminate young man slouched on the side of the street watching the activity with a bemused air.
“Oh…it’s just a show, not for real,” he smirks gaily in a rather high-pitched voice. “They all pretend to hate Sarkozy, and the strike is…well…I don’t know, just not real.”
The crowd that is part of the strike, plays to the media, and shouts even louder as they amble downhill. Loud voices now float up to my window; some passionate argument is taking place outside.
The famous idiosyncrasies to which the world universally responds is of course, probably one of the few shared understandings around, only known as a harrumph with a roll of the eyes that sounds suspiciously like – “Ah, the French”.