And so we begin our search. We are looking for the ‘other Paris’. Not the kind that Carol yearned for in the story called ‘The Other Paris’ by Mavis Gallant. Quite on the contrary we begin looking for Paris that is far removed from all its association with romance and literature and art. In fact, the Paris that exists after every layer of imagery bestowed by imagination, artistic or otherwise, is exfoliated.
For what does one do when one has swooned over Paris from atop the Eiffel tower, and Paris on a clear day as seen from Montmarte, and Paris as seen from a boat ride in the Seine, and Paris at night, and Paris that exists in the museums and the boutiques, and Paris of the cafes and churches, and Paris of the movies, and Paris that is every tourist’s fondest dream. Then one simply goes looking for the other Paris.
Sometimes one finds it in the patisserie next to Gare de l’Est, where it gets communicated through a mixture of mispronounced French words, scattered English and imaginative hand gestures. Or sitting in the corner bench opposite the tree laden with mysterious orange fruit, as the sparrows come and peck at our shoes while old men throw them crumbs. Or during breakfast in the rooftop garden among blooming lavender where the honey jars have to be shut tightly lest they attract bees. Or in the eyes of the woman who sings as the train rushes past decaying tenements into the heart of Paris. And in the dragging feet of the little boy whose mother pulls him away even as his eyes are transfixed by the photographs from Antarctica exhibited on the outer walls of Jardin du Luxembourgh. And most poetically expressed by the man who sits with his back to the Eiffel tower as the lights come on.