Everyone, it seems, has written or is writing about Paris. Yesterday, at the local bookstore, as I browsed the travel section Paris it appeared was the place where most people wanted to be. Will Self, in Psychogeography (the collection of his Psychogeography columns from the Independent, illustrated by Ralph Steadman), writes, “Tourism is a search for a place that will embrace you”. Paris, I concluded, is the place most people want to be embraced by. Will Paris reciprocate the gesture? Well, that’s an entirely different matter.
Regardless of the embrace or lack of it, all the books on Paris were about the authors' ‘Paris story’ and everyone had a story worth the telling. I, too have a Paris story. I think more than a single story. The closest to my heart are the ones where I walk into Paris that is right out of a Mavis Gallant story. The stories of Mavis Gallant, in my opinion embrace Paris. You can interpret this statement howsoever you want to.
As with every affair, bound by love or hate, it is the first memory that is indelible. That instance when you realize you have fallen in love, or in hate.
My first trip to Paris was marked by extremely propitious circumstances. A few days before the flight I got a call that informed me that the work I had been a part of had won a Gold Lion at Cannes. It was, but of course, exhilarating. But though I had been there to witness the work from its birth, to its growth and culmination. It wasn’t my baby. My name appeared on the certificate just because I had been there. That is how it is with awards. I, myself, laid to claim to it. So, the exhilaration was not for me but for the vindication of an undertaking that had been deemed impossible. That is a story best told on some other forum.
It should come as no surprise then if I say I too embraced Paris (and Paris returned the gesture) though it was a circuitous embrace with detours to Amsterdam, Germany and Vienna. All except the last not part of the initial travel plan. That is what ‘winning’ entails. And that is why awards, especially in certain professions, are so coveted. That is till one wins an award. After the ‘winning’ is done one can assume nonchalance and indifference to all the shenanigans. But somewhere deep down we are still a child dreaming of holding aloft a gleaming trophy, the proof of our triumph. Does the trophy change anything? The answer is a complicated yes and no.
On the evening before the flight back home as I walked along the Seine after all the winning and detours had been dealt with I knew life wouldn’t be the same the moment I would touch down. In just under a month of wandering the street of Europe, life, as I had known it had ceased to exist. As I type these words the enormity of it all once again overwhelms. How little it takes to overturn the apple cart?
A few years have passed since then. And contrary to my concern (in the lines above) life never overwhelms. Sometimes the sun refuses to shines outside the window, sometimes it never ceases to give it a rest. In darkness, as in light, we manage just fine.
And Paris. Well, Paris too goes on. People move in and out of its streets. Some devastated by its indifference, others glad for its transient embrace. They too, irrespective of their experiences, get on. We all live to see what the next day brings. For, when it comes to life there is only one reassuring constant– it goes on. Unmindful of any particular triumph or loss.