True Paris - "Le vrai Paris"
“…and of course I love Paris!”, that is what a nice elderly lady from Australia wholeheartedly told me on my flight back from Paris to Madrid when she was explaining to me her busy trip through Europe. I couldn’t agree more and so do, I suppose, millions of tourist who come to visit the city of light year after year. It should be mentioned of course that it is easy to enjoy Paris as a tourist, walking around, cherry-picking the highlights of the city and feeling bohemian and romantic for some days. There are other stories as well, those from writers who had a hard time in Paris although they had a feeling that they should go to that very city. Take for example the American writer Henry Miller, who spent years in Paris dealing with financial difficulties but found it liberating and inspiring to be just there.
Brassai writes about him in his book “Henry Miller – The Paris Years”
“Paris became to him a ‘mother, mistress, home, and muse,’ and Miller tried to fathom what it was about the city that inspired such tender passion. Was it the streets and houses, with their almost human faces? The old stones? The trees, the cafés, the boutiques, the bistros? The more Miller reflected on it, the more he realised that the sources of Parisian magic were innumerable, intangible, and ineffable. ‘L’air de Paris’, he thought, was not only in the air but in the cobblestones and soil, the flesh and blood of the people. You became part of it with the bread you ate, the coffee you drank. It was insubstantial, but it wafted its way down into the smallest details of French life, and once he smelled it, he would never forget: ‘Walking the streets of Paris the bookshops and art galleries never cease to remind one of the heritage of the past and the fever of the present. A random jaunt through one little quarter is sufficient often to create such a glut of emotions that one is paralysed with conflicting impulses and desires. One needs no artificial stimulations, in Paris to create. The air is saturated with creation’ (Henry Miller: “Remember to Remember”)”
— BRASSAI “HENRY MILLER – THE PARIS YEARS” (PAGE 26,27)
And Henry Miller writes in his book “Tropic of Cancer” the following about Paris:
“It is now the fall of my second year in Paris. I was sent here for a reason I have not yet been able to fathom. I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. “
… “Easter came in like a frozen hare – but it was fairly warm in bed. Today it is lovely again and along the Champs-Elysées at twilight, it is like an outdoor seraglio choked with dark-eyed hours. The trees are in full foliage and of a verdure so pure, so rich, that it seems as though they were still wet and glistening with dew. From the Palais du Louvre to the Etoile it is like a piece of music for the pianoforte.”
… “And God knows, when spring comes to Paris the humblest mortal alive must feel that he dwells in paradise.”
… “Paris is filled with poor people – the proudest and filthiest lot of beggars that ever walked the earth, it seems to me. And yet they give the illusion of being at home. It is what distinguishes the Parisian from all other metropolitan souls. When I think of New York I have a very different feeling. New York makes even a rich man feel his unimportance. New York is cold, glittering, malign “
— HENRY MILLER, TROPIC OF CANCER (KINDLE EDITION)
So far Henry Miller. Many other things could be mentioned about what differentiates Paris from other places, about what makes it special. I found one interesting answer about that topic when I was reading what Paul Graham expresses about Paris in his essay “Cities and ambition”
“Paris was once a great intellectual centre. If you went there in 1300, it might have sent the message Cambridge does now. But I tried living there for a bit last year, and the ambitions of the inhabitants are not intellectual ones. The message Paris sends now is: do things with style. I liked that, actually. Paris is the only city I’ve lived in where people genuinely cared about art. In America, only a few rich people buy original art, and even the more sophisticated ones rarely get past judging it by the brand name of the artist. But looking through windows at dusk in Paris you can see that people there actually care what paintings look like. Visually, Paris has the best eavesdropping I know”