Paris is everything the starry-eyed, six year old version of myself imagined it would be. Demure couples wandering idyllic streets hand in hand, stopping now and then to amorously brush a hand across a cheek. Artful buildings displaying charming floral arrangements on each and every dreamy windowsill. Stricken with romance and poetry and ravishment, the city exudes glamour from another era.
I got swept up in the flirtation, picnicking with prosecco beneath the Eiffel Tower while it twinkled with white lights. Riding down the Seine at dusk. Walking through Sacre Coeur with a lit candle, dancing to the church bells of Notre Dame and wandering the Louvre indulgently.
But the most enchanting part of Paris, the part that lives in my memory in vivid color, wasn’t the quintessential image of Parisian elegance. No. I found the most beautiful part of Paris in a field just outside the city center.
We were taking a train out towards an old restored warehouse that was acting as a temporary home to a textile show we had scored passes to. As our trek began, I watched the city, fiercely alive, rushing past the windows as we seemingly stood still. Well-dressed women and fantastic architecture. Beauty and blossoms and passion and light and art.
Then suddenly, as if we were transported by a wormhole to another space in time, we were no longer surrounded by a buzzing city, but instead, a desolate wasteland. We rolled slowly down the only viable track. The others were rusted and severed; some just ended without any warning, burying themselves in the dirt. The grass, dead and dried out, stood erect and three feet high, looking fixedly in at the cavalcade of interlopers, as if suspicious of our presence in their neglected village.
Discarded buildings were scattered carelessly across the landscape, brazenly displaying their brokenness. Like ghosts, faded letters on the shattered windows of one-time storefronts uttered whisperings of the past. The once strong, cast iron fence to a charming apartment terrace had morphed into a menacing display of jagged spikes. Tattered, sun-beaten clothes hung limply from clotheslines; defeated in their forgottenness. Dumpsters, unable to hold all of the shit they were keeping inside themselves for a second longer, regurgitated filth and debris onto the ground around them.
I heard disenchanted snorts throughout the train-car as we rolled, but I was mesmerized.
I began to fall in love with Paris the same way I had ever fallen in love with anyone.
At first glance she was beautiful. My god, was she beautiful. Fresh faced and poised. She fascinated me. I had to know more. So I started trying to figure out her patterns, the things that made her tick. I began to pick up on her subtleties. Her quiet beauty. Her eccentricities. The more I found, the more I believed she was made of magic. The embodiment of perfection. How could there ever be anything wrong with Paris?
Then one fine day that beautiful face contorted as she shouted with anger and frustration, “I AM NOT PERFECT.”
And I watched bewitched, as she showed me the dirty, messy, broken parts of her. Her loneliness and her heartache. Her shattered windows and empty buildings. Like too-full dumpsters, she was vomiting up the anxieties that she couldn’t hold inside herself for another second.
She was beautiful and sort of fucked up and I loved her more for it. For the brokenness, the imperfection, is what put depth into her eyes and fire into her soul. It helped her speak with knowledge and listen with understanding. It showed that under all those pretty flowers, she had waged wars and won. It’s what made her stop being a fantasy and start being a reality.
I loved her abstractly before. Frivolously. It’s easy to love the beautiful bits.
But now I loved her fiercely. Profoundly. It’s enrapturing to love something entirely.