I’ve listed below my top ten reasons to travel to Paris. Maybe you’ll be able only to visit a day or two, or stay for a week, or maybe you’ll be able to move your household to the Left Bank. In my modest 60 days here, these are the reasons I think make sense for making the effort to visit this spectacular (the Eiffel Tower!) and difficult (this is the third day of a transporation strike and I’m not sure how I’ll get to the airport on Sunday) French capital.
10. Paris is part of your literary culture. You’ve read literature based in Paris or you’ve seen plays and movies based on French books. From Honore Balzac to Victor Hugo to Jules Verne to Marcel Proust, Paris holds much of your impressions of the world of words. I saw Victor Hugo’s home today on La Place des Vosges. I saw Marcel Proust’s bedroom reassembled in the Musee Carnavalet yesterday. And I’ve seen Auguste Rodin’s plaster and bronze images of Honore Balzac at the Rodin Museum. This is the real deal.
9. Paris is part of your media culture. From seeing photos of American infantrymen marching under the Arc de Triomphe in 1944 to episodes of “Sex in the City” with Carrie and Big to thinking you know what goes on at the Moulin Rouge, this city is part of your own story. It’s time for you to get over here and fill in the blanks.
8. Paris is part of your comedy culture. You grew up watching Pepe le Pew or listening to Eddie Izzard talk about France. You’ve heard all the Frenchmen jokes. You’re already mad at the French waiters, and you may have never even gone to a Parisian restaurant. Forget the “Freedom fries”‘; get some great pommes frites. Time to get the real scoop.
7. Paris is part of your art heritage. Not every artist lived in Paris, but they probably have all worked here a bit or traveled through here trying to sell their work. The large museums here hold many thousands of works of art from Egyptian sculpture to 18th century bedrooms to 19th century romantic scuptures to Impressionist paintings to modern installations. You’ll see so many things from your art history classes, your head will spin.
6. Paris generates an enormous amount of information. You can go online to rent an apartment. You can go to your local bookstore tp find many guidebooks and travel essays on this city. There are also blogs and Internet sites where American ex-pats discuss living here. It’s easy to start amassing information for your trip.
5. Paris is a big but easily accessible city. The buses and subway trains are numerous and well marked. The RER trains can take you on wonderful day trips (such as to St. Denis, Giverny, and Versailles). The taxis are fairly reasonable, and you can also rent bicycles. There are strikes, but walking is also fascinating. During our present strike, I’ve walked long distances, and, the longer I live here, the shorter these distances become.
4. Paris has a romantic reputation. Most of that reputation is based on things that have absolutely nothing to do with you, such as the Moulin Rouge and movies with Fred Astaire. But say, “I’m going to Paris” to someone, and they usually will gasp and refer to Paris’s reputation as sexy, romantic, or thrilling. Even with strikes, dirty streets, too much smoking, over-priced coffee, and fickle weather, Paris instills a special feeling for all visitors. You don’t have to speak French to have a wonderful time here.
3. Paris continues to get cleaned up and renovated. I was amazed at how clean the front facade of Notre-Dame was this time around. When I visited in 2002, the statues, gargoyles, and rose window looked filthy. Now they’re dazzling. Parisians work hard to blast, restore, and rebuild their attractions. Many other buildings need a good scrub, but, considering the ages of these churches and statues, a little grim is understandable.
2. Paris holds an experience for just you. This is a city with sights and secrets just waiting for you. You won’t have Hemingway’s experience, you won’t have Gertrude Stein’s experience, and you won’t have my experience. What happens in Paris will stay in your heart and in your deepest memory. Its mystery waits here for you.
1. Paris won’t stand still. Many parts of Paris are protected and preserved, but there is no guarantee that a new president or a new movement of some kind won’t raze precious buildings and museums that you had always wanted to see. Now’s the time, now’s the season. Encourage your friends, your family, your partner, and your children to visit this cultural center. Start the planning.