I proclaim myself to be a ‘Global Citizen’. The borders of a nation, the division into states don’t interest me. In my opinion, your immediate psycho-social connect is with the City you live in. I have always been fascinated by cities, than famous places or tourist spots. It is the city that makes you, breaks you, lifts you, crashes you. You owe a part of your soul to the city, and that’s how you begin that inevitable relationship. If Home is your mother, City is the father. We never notice how big of a role it plays in whatever we become.
I have a few particular cities on my list, that I wish to visit in life, as my mind has generated curiosity for them thanks to the knowledge and news we get these days through media surrounding us, and Paris has unarguably been on the top since very long. Art Capital of the world, Fashion Capital of the world, the First City to Screen a Film, Most Romantic City in the world, City of Lights, City of Cinematheque, City of Napoleon Bonaparte, The City with whom, 896ft above the sea-level, Eiffel in love.
So, yes it was a dream come true to be able to visit what I term as heaven, and every bit of it did feel like a dream. Even though I had well imagined how it would be (based on french films I have seen), I particularly was surprised by the Business District La Défense (close to Paris if not a part of it), the iconic modern engineering marvel Grande Arche and the skyscrapers there which almost challenge Eiffel. Now this was something new, than the usual picture we have of Europe with the little streets and small cafés and art shops on footpaths. Ah Paris, you have so many shades!
And French people do know how to take care of their most precious gem. The city has absolutely flawless transport. You missed a train or a bus? Don’t worry, similar one is coming in 5 minutes. No matter what traffic conditions, it will arrive right on the time displayed on screen. The people are helping by nature (as most of them too are tourists! Haha!) and not too disgusted of tourists, or maybe they’ve developed a habit now. But, they do know how to preserve their heritage, their art pieces, their culture. I went to watch a German Opera (French/English rarely happen, but they were showing translation on a screen) and there wasn’t a single noise from audience throughout the show, but when it ended, everyone applauded for the next 25 minutes, while the cast was bowing to the audiences in a typical Opera-ish cultural way. I booked a ticket for the latest Woody Allen film, Blue Jasmine (which didn’t release in India, for stupid reasons), and they carried on with the show, even though I was the only viewer. It actually felt like a private screening and I was the King of Film-buffs! Warms my heart to know there are people who still value art, this much.
This culture they follow, is not just limited to Paris, but every French person is well acquainted with it. Holding the door open for the person behind you whether you know him/her or not, greeting everyone, not entering the train until those who want to come out have done so, and putting breaks if someone is crossing the streets even if your signal is green. My teammates had given a good ‘KT’ to me about all this, and it really helped while trying to fit in with the colleagues there. My colleagues in Velizy (‘Hinjewadi‘ of Paris! Haha!) at Dassault Systems not only gave me a warm welcome, but played great hosts. And it was with their encouragement and guidance, I tried many varieties of French cuisine, liked them all, and also got addicted to coffee! Of course, its not easy to roam around Paris alone, there is quite a language problem we face, but I was lucky to have my old friend studying there, who helped me not to miss on some lesser known specialties like Angelina‘s Hot Chocolate (arguably the best Hot Chocolate in world), Love Lock bridges and the Inception, Last Tango In Paris fame Bir Hakeim bridge.
But, as days started passing by, I couldn’t help but compare Paris and Pune. Especially as I laughed at the caricature of a Parisian, created by Olivier Giraud, I felt the similarities between a native Parisian and a Puneit, and their pride for their cities. Both cities have their contribution to various art forms. Both cities have grown over time, and are still growing, consuming every little town around them. Both cities have various new faces, but still their roots, their heart remain unchanged. I still remember the discussions me & my French colleague would have over current political scene in France and in India, and he would say France used to be the same. I would take comfort in that, hoping for our better future.
To conclude, above all, Paris would always be my most favourite city. Not because its the first one amongst my list, that I got to visit, but I feel one could actually invest a lifetime to explore it and still won’t ever get fed up. Paris and Eiffel helped me win a battle over acrophobia, if not the war. I know, I owe a lot to my hometown and to Pune (the self-proclaimed second home), but for now my heart belongs to Paris. Isn’t that how newly found love feels like!
“Paris, je t’aime!” There! I said it.