Is Romanticized Paris Too Good to Be True?
American romantic comedies convince us that many a happy ending takes place in Paris. They assure us that the moment we step off the plane at Charles de Gaulle, we will fall under the euphoric spell of romantic Paris and dance through the city eating bread, cheese and macarons. Sleepy couples visit the city expecting to rekindle the flame during a sunset embrace on the pont des Arts, aspiring novelists arrive hoping to find lightning-strike inspiration while tucked away in a sun-drenched studio overlooking the place des Vosges and, of course, starry-eyed romantics come hoping to be whisked away on a Vespa by a beau garçon perhaps named Jean-Luc. Grossly sentimental these notions may be, but there’s a reason the city attracts dreamers. After all, Paris was made great by romantics, from Impressionist painters such as Gustave Caillebotte, who captured la ville lumière along the banks of the Seine, to expats like Margaret Anderson, who called Paris “a city in which one loves to live.”
And yet so many people wrinkle their noses at this romanticized Paris. They insist that Paris is just like any other cosmopolitan city: cold, rude and dirty. They refer to the French having made a national sport out of striking, to the infamously rude waiters who make you want to throw your café crème in their faces, and to the dog-poo-smeared sidewalks that leave you playing hopscotch more often than walking. They urge you to take off your rose-colored glasses and come to terms with dispiriting reality, in the same way that your girlfriends encourage you to wake up from the honeymoon period of a new relationship. They warn you of the inevitable disappointment that comes when the novelty wears off, when the twilight glow over the rooftops and the raspberry-garnished lemon tarts in the patisserie windows become just sights you pass, not sights that stop you. And there’s certainly some truth in these claims: when the hiccups and headaches of real, everyday life kick in, perhaps disenchantment will follow suit.
It seems that the beauty of Paris is what most people take for granted when they live here long-term. Of course, beauty in this city is as readily available as a ketchup-smothered hamburger in the States, but the instances of beauty—both grandiose and small, both unmistakable and hardly noticeable—make it impossible to ever tire of Paris. There is the obvious beauty: the Haussmannian architecture, the ethereal art collections and the storefront windows, as well as the perfumeries, chocolatiers and stationers that preserve the city’s charms and traditions. But then there is the idiosyncratic beauty particular to Paris—the rose petals scattered outside flower shops at the end of the day, or the way each arrondissement seems to sing its own tune. On the street where I live there is an unassuming door that I have passed hundreds of times, and just recently I walked by while it was open. Inside was a grand hôtel particulier with an exquisite courtyard encased in elaborate vines of ivy, with a little fountain perched at its center. By sheer coincidence, I found a secret garden. It is these kinds of unexpected moments, when we catch sight of something beautiful just by chance, that open us up to new discoveries.
To wear rose-colored glasses is not to have unrealistic fantasies or to aspire to live inside that Sofia Coppola ad, where a couture-clad mademoiselle floats above Paris holding a bunch of balloons. But I do think there’s merit in a bit of rose-tinting: a bad day at work can be improved by the knowledge that a good meal and a glass of wine wait at the end of it, just as stepping in dog poo with your left foot is said to bring you good luck!
I’ve lived in Paris for most of my life; I’m as well acquainted with its streets as I am with its imperfections, but that still hasn’t shaken the dreamer out of me. I can still feel wonderstruck by those tiny moments of beauty that saturate my romantic Paris, and it’s going to take much more than dog poo and rude waiters to make me take off my rose-colored glasses.
Editor’s note: For a full selection of romantic hotels in Paris, please consult
our Book It section. We love Hôtel Recamier and the Four Seasons Hotel George V for serious love affairs!
More of Camille’s writings and photos can be found at www.parisinpink.com.