There are certain places around the globe you can go to that just don’t seem real. Standing before certain buildings, monuments & natural wonders can often be a very surreal experience, feeling less like a day out of real life & a lot more like being on a movie set.
Or, more accurately… in an actual movie.
Whenever I go to Washington D.C., it feels bizarre to me, as though I’ve been inserted into the middle of a news report, or some exciting action flick. I’ve constantly got my eyes peeled for a bad guy to come tearing through the crowd, pursued by a determined hero with a pistol in his hand. I periodically check the skies for aliens, who as we all know, only land in major cities with well-known buildings & monuments.
As anyone can imagine, Paris is no different. In fact, for Americans, it’s probably even more surreal. Seeing something like the Eiffel Tower for the first time is an awesome experience. I first saw it 12 years ago. I’ve lived in France for almost 5 years & it still impresses me whenever I see it. It’s something that I grew up seeing in movies, paintings & photographs of faraway places.
Every time I tuned in to my favorite TV show, there was Paris in the background.
It wasn’t a real place. It was a character in a movie. It was a fantasy, a place where fictional characters go to have adventures & fairy-tale romances of mythical proportions.
When I decided that I would be moving to Paris, my destination wasn’t a place of real-life or fictional fantasy. The truth is, I was too caught up in the whirlwind to really think much about it either way. So, I packed up my shit & headed for Paris – Montmartre, to be more precise.
You know Montmartre… you’ve seen it before, even if you haven’t ever been to France.
Well… just to name a few.
One thing I can say for a fact is, the Montmartre that I lived in had nothing to do with the Montmartre that I had seen in these movies. In spite of the fact that I had seen my own front door in Amélie.
Montmartre is my favorite part of Paris. It’s multi-cultural, full of artists & bohemian types & definitely feels more… Parisian. However, actually being there, living there amidst the day-to-day just doesn’t feel as quaint as movie Montmartre.
One of the first things I noticed after I moved in with Olivier was the blackness. A layer of blackness on the walls, ceiling & windows. Black shit every time I blew & picked my nose. I freaked out. I cleaned everything from top to bottom: wine bottles, book spines, windows, inside & out… little corners of shelves & baseboards all had to be sterilized & polished. Once I got the entire place clean & had all of the black shit out of my nose, it was time to start over.
So… what was all of this nasty black crud? Air pollution. With the shit floating in the air, combined with the humidity, there would eventually be a residue that would stick to surfaces in our apartment & would of course, wreak havoc on sinuses. Granted, being from a small town in northern Colorado, I was a bit hypersensitive to chunky black air.
But, at least life in Paris was tranquil, aside from that, right?
Rush hour was especially fun, when hundreds of motorists would sit bumper to bumper on every street surrounding our apartment, honking their horns nonstop – I guess because if you honk a horn for 10 minutes straight, it can actually cause a traffic light to change colors, or can magically give the person in front of you the ability to drive their car through solid objects, allowing you to finally move.
The bar down the street, while it was a fun place to hang out, insured that we would always have plenty of shouting drunkies roaming about in the street below our bedroom window at 3am.
There were the upstairs neighbors, who enjoyed jumping up & down on the cardboard-thin divider between their apartment & ours, dancing to Bollywood music at midnight, blasting techno at 4am, or throwing parties on a Tuesday night.
Did I mention that behind our apartment were 2 schools? Yep… a middle school & an elementary school. Recess was deafening.
Quaint? Tranquil? Not exactly. A movie-like fairy tale? No fucking way.
Needless to say, I didn’t get much writing done during those 2 & a half years in Montmartre.
Sure, going for a walk around the area was nice from time to time… as long as you manage to avoid the countless herds of tourists. The well-known stairs of Montmartre do indeed add to the charm & are undeniably picturesque… as long as you’re in good shape & are not in a rush to get somewhere. Hopefully, you don’t mind being covered in sweat when you arrive, either.
I sometimes have to laugh when someone says to me, “Ooh! Paris! You’re so lucky!” Sure, I am lucky. I know this. And there many things that I love about Paris. But there is always that fucking problem about where the grass is greener. When someone would say this to me, I would automatically think of driving my car on big, open highways in America, rather than standing around in a hot, dirty métro station.
Better yet is when you get to ride the métro with someone who shouts their hard luck story to everyone on the train, begging for money. It’s staggering how often this happens. Occasionally, there is some sort of urine surprise or passenger who seems like a plague victim, which is fun, too.
Many people, when they would say, “Ooh! Paris! You’re so lucky!” have images of the Eiffel Tower & shiny boats on the Seine swirling about in their heads. During my 2 & a half years in Paris, I didn’t wake up & look out the window to a scene from a movie every morning.
I woke up to real life – just as real & underwhelming as anywhere else.
Paris is a big city. Not as far as the amount of land that it sits on, but definitely as far as everything that is inside of it. There are millions of people all smooshed together. There isn’t the level of crime compared to a place like New York City, but it’s there, right along with the graffiti, hordes of hobos, street toughs, air & noise pollution. Most of the movies imported to the U.S. don’t show you that & it’s easy to get deluded.
Of course, in spite of my cynicism & shattered delusions of movie set Paris, I’m still keeping my eyes peeled when I’m in the vicinity of surreal locations with great monuments because you know… when the shit goes down, that’s where it’ll happen. Aliens & bad guys love big cities with famous monuments.
Since we’ve moved out of Paris to the suburbs, it’s been a relief. Less noise, less black shit to extract from my nose – unless I’ve spent the day in the city – & my serenity level has been restored to normal. As you might imagine, French life outside of Paris is just as quaint as you’ve seen on TV & movies. Yep… every day is pretty much like this: