It was the place where jazz emanated from dustless pianos into the night and until strength wore out from calloused fingers. Wine and whiskey seemed to flow out of a limitless tap and into the glasses of dreamers and doers. The strike of midnight may as well have been the sound of a starting gun for there was no stopping the shared schedule of ‘drink, write, repeat’. To be fair, there may have been some dancing, as writers and philosophers need exercise too.
This is the Paris of our dreams; the Paris we yearn to live and breath as we set our eyes on la Tour Eiffel from a distance. It’s the Paris that has its own accordion-filled background music no matter what narrow street you find yourself meandering through. Romanticism is a real thing, people.
It’s a nice image isn’t it: this ideal version of Paris.
But go for a leisurely walk down the Seine in the middle of the night and instead of basking in a romantic, moonlit affair, you may find yourself amidst shameless peddlers and teams of relentless gypsies. Approach an attractive stranger to ask for directions and don’t be offended when they ignore you completely. Stay too late at a bar where you’d expect to make new friends and instead of being invited to a late night gathering of friendly locals, you may just be asked to leave.
It’s disheartening to know that so much has changed, but did we truly expect otherwise? Did we think time would freeze just to entertain our dreams and imaginations?
There is still hope, though. I promise. Take a stroll down Montparnasse on a summer afternoon and you will be relieved to see La Rotonde and Les Deux Magots are still buzzing with the chatter of expats and locals alike. And if you’re feeling nostalgic and want a taste of the old times, pay a visit to those dusty shelves inside used bookstores carrying the evidence of a literature-obsessed community of once upon a time.
On those sunny weekends, as you awake from your nap by the fountain in Jardin des Tuileries, take the long way home past the Louvre and you might just happen upon a pair of orchestra students playing their cellos wistfully beneath an acoustically perfect archway. And as you stumble out of the local bar with friends you met earlier that day, don’t be a bit surprised when the handsome owner offers your group a shot (or ten) on the house as a technique to ask for your number. This is Paris, after all, and it wouldn’t be the same without a bit of romance and butterflies.
So although the pianos may be out of tune and the accordion player on vacation, if you look close enough, you might be delighted to find that the magic of “la Ville Lumière” is still alive and well in all of the little things.