by Jessica E. Lapidus © 2002
There is a french word that I often use to describe the feeling I get from Paris: Réjouissance – exhilaration. To me, Paris is a sexy, beautiful, fickle woman, rich and lush, full of passion. One of the first things I ever did in Paris was stand under the Eiffel Tower, her four legs spread wide in welcome as I strained my neck to get a better look under her dress. I felt like an International Gynecologist, gazing wide-eyed and slack-jawed into her gaping gash of steel.
There are a lot of things to do in Paris, but a favorite of the locals is to drink wine. Parisians like to drink, and they like to get drunk. I loved to stand on a streetcorner, smoke Gauloises, and listen to drunk men speaking in French. Parisian French, in particular, has a lovely, tangy sound, thick and dense. When it is spiked with a bottle or two of good Cabernet, it becomes almost sludgy.
“Eh, minou, petit minou, quelle heure?”
They slur to me, “little kitten, what time is it?”
I tell them, and when they ask me next if I am wearing underwear, I just laugh at them. And then they remind me that even swearing (catin!) sounds beautiful in their language.
The minute the sun sets, the lush, passionate Paris becomes a whore, dark and mysterious, with glistening eyes. The Bateaux Mouches, the “Fly Boats” that move down the Seine, float through wealthy, riverside residential areas. Sitting in the bow of the boat, you can see people eating dinner by candlelight under the high ceilings of their apartments. As the boat comes around to return to port, it passes a graffiti-ridden wall, lined with kids sparking joints filled with high-quality Parisian hashish, and if you’re lucky the cool wind will blow some smoke to you. But the kids are not afraid of you or the gendarmes, because it seems that somehow they feel they are safe in the cloak of the Paris night, under her bridges and resting on her shores.
The last time I visited Paris I was traveling with my mother. She was feeling ill one evening, so I took a bus to Pigalle. Pigalle is an area of Paris akin to the old Times Square. Henry Miller had lived there, and I had always wanted to visit the neighborhood, if only to get a sense of where he had been when he had done some of his best (not to mention raunchiest) writing. Every movie theatre in Pigalle is showing 1970s porn, and standing under every marquee are men hawking “spices” to perhaps make your moviegoing experience a little more enjoyable. Around every corner in Pigalle is a hooker in a red fur coat, and crossing the street toward her is a john, fresh from “Deep Throat” and thoroughly spiced.
When I returned to Boston from my last visit to France, I raved about Pigalle, and a friend asked me to describe it. I told her, “Pigalle looks, sounds, and smells like a whore, high on her own stench, ready to fall in love.”
And then I thought, that’s really what Paris is to me, too. Paris is extravagant, overdone, wearing too much eyeshadow. The Champs Elysées charges too much, the Eiffel Tower has been climbed too many times, and the entire city is drunk. And yet, despite it all, I cannot resist her.
Jessica E. Lapidus is a writer originally from New York City.