I didn’t really, really realize it until I tried to explain the different between Paris and Chicago to my sweet French friends. I said something along the lines of “well, Chicago, it’s pretty but it’s not like Paris pretty.” And at that point it dawned on me that Paris and Chicago are incomparable in my mind because somewhere along the line I came to believe that Paris is the most beautiful and excellent city on this entire earth. You might say in response to this “well it is PARIS, afterall” but to be totally honest I had pretty low expectations of the city. During my first visit when I was twelve, we didn’t eat anything good besides street crepes near Notre Dame and a lot of French people were not tolerant of my brother and I’s loud, rambunctious behavior. On a later visit, at age eighteen, I was not disheartened, but also not enthralled the way I was with other cities like London, for example. I basically thought the whole Paris thing was a myth.
Why then, you might ask, did I choose Paris when I could have chosen somewhere I could expect more from? Well, I started out with India and Morocco, but had to rule those out because they seemed impractical with budgetary and academic restraints. Then, I settled upon this program once I talked to some alumni and saw how well designed the courses are for my interests. Still, I thought that I settled for Paris. But now, in the most pathetically enthusiastic sense I am hopelessly in love with this absurd and beautiful city.
A follow up question you might have is, “what changed? what made you love it? Here is a non-exhaustive list:
- The way the city breathes around 5 pm when its starting to get dark and people are milling about everywhere. The myriad of buildings and personalities make for such a lively little place
- Wandering down a completely unknown, never before seen street only to end up back on your favorite street like every adventure you have spits you out into your comfort zone at the end
- Walking past all the beautiful windows displaying the beautiful commercialism that makes this city a “fashion city”
- Good green spaces: Jardin de Plantes, Luxembourg Gardens, Buttes-Chaumont
- Seine-side walks, but also Seine-side everything. Especially sitting near it as the sun goes down and watching reflections on the water
- All the people sitting outside at bistros every evening
In short, I explained to Louise, my French friend, that Chicago really is beautiful, but its design isn’t focused around maximizing the viewer’s pleasure the way that Paris is in its essence. All the time people are walking around and seeking beauty or enjoyment or good company. It’s lively like no other city I’ve ever been to because it seems to live on in beauty with the rest of us.