Basking in the City of Light

There is something to the winding streets, the delicious baguette sandwiches, and of course the friendly people.

Paris. There’s something magic about the city even as smog threatens the lungs of those venturing outside, and when it leads to the city banning half of the vehicles from driving, you know it’s a real problem.

But even so, there’s something magnificent about the pollution. More like a sandy dust was suspended in the air. The way the Tour Eiffel appears out of the light haze just a block away, soaring over the surrounding buildings, a view like there’s a high contrast filter in front of your eyes.

The fog wasn’t that bad while I was there last month, certainly nothing like what was going soon after in London, so maybe that’s part of the beauty I saw.

But there is something to the winding streets, the delicious baguette sandwiches at every bakery along the way, and of course the friendly people.

I heard tales of rude people in Paris, but never seemed to encounter any. Maybe I was there in the right time of year, as the flowers bloomed and the tastiest snail-shaped pastries were coming out of the oven. Everyone seemed to want to say hello as they sipped drinks at the cafe and nibbled on buttery desserts topped.

I’ve found those stories are usually unfounded and outdated everywhere I’ve been — with people talking about the rumours of their neighbours even if they haven’t visited them.

I also discovered that I didn’t speak the French I thought I did. As I tried to converse with the locals I quickly became aware that the muscles in my jaw that I’d trained for many years in French Immersion class had atrophied. The perfect French I could hear in my mind couldn’t make it past my mouth. It was like trying to cut bread with a  stick.

Then, as if discovering that the bread could be torn apart, I found I could redevelop those muscles by reading every sign and printed word aloud, my words took on the pliability that is needed to blend into the French language.

And blend I did, as I no longer found myself immediately confronted with a conversation in English, instead I had momentary French conversations that quickly stalled when an unknown French word (to me) came up. Suddenly like a spy who’s been discovered I’d retreat from the conversation and wish I’d brought a dictionary.

On the other hand though, my brothers, who have little knowledge of French had a great time in Paris as well. They liked it so much they took the six-hour train ride not once, but twice from Switzerland.

One of the draws was the coffee culture of the city. In far slung places around the city there are some unique coffee creations being attempted.

One place, in the winding streets near the famous Louvre Museum, struck me as being on the forefront of scientific-looking coffee creations.

On top of having the cappuccino machines they also had coffee presses, cone drip filters and regular coffee makers. On the shelves though there were many far more unusual ways to intake coffee, one of which was to inhale it through a straw from a coffee vaporizer. I don’t really imagine that will be catching on real soon here, but it’s cool to think that if you get tired of drinking coffee in a liquid form, there’s always the gaseous state for intake.

Probably my favourite thing about Paris was just walking around the city streets late at night. When my brothers and I happened two late night crepe stands, having a crepe seemed like the right thing to do. The one crepe stand had a line-up of a few people, while the other was pretty much empty. Of course we decided to go with the popular one. As the night went on in this crepe line up the other line started to get bigger. Pretty soon the whole street was packed with people trying to get a crepe, and it became kind of a happening place, people congregating around the crepe makers, laughing and having a good time, even though it was two in the morning.

That’s why Paris is great, because at two in the morning when you need a crepe and a lot of people to chat with, it is there waiting for you.

Arne Petryshen is a reporter at the Cranbrook Daily Townsman.