There is a brilliant saying from Margo Martindale's character in the film Paris, je t'aime, Carol in the 14th arrondissement is sitting alone in a park in Paris and says:
"Sitting there, alone in a foreign country, far from my job and everyone I know, a feeling came over me. It was like remembering something I'd never known before or had always been waiting for, but I didn't know what. Maybe it was something I'd forgotten or something I've been missing all my life. All I can say is that I felt, at the same time, joy and sadness. But not too much sadness, because I felt alive. Yes, alive. That was the moment I fell in love with Paris. And I felt Paris fall in love with me."
I cannot recall the first time I fell in love with Paris, the nor first time I fell in smitten with French men. It was well before joining a Nicolas Sarkozy fan page and a rogue facebook poke that lead me to have my first grown-up affair that played out in glimpses of Chantal Thomass in posh parks, ridiculously small elevators and backs of motorbikes. It was well before my friend Karina and I labelled our time in Paris as la nouveau Belle Époque. I think perhaps I fell in love with the idea of Paris as a suburban apartment owning, in a long term defacto relationship, the next in our clique to be married Melbourne office worker whose lunchtimes were spent reading lonely planet guides and Paris based non fiction books, it was sitting on a park bench in Paris with my partner of 10 years at the time musing how I really wanted to live here and he responded with "you could not survive her on your own", it was years after that remark, travelling to Paris on my own for the first time, getting off at Gare Du Nord to what would become familiar chimes of arrival, buying a paper map and walking up by myself to Montmatre sitting on the same Park bench, crying and trying to convince myself that I can live here, I just needed to make it happen. It just took me a while.
Paris has been a long time in the making. Why Paris? Why not is the succinct answer to that? It's not all pretty hues, delicious palettes and romantic tastes. It's not all lemon sorbet drizzled with crushed macaroons. It's not all handsome men with majestic cocks and whimsical affairs. Paris is dirty and urine-soaked, bourgeois apartment owners are putting profit over Parisians forcing full-time Paris dwellers to the periphery of Paris, incomes are low and the cost of living high.
As a tourist, it's easy to see Paris as a city of light and love and ignore the smell of piss as just a city quirk. That is not the Paris I know or why I stay. I've lost lovers here, ended a nine-year affair with a married man here, taken pregnancy tests in French, started bleeding in a pretty French cafe when I miscarried babies, become distant with once close friends and lost wallets. My friend had her drink spiked on a night out, I lost her for 12 hours - she was gang raped, the only reason I did not drink my drink that the police suspect was spiked because I was having an argument on the phone with a french lover and when I came back, she was gone. I left her for 5 minutes, I feel terrible remorse about that. I've fucked misogynists simply because of the way the looked and the promise of what outlines beneath a pair of well-fitted jeans, been asked if I wanted to sleep on the couch post fucking. Was flung off the back of a motorbike in an accident. I've smoked spliff in backs of cars driving along avenue des Champs-Élysées and gotten lost in La Defence. I've road-tripped with famous photographers. Been invited to exhibition openings for Paris Photo. Woken up to the smell of a vomit soaked bed post-drug-fuelled fucking sessions that ended in a collection of out of focus polaroids, I have a stash of polaroids from the MDMA and cocaine inspired evenings. Walked urine saturated streets at five in the morning post-shooting. Walked home in the rain. Alone. My facebook reminders are full of snippets of the lives of the French men who once fucked me. Facebook reminds me of the senior partner at a law firm I lived with for 3 months in the 16th arrondissement and the banker from Neuilly-sur-Seine. I've had my fair share of threesomes and foursomes with men who find the rarity of a pretty Australian living in Paris to alluring to resist. Grown-up fucking sans payment and the games men think they need to play to convince themselves they are not paying for sex.
I do write in Paris and for a PhD student with deadlines whooshing over her head, then Paris is the inspiration I need to ensure for my little family unit that I am bestowed with the title of Doctor. Eventually. That pesky Hemmingway was on to something providing you can avoid the booze and fucking.
Paris feels like coming home. More home than home. I'm a better version of me here. I write better here, I fuck better here. Never does payment change hands. I have no interest in the work of sex here. I dress better here. I am a better lover, friend, visual artist, student, photographer, insert whatever else and I am a better version of me here.