I approach you to discuss the capital of France with malice in my eyes. Not that you’d have known it, approaching as I am from just behind you
[here, I had written a sentence comparing the sticky curl of my tongue in your ear to escargot – then realised that was exactly the kind of writing I despise, so struck it out].
I hate Paris in the same way I hate precious metaphors. If nothing else, Paris is a precious metaphor; and one that will have started working on you, I imagine, the moment you read the title of this piece — hence the malice writhing at the back of your skull. Because the Paris of the imagination, precious metaphorical Paris, the one that exists in the minds of tourists, romantics and cultured types, is even more dreary than the city itself.
And it is a terribly dreary place. Fussy, subdued, expensive and, worst of all, full of Parisians
[in a bid to keep things light, here I’ve scrubbed out remarks about segregation and how, even in a city so refined, gentrification is relentless, visible and cruel],
extended stays soon put to rights any notion that the place is somehow immune to the ennui of the 21st century metropolis
Beyond the tight knot of tourist friendly spots, transport is awful; sclerotic administrative bodies drain the energy from you like [cooking simile];
the noise will do your nut in, whether it’s neighbourhood bars, constant traffic or bastard manifestations by every bastard group you can imagine (the spirit of ’68 really sours when Génération Identitaire is in the streets); 50cc now of Parisian air is more likely to give you asthma than any kind of thrill
[was going to say cancer, but thought I’d tone it down].
Say what you like about the natives, at least they have the decency to resent the place.
And that’s the real problem with the City of Light. None of the things listed above, problems testifying to the fact that Paris isn’t special, matter in a way that provokes particular malice. The problem is the image the city has, the metaphor of it, what it represents.
The Belle Epoque, the Fin de siècle, the Années folle, a period I’ll just class here as “Nouvelle Vague Cool”
[don’t get too caught up on these specifics, the point is to say: the cultural moment that you most associate with it],
Paris barely seems to have changed since 1979 for the majority who visit and fetishize it.
It is the middle-class theme park par excellence, the aspirant’s Disney, where those too chic to queue for Space Mountain line up to get into Shakespeare & Co. Whether you go for a spot of upmarket shopping, to chin-stroke your way around a museum or for days as a full-blown flâneur
[I despise myself],
it’s all there – La vie Parisienne! — and yours for the taking; all within a walkable radius and beautifully printed on a tote.
How dreadfully boring; how played out. And twee. And precious.
And for eighteen months we had a respite from it. No tourists, no visitors, the city finally assuming the form that’s lay hidden behind its veneer of stately and profitable ville musée: Paris as a mausoleum, its tombs amongst the finest you could hope to find, its ghosts the most beguiling you could wish to encounter
[no need for lists here, refer to your own litanies; I refuse you mine].
And now you will be coming back.
But enough with spleen
[rancour too, at Paris, has been done to death],
I am nothing but a jealous lover.
I’m writing this at my parents’ house in Wales, having spent the majority of the last eighteen months confined to an attic in the 14th arrondissement. 9m², up seven flights of stairs, with a view over rooftops to the Eifel tower, I’ve never been happier anywhere than I am in that little room
[kitchen/study/bedroom/bathroom all-in-one — bijou, a twat might say];
one week away and, even in the circumstances, I’m amazed how much I miss it.
If that sounds romantic, it’s because it is, and, having gone native to a degree I could never have anticipated, I resent it all immensely.
Paris has a hold on me; I belong to it. And it is as precious
[jeu de mots]
to me as anything can be. Conscious of its hold, I turn my malice against anyone who reflects my attachment and starry-eyed enthusiasms
[especially when the references are off or – god forbid – they have a stronger claim than I].
Curdling against myself and it, I fall back onto the comforts of virulence, cursing the lot of you and giving you the stink eye, all the while clinging desperately to the city like, one might be inclined to say
[I would never],
some kind of sticky gastropod or, and more disgusting yet, un beau idéal.
Tobias Ryan lives in Paris, where he works as an English teacher and translator. Newsletter: https://tobiasryan.substack.com/. Twitter: @TobiasvRyan