De-Romanticizing the City of Love
The beginning of most romantic relationships proves a happy period of time. During the honeymoon phase, as it’s popularly called, partners tend to come to mutual decisions easily, avoid bickering, and embrace in public approximately ten times more than is necessary.
All good things must come to an end, however, and the honeymoon phase is no exception. After a few weeks or months, it will probably dawn on you that your new partner’s penchant for spitting onto the sidewalk is more disgusting than rugged; their long-winded spiels test your patience; you’d only been pretending that their habit of using wet towels didn’t skeeve you out.
It took me two months, but I finally discovered Paris’s wet towels. And happening upon some of the unsavory aspects of Parisian life gave me quite the shock. When I become involved with another person, I tend to expect that things will turn sour at some point: after all, humans are fallible. But how could Paris – the source of inspiration for countless artists, setting for many a grand-romance, and literal holder of the lofty title “City of Love” – do anything but exceed my expectations?
Among other things, I’ve discovered that sexism in Paris, like in New York, is alive and well. Should you need evidence, ladies and gentlemen, exhibit A: the tale of my recent night out to dinner with a female friend. After waiting a half hour to get into a restaurant that her host mother had highly recommended, we took our seats, attempted to place coherent orders in French (I say attempted because, as a vegetarian, I found myself with a bacon-coated salad), and began eagerly catching up on each other’s lives. After about fifteen minutes, one of two men seated at the table next to ours abruptly inquired as to whether or not we could speak French. “Oui!,” I indignantly replied, eager to prove myself.
This was a mistake on my part. My answer in the affirmative gave our counterparts the confidence to chat us up for the next twenty minutes, until we got our check. Our conversation was not without gems: after finding out that I was a New Yorker, our new friends demanded to know if my life back home was just like Sex in the City. No, I mused, I spend more time at Vassar sweating in the library than I do giggling with sassy friends over cosmos. I was nonetheless identified and subsequently referred from that point on as “Miranda,” one of the shows four female stars and a fellow redhead. This characterization was sad, I decided, in that a) it reduced my person to a poorly written ’90’s TV show character, and b) if I were anyone on Sex and the City, I would obviously be Carrie Bradshaw. My name is literally Carrie. Ultimately, if I had a nickel for every time an adult man made me feel uncomfortable, I might have enough money to afford to live here.
Reality also slapped me in the face the other day as I left my apartment to work on a project with a friend. Immediately upon opening my door, I knew something was awry: policemen decorated with guns as thick as my calves lined the street, and yells peppered the air. Already fifteen minutes late (comme d’habitude) I continued on my way, and found the path to my metro station lined with thousands of protestors. My commute, it turned out, wouldn’t be as easy as I expected.
I had inadvertently stumbled upon a demonstration of La Manif pour tous, subscribers to which believe that gay couples shouldn’t be able to marry (as they’ve been allowed to in France since May 2013) or adopt children (as they are still legally incapable of doing). To afford gay French either right, this faction argues, would be to contribute to the destruction of the family.
Pushing through this crowd proved an emotional experience. All around me were smiling, enthusiastic families, many of whom had brought their children with them to celebrate the occasion. Most also sported pink or blue (a reference to the gender binary, I’m guessing) and toted flags depicting what they consider to be the ideal family: a man, a woman, and several children. By the time I made it to my metro, my eyes were filled to the brim with tears of frustration: how could literally thousands of people – and presumably “good citizens” at that – take to the streets to support such a blatantly homophobic cause?
For these reasons, my Parisian honeymoon has come to an end. For many years, I realize, I’d been under the impression (if unwittingly) that France was a sort of utopia: beautiful, romantic, and free from most of the problems of my native country. Of course, taking French history and culture classes at Vassar began to chip away at this delusion, but it took living in Paris as long as I have to realize that it’s a city like any other: fascinating, rich in history, but not without its issues.
In any case, I’ve been told that after you push past the honeymoon phase in a relationship – discovering your beau’s flaws and acknowledging your own shortcomings – the partnership changes for the better. I think this will be the case for Paris and me going forward. By this point, we’ve taken several breaks from one another – I’ve shacked up in Spain, Strasbourg, Versailles, and Hungary over the past several weeks – but I always find myself coming back.
Speaking of other cities, I write this blog from an Airbnb in Madrid on my last day of vacation here. Rather than resenting the burden of having to pen a blog post while on holiday, I’m actually grateful for the opportunity to express myself: the day of my flight, I came down with my worst cold on record, and my voice now resembles the churnings of a broken vacuum cleaner. I’ll return to Paris tomorrow, as I alluded to, to spend the last portion of my October break there.
At this point, my abroad experience is nearly half way over, and with this post, I’ll have completed ¾ posts for this blog. I can’t say I feel like I’ve accomplished half or three-fourths of the goals I’ve set for myself here, but I’m doing my best.
In any case, thanks for reading (or skimming to the end to pretend you have – I’m on to you, Mom!) and, j’espère, à bientôt.