You may think that, since you’ve seen her many times in pictures, you already know how she is. You may believe that, since you’ve been told about her so much, you already know her. But you would be wrong, because you can’t know her until you’re in front of her, until you talk to her and you listen to her. And then, you would see that she’s not like you saw in pictures, that she’s not like you had been told. Because she has many faces, many personalities. At least, one for each lover…
Someone might look in her for that bohemian love that draws shadows of Toulouse Lautrec in the narrow streets of Montmartre, that love of quick stroke painters for a few euros, love of accursed poets in Le Moulin de la Galette or Le Consulat café.
To others, she would be elegant, coquette, also arrogant, of expensive taste. A refined little princess, in love with fashion and boutiques of rue Royale. Her best friends would be the diamonds from Place Vendôme, and any date would always include champagne, maybe in the crêperie of La Compagnie de Bretagne (rue de L’Ecole de Medecine).
The former and the latter can hook a padlock with their initials engraved to the Pont des Arts and throw the key to the Seine.
She may wear black-rimmed glasses, she may like independent cinema and indie music and spend hours at Centre Pompidou (she calls it Beaubourg), to see avant-garde art inside an even more avant-garde (and odd) building. She may paint her toenails in pink and wear sandals, a summer dress and a broad-brimmed hat. Then, she would go to Paris-plage, or to a terrace in Montparnasse, where everybody seat looking at the street, to look and, above all, to be looked. Because she’s always vain.
She’s a good student and she understand every language: Chinese in Belleville, Arab in Couronnes, English and Spanish in the Champ de Mars… They even say that she spoke Latin around the Sorbonne… But, when dealing with strangers and visitors, she only speaks French. It’s not ignorance: it’s pride. And she’s not short of reasons to be so. She could tell you stories that go back to the beginning of time… Epic stories of merovingian kings, some of them still buried at the basilica of Saint-Denis, and others lost forever just because they were buried in meltable tombs; legends about Mary Magdalene and sacred chalices, of a child queen and days of revolutionary terror that finished in catacombs for many and in the Pantheon for some; she could give you news about a patriotic resistence, and also of an engineer who insisted on touching the sky with a tower of metal they called la Dame de Fer.
She can be diligent, like the smart people that run across the financial district of La Défense: an impressive collection of skyscrapers that, one day back in 1990, were dressed with light and music like it has never been seen since. Although she never misses music or dancing, and she likes every style: it could be chanson in an open-air dance at Canal de l’Ourcq, tango at Montreuil, salsa at Rue Papillon, hip-hop in the subway, waltz in Versailles, opera in the Bastille, classical in Châtelet…
She can wear casual and practice jogging in Parc de Buttes Chaumont, but at night she wears her best clothes. Her face lights up with a clear brightness if she looks to Sacre Coeur, ocher-coloured if she looks to Arc de Triumph and with a thousand stars each time she stops by the Tour Eiffel.
All this because Paris is a woman. And you don’t know her until you listen to her, until you spoke to her. In French, of course.