To know Paris is to know a great deal. What eloquent surprises at every turn of the street. To get lost here is an adventure extraordinary. The streets sing, the stones talk. The houses drip history, glory, romance. — Henry Miller
I’ve been struggling to write this post all week long. I wasn’t sure what to say (if anything) and I wrote (and discarded) multiple drafts (all of them in my head).
Then I saw the pictures of the millions of Parisians gathered today in the streets of Paris. Once I saw those photos, I knew which of the thousands of photos I had taken in Paris I should post.
And once I had a photo, I had the words.
Paris is close to my heart. I’ve had the privilege to visit this beautiful, amazing, perplexing, and frustrating city five times over three decades. My first visit lasted less than 24 hours; my last, just shy of three months. After Vancouver, it is my favourite place in the world.
But it wasn’t always.
I remember the exact moment I fell in love with Paris ― ironically, it was in Place de la République, the square where thousands of Parisians have gathered throughout this awful week. I was eating dinner with my father on a raised terrace overlooking the square. We had arrived in Paris just that afternoon after travelling by Eurail throughout Germany. Earlier in the week, we had had a conversation about which European city each of us could see ourselves living in. I couldn’t choose ― not one said “home” to me in the way I wanted it to.
Until that moment. As I gazed out at the trees along the boulevard, I thought to myself, “I can see myself living here” ― and before the thought had fully formed in my brain, my dad said it out loud for me. “You’d like to live here, wouldn’t you?” To my knowledge, he’s never read my mind before (or since), but he did that summer evening.
I’ve been in love with Paris ever since.
This week, my heart has been aching for Paris while I struggled to find the words to express my feelings and thoughts.
Today, Parisians took to their city’s streets in unprecedented numbers. The first reports described it as the largest demonstration since Paris’s liberation from Nazi Germany in August 1944. By the end of the day, the news media described the rally as the largest demonstration ever in French history. Ever. That is indeed unprecedented.
Tomorrow, Paris will begin to redefine itself, as it has so many times before after so many other violent, horrific events in its long and storied history. We don’t ― none of us ― have the distance and perspective necessary to understand what this week has done to the city. That will come, in time.
And so, for now, all I have is this photo, which I took on Armistice Day, 2010.
Shooting a memorable photo is often a matter of being in the right place at the right time. A good zoom lens doesn’t hurt either.
I took this photo in Venice’s Piazza San Marco in October 2007.
Here’s one last opera house before I turn the channel and move onto other topics. This is Opéra National de Paris, commonly known as Palais Garnier. “Garnier” was the name of its architect. “Palais” is for all the bling.
Palais Garnier is located at Place Opéra. Six major boulevards come together at Place Opéra, and there’s also a major metro station. In other words: there’s lots going on here.
And did I mention the bling on Palais Garnier? Here’s a closer look.
One last look at Victoria, and then we’ll leave what a friend of mine who lives there likes to call “City of the Newlywed and Nearly Dead.”
This photo was taken in Bastion Square, a pedestrian-only street that begins at the corner of View and Government, where the North Bastion of Fort Victoria once stood, and ends at Wharf Street, overlooking the Inner Harbour.
Everything I know about New York, I learned from the movies. (Until I finally went there in real life, of course.) But really ― if you think of setting as character (which I do), then New York is one of the hardest working actors in the biz.
Nora Ephron’s trilogy of New York films are among my favourite of the lot. I went up the Empire State Building because of that last scene in Sleepless in Seattle. I spent an afternoon wandering the Upper West Side because I loved how it was portrayed in You’ve Got Mail.
But my most surreal New York moment (thus far) was when I crossed Washington Square and had a sudden flash of recognition because of a scene in When Harry Met Sally. Washington Square is where Sally drops Harry off after the longest car ride in history, somewhere near the beginning of the film.
That flash of recognition happened on my first-ever evening in New York. Since our arrival a few hours earlier, I’d literally been pinching my arm every five minutes to make sure I was awake. The air was electric ― I never knew what that phrase meant until I went to New York ― and I swear I could feel the city’s energy envelop me as my friend and I walked from Times Square to Greenwich Village.
I pinched myself one more time when we reached Washington Square. It’s such a cliché of our times that we measure our real-life experiences by comparing them to what we see on the big screen. But we do. And that’s why I was so thrilled to walk onto what for me wasn’t so much a public square as a movie set used by one of my favourite filmmakers.
After hearing of Nora Ephron’s death last month, and in light of my upcoming visit to New York, I’ve rewatched all of her New York films. They’re classic. There is nothing like being in New York in person, but, if you’ve never been, they’re a marvelous substitute.
I love the Italian word for “child” — bambino. And I love how the Italian language makes an ordinary pigeon sound so … well … unordinary with a word like piccione (say: pee-CHOH-nay).
We’re still in Piazza San Marco. Still people-watching.
Another piazza, another waiter. This time we’re in Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) in Venice. It’s a terrific spot for people-watching.
My sister is getting married this month, and she and her soon-to-be husband are planning a honeymoon to Italy later this summer. I figure that’s as good a reason as any to focus this month’s posts on Italy. (As if I need an excuse to write about Italy.)
For my first post: a photo of what I consider to be the essence of la dolce vita (the sweet life): a piazza, a glass of vino, and an Italian waiter to serve you. I took this in Piazza della Rotonda on our last day in Rome, October 2007.