Nietschze once said that an artist has no home in Europe except in Paris. This is something I truly felt when at 23, and on my first chance to go to Europe I had found the place where I wanted to live forever. Despite running low on money, I made sure I ate in the iconic cafes (every street had one), went to all the galleries and saw the finest pieces of art in all the museums I could walk to. I was always apprehensive about spending so much on a taxi. The trip couldn’t have lasted any longer. There was always more to see and experience. Probably my biggest regret is wearing such ill-fitting clothes and not taking a better camera. This was the only time I’ve been to Paris, and the next attempt to go there in 2013 ended up with my VISA application getting denied.
The sweetest memory of the city was in cafe in the Latin Quarter where I was joined by two pretty French students. To cut the story short, I was about to ask one or both of them to accompany me on a stroll along the Seine when I accidentally farted in the middle of my sentence. So I ended up walking alone. Before I ended up at that cafe, I had just come from buying a book by Roberto Bolano at Shakespeare and Co. and was eager to explore parts of the city where such writers as Julio Cortazar in Hopscotch and Ernest Hemingway in the moveable feast had so adoringly written about.
Walking alone along the Seine and seeing my face reflected in the black of the river and trying not to freeze my toes in the autumn chill, I felt at home. It was something that probably all tourists and Franchophiles have felt on their first time but it was a sincere moment for me. I walked along closed shops and then ended up near Musee d’ Orsay. I only had the exact euros to hail a taxi cab (The Metro had already closed by that time) so I walked until could shave off a few kilometers so I can afford to buy a crepe the following day. I only stayed two weeks in the city but I felt I had been a Parisian. My only other decent photo was in a Fotoautomat at the Palais de Tokyo which I sent by mail at the post office in the Louvre to a friend back in Manila so I have nothing to show except the photo above which I managed to get when I asked a reluctant fellow tourist to snap. The following months were spent in Berlin and further to Eastern Europe but the city of lights remained the highlight of my trip.
Those days were exactly five years ago from today when I tuned in to CNN and got the terrible news of terrorist attacks in Paris. I wanted to find out if any of the places I’ve been to would be caught by the camera or if people I knew might be involved, dead or injured. The music major, the art curator, that friendly taxi driver who took me home ony my last night in the city or the two Frenchies who by now have probably forgotten that hideous incident with a gassy Filipino boy. I also wondered if any of them think of me from time to time when tragedy hits my country and try to view my profile and see if I was safe. Probably not.
Among the many realizations of the Paris attack was how much the world had changed in five years. Right now, as I work for an newspaper which covers world news, I get a regular and often detailed feed of every news development affecting France, a place which I’m afraid I would never be allowed to go back to because of ever tighter VISA restrictions on the eurozone.
J, who spent years in France as a scholar was with me when we scrolled the newsfeed. She had acquired two things I did not have during my time there: the French language and a French lover. She started to reminisce and then worry about friends (she made more of course, while she was there). Then I joked (and this is a bad one) that her ex-lover was probably among those who took the bullet from terrorist fanatic. She said she was worried about the hatred that would follow. I was too. Then I started recalling how my trip to Paris was not all roses and pink champagne. I got ridiculed in the metro for being Asian and was subject to “random” inspections for tickets. A black teenager had held the sliding barriers at the station once for me once and I kind of thought that was a nice gesture from a fellow marginalized person. (hahaha) Last but not the least, I got the rude treatment from a French waiter for paying in coins. (It was still money).
Out of all the things that I missed about Paris, I singled out one thing which I never had back home or was never done quite the same back home: casual French cuisine. The sumptuous selection of patisseries and that little cafe at Saint-Germain-des-Prés called de Deux Maggots are on top of the list. What got people so affected more than the gruesome massacre that happened was the fact that any attack on Paris was an attack on the world’s capital of art and culture: the appeared to me like it was the sack of Rome.
Today made me realize how those few hours of carefree and cavalier sauntering aimlessly and poorly along the Seine as I did in 2010 was such a precious blessing one could no longer have today without the thought of the possibility of getting peppered with bullets or having an unfortunate encounter with a suicide bomber. Yet, it is this very peril that makes me want to see Paris once more, if only to know how much has changed through the years.
The city made me feel like I was truly at center of world, that I could have been as poor as mice and yet I was exploring the depths of culture in every step I took. Each moment added more weight to the force that constantly pulls us back to the heart of the city. Those certainly became part of my core memories. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has owned a version of Paris. I’m also not the only one who woke up today and realized how fragile these memories are. Every night from now on and until quite some time, my thoughts will be of Paris and all the victims of senseless violence at home and around the world. Thoughts for a desire to leave a better world than I am living through right now.