Capturing the spirit of Paris seems to be as easy as the cold I, and the rest of NYU Paris, caught this past week. But putting my finger on what exactly is so magnificent about this place is actually astonishingly difficult. It isn’t quite like being able to say “Aha! 2+2=4” or that blue and red make purple. Trying to put your finger on what precisely makes a place special is personal. It’s hard.
Maybe Paris’s spirit is exemplified in the boulangerie on the corner near NYU Paris where I get a daily pain au chocolat for one Euro. Or the three aisles of wine at my local Franprix. Is it light – more specifically, the five minutes after every dark hour when the Eiffel Tower sparkles?
I think so.
Paris is also the crowded RER B, which is claustrophobic enough at 8:18am to make even the tallest of us feel like a sardine. It’s the 21 degree weather that feels like eight degrees makes even those from the Midwest bundle up in four shirts and two pairs of pants. It’s the crack of sunlight seeping through the curtains of my cramped dorm room at dawn. It’s the creperies that dot every corner that serve up scrumptious, hot treats. It’s my favorite sound, the “ding ding ding” when the train finally arrives. It’s the disappointment that the Mona Lisa is tiny and hidden behind glass (not to mention a massive crowd). It’s the thai food restaurant around the corner that does not appreciate me asking for chopsticks. It’s the fresh crisp air despite all the cigarette smoke. It’s the public bathrooms on the streets that flip over to sanitize. It’s the interconnecting and intertwining public transportation system. It’s the bottle of red wine, Roche Mazet Cabernet Sauvignon, to be specific, that I’ve had on my desk since the first day of school. Paris’s soul is made of the minutia that make up my day from when I throw off my covers at 7:36am to take a shower to when I fall asleep and everything in between.
It doesn’t seem to be justified to simply ascribe my personal experiences to such a magical place and call that the soul. The soul is rather indescribable without personal experience, though, as the definition differs between, well, everyone. So what if that soul includes everyone?
Paris is the man at the boulangerie with the pink chairs outside that actually speaks back to me in French when I order. It’s Sacko, the French man in charge of my residence hall that jokes around and, in his heavy French accent, tried convincing us he was from Minnesota. It’s the workers at Shakespeare & Co. that make any English speaker feel like they’re a bit closer to home. Paris is the people. It’s you. It’s me. It’s us.
You can’t have a spirit without a body. That body is the 2.5 million people in Paris.