I’m in Paris with my mums. Just a five day visit before bringing her down to the Dordogne to meet my French BuBu family and show her what her kid has been up to in the forest of Southern France.
We’re basically having a blast, doing all the things we both want to do in one of the cultural and culinary capitals of the world. We went to a cooking class to discover the secrets of authentic macarons (spoiler: Italian and not French meringue is the base of the cookie batter), saw a concert in the famed Sainte Chappelle, ate a crepe on the banks of the Seine, and hit up the two best pastry shops in town (Pierre Hermé and Pain de Sucre if you’re looking for tips on culinary couture).
We did a double doozy of retrospectives at the Grand Palais: Japanese printmaker Hokusai and seminal Franco-American feminist Niki de Saint Phalle. Both shows are rich and varied catalogues of the artistic evolution of their subjects, though visiting both in one afternoon is not for the faint of heart.
We’ve been rambling the old stone streets, window-shopping the contemporary glamour, and fine-fooding our way through this renowned metropolis. Somehow, it’s not quite the city I remember. I remember Paris as a cold city, rich with color, but difficult to unlock.
I lived here—if you can call taking the metro in from the burbs every day for three months living in a place—briefly as a teenager. It was my first real move away from home, and all of the history and magnificence seemed to be holding secrets of truth just beyond my reach. Coming back now, I still see how the city is marked by a history of great minds, cultural crossroads, and several hundred years of wealth and artistic genius. It is nothing if not beautiful.
And I revel in its beauty. Everything from architecture to enterprise is aesthetic, and within it all are new ideas explored and old legacies conserved. The people themselves are works of art: their dress, their carriage, their language, their regard. The whole thing is a regale. And it is no longer a mystery.
I used to ache for a lucidity of which I found traces in art and beauty. Flashes of self-awareness and awareness of the nature of things. I strove to find the answers to the why and how of being human in such places, and I scoured books and paintings, music, haute couture, gastronomy, all manner of creation for such gems of understanding. I found a lot. Snippets of wisdom sprinkled amidst a vast ocean of creation.
But most of all I found expressions of the deep yearning of humankind to understand itself. Amongst creators I have always felt that I am with my own people. Those who believe that the suffering and the joy of life have meaning, that as humans we can elevate ourselves, and that it is not futile to search for this meaning and the means to realize it. This is the work of artists in my eyes.
In the years since I left Paris and my teenaged self behind, the teachings of the Buddha have come to describe this path for me, and to respond to its questions. I no longer cling to art as the salvation to my waywardness, and I’ve learned that clinging in general is not so much a useful approach to life. I have the freedom to not like a lot of art, and even to be bored by it. I have the cognizance to realize that all beauty is not well intentioned or elevating.
Paris no longer seems to me an inaccessible monument to human understanding, but a place like other places in the world, where people live and strive and suffer and achieve and die and take birth to do it all some more. And though the mystery has rubbed off, I can admit, I like this place. There is, after all, a certain comfort in being surrounded by both art and beauty, and in rubbing shoulders with so many humans who are seeking to perfect their own potential in the ways that they know how.
Thanks for the encouragement, Pah-reee…