This is another story about Paris. (In memory of my early twenties’ first visit)
Werther Armand always had a fever for Paris because many of his favourite writers had more or less lived in this capital of romance. He loved to read and imagine about Paris, about its romance, about its glamour, everything about Paris. Until one day when he had to write some literary essay about Albert Camus’s L’Etranger (In English: The Outsider or The Stranger), he read a description about Paris which turned his fantasy upside down, “C’est sale, il y a des pigeons et des cours noires. Les gens ont la peau blanche.” (It’s dirty, there are pigeons and black courtyards. The people have white skin.) He was unable to accept this in contrast to his imaginary Paris and asked the professor if he could select another book to write his essay.
“Monsieur, this cannot be true. Albert Camus must be writing nonsense, how can he not mention the extraordinary culture, beauty and melancholy of this great city, but some trivial and untrue depiction? Although I have not yet been there, Paris has to be the great place that I read from Oscar Wild, Hemingway, etc. You are Parisian yourself, you should not be allowing anyone to speak ill of your hometown, especially when it is the capital of romance, gastronomy, fashion… I cannot use this book to write my essay. I want to have your permission to change the book.”
“I told the class to write about existentialism and absurdity, not Paris. Besides, what he said about Paris was just a hundredth of the real Paris. I would have mentioned the violence, unsecured subway, chaotic traffic and lack of courtesy of the Parisians, had I written the book. If you insist on changing the book, you should also change the reality you live in, what about living in Mars, or some 4 dimensional space so that you can swim or fly in your illusion? Focus on what you should be writing and stop bugging me because someone broke your fantasy. I don’t care about Paris.”
This course was important for Werther Armand’s graduation, but his belief in Paris was so strong that he dared risk it. So, he employed the absurdity philosophy to argue that particular phrase about Paris was absurd itself. The professor was speechless reading his essay, though he appreciated this peculiar student’s persistence in guarding his belief. Werther Armand was mercifully given a pass with the professor’s comment, a piece of nonsense with strong individual reflections. In a way, you can be an absurdity philosopher.
I could have not gotten my graduation gown because of my faith in Paris. As the saying goes, the bigger the wish, the bigger the disappointment, a few years later, I had the opportunity to see the real Paris with my own eyes. It was just dirtier and there was a strong pee odor spreading all over the street corners and metro entrances; there were many more pigeons than the description of Mr. Camus. (There were not that many white people, though.) Such a mis-en-scène gave me an immediate pain on my head as if Thor used his hammer to punch my skull twice. The first smashed my fantasy; the second reminded me that I was not dreaming. As I tried to make sense of my surroundings in front of a McDonald’s opposite to the Lourve Museum, a homeless man with two enormous dogs approached me and asked, “Monnaie pour les chiens-chiens.” (Money for the dogs.) It was just scary! Where were those Parisian street corner cafés where intellectuals talked about life, art and culture?
I dragged my traumatized body and soul into the Parisian metro. Guess what I encountered? A strike! Great, vive la culture française! I was more shocked than speechless, my jaw just dropped! As I was thinking over about the horrible distance between my imagination and the reality while the metro was down, I heard the conversation of two middle-aged women sitting opposite to me:
Madam A, “O làlàlà, strike again! Well, that’s good; we can have some quality time here rather than serving those stupid tourists.”
Madam B, “Right, I don’t understand why there are just hundreds and thousands of tourists coming to see La Tour Eiffel every day. My hotel’s just opposite to it and I told my son, Mama says bonjour & bonne nuit to La Tour Eiffel every day and night. People pay so much and spent so much time travelling just to take a picture of it, I am paid to tidy up the beds of the hotel on the other side of La Seine. Why do they not just come to work in these hotels around La Tour Eiffel? The salary is low, but they do not have to run a long way to see some rusty tower while paying a fortune to the tourist agency.”
Madam A, “La France has no more jobs left, if these fools don’t come to see that thing, we both will get unemployed because the hotels would not be able to pay us. In a way, we should be thankful, though these tourists are really unbearable and annoying.”
Indeed. When the strike was over, the passengers already spent the whole afternoon in the metro, the two women said good-bye to each other and went home happily. Paris, Paris, this is the way to live.
Bye for now, see you next blog!