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A French friend described the atmosphere he experienced at a recent social gathering, and I thought I heard the English word ‘feeling’. He confirmed his use of the term which brought a smile to my face. Indeed, his usage exactly depicted what he wished to convey. After we parted ways, I pondered what might have been the French equivalent, or was there one? Of course there exist numerous selections like ‘sentiment’ or ‘émotion’ to name a few.
First ‘cool’ and now ‘feeling’. The Academie Française police must continue to have coronaries, and I can imagine their laments along the lines of ‘how long must this Anglo influence continue?’ In spite of hoards of Chinese and European tourists, to say nothing of the influx from Eastern Europe and South Asia, American terms tend to find their way into France’s everyday vernacular and with a wild-fire like dissemination. There is even a Feeling Café in my Parisian neighborhood. Should we thank technology or decry it?
As a result, when mulling over my favorite Paris place, I couldn’t help but pause over language because it first drew me to France years ago and also because it’s what keeps me coming back. Certainly, when one thinks of place, one may not first think of an ‘internal place’ like a feeling, or how to organize a phrase, if you will. Instead, images arise of a special park with ducks and wrought iron benches, a modern fusion restaurant, a wide avenue, the shade-filled ‘ruelle‘, or tiny byway that cools as you stroll in summer. The cafés, the museums, the Métro guitar players, the aromas from a special crêperie, the hangouts for bon-chic, for bo-bos (bourgeois-bohème).
But, along with Paris bakers, boulangeries have exported, world-wide. Famed chefs claim outlets in all major cities of the world, and the sparkling bottled water long ago became lemon infused and plasticized for mass consumption. Designer perfume scents rise to the moon and back, and classics like Piaf tunes, Truffaut flicks, and haute couture cover the continents with a patina that can only read as ‘Made in France’. On YouTube, we partake in Eiffel Tower fireworks, or follow the Tour de France riders as they stretch across the Champs-Elysées. I can order sea salts from Galleries Lafayette Gourmet and Poilâne breads online. Paris at our fingertips. Click Click.
So what then becomes favorite? For me, Paris was and will always be about a feeling. You cannot reproduce, export, or otherwise package the happenstance splendor of the ‘provisoire‘, the moments, the instants of reality as they arrive, one after the other, day after day, year after year. Early morning gurgles of water running in gutters, the radio hum as the neighborhood café’s iron grill rises to another day, the clip-clip of four inch heels and the whiff of her passing perfume. The rumble of the Métro to your stop, its foghorn notice just before departing. Those ambulances slicing the silent quartier with their nerve-shattering horns. The stare from an oncoming stranger. The nearly mystical workings of the Administration. The sluggish Sunday mornings with park joggers working off late nights and wine. The elderly with market carts and piercing black gazes. Wine drops gone sour in a bottle rolling into the street. Footfalls echoing off stone buildings.
Then there’s the cheese man with his beret. The bite of a goat Picodon, and fish so fresh it is odorless and yet you’re still beckoned to its stall. Butter stamped with a shelf life of merely a week. Butter! The butcher and his recipes. The wink as he hands over your meat. Requesting a purchase be wrapped, ‘pour offrir‘ to offer up, to dress up, to fantasize with colored tissue paper and a bow tied as if for a state dinner, when in reality you present it to a friend an hour later.
Oh-the wonderful habit of commencing a meal, even a snack, with ‘bon appétit‘, the phrase as vital as the pouring of wine, as the concert of small bites and big conversations. The magenta scarf fluttering from a bus window, disappearing before you even check out the face. The format and form that refuse to bow to other nationalities, that wind their way into your psyche and take hold just at the moment you are exasperated with the post office, the rules, the stamps and the lines, one more registered letter, the practical as it bumps up against the dream, injecting your spirit with the majesty of her gilded past, her befuddling acceptance of external modern day pressure. It all feels right, feels cool, feels Paris. Le Cool. Le Feeling.
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