Many of us have a fantasy place where the world is a cut above our everyday lives. Maybe we’ve only read about this place or seen it in movies. Maybe it doesn’t even exist anymore. It’s as if we need somewhere to dream about when life turns out not to be what we’d hoped. For a lot of people, that place is Paris.
My niece, who until recently had never been east of Billings, Montana, used to be obsessed with Paris. She’d even considered getting a tattoo of a bluebird pulling a banner reading “la vie est belle” around the Eiffel Tower.1 In Paris — the dream Paris, that is — every café serves homemade cassoulet, women are chic (and thin) and buy their groceries at a farmers market, windows have pink geraniums and views of the Eiffel Tower (or of roofs and chimney pots), and romance lurks on every metro ride.
My dream Paris goes a step further, into the world of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn movies. In my dream Paris, every coffee cup feels good in the hand, and every bed sheet is made of linen and was stored with lavender sachets. Lighting is moody. Cute dogs and charming jewel thieves abound. Julia Child is still whipping up soufflés in her “roo-de-loo” apartment. There’s no crappy 1980s architecture.
I don’t need to tell you that the real Paris isn’t like that. It has its marvels, of course, but Paris is a gigantic, cosmopolitan city with all the crime, frozen entrées, pollution, and poverty that you’d expect. The milk and coffee are second rate, and be careful about where you buy those baguettes everyone raves about, because you just might get a mouthful of cardboard.
I still think Paris is wonderful. Both the real Paris and my fantasy Paris. I need them both. I need the dream Paris to remind me to infuse my life in Portland with the things I love (lavender sachets in the linen closet!), and I need the real Paris to feed my hunger for the bizarre and beautiful.
Just this afternoon I saw maids at the hotel across the street fluffing pillows and changing sheets in rooms on two different floors. A woman in a full head scarf took a selfie on the balcony of another room. Just above her and to the right, a teenaged boy pulled back the curtains and mimed the cha cha. Church bells rang. A dove cooed. Reality is pretty great.
Since these is supposed to be a smell diary, let me leave you with this smell portrait: room-temperature reblochon cheese, good Burgundy, and a hint of rain in the air.
1. Crisis averted. She seems to have moved on. I'm not sure if I could have stomached seeing the name of that perfume, no matter how lovely the sentiment, on my darling niece's skin.