Story: Son Ca
Photos: Various sources
Art, film, music and literature fill Paris with an everyday magic.
Paris is depicted as a city where real life blends with fantasy in literary works by writers such as Marcel Proust and Patrick Modiano. After 10 years of visiting Paris, I found that same sense of the magical in everyday life through the artists and writers that have shaped the city.
When I first arrived in Paris, the Louvre museum seemed overwhelming. Ten years later, I can now tour the great museum like an insider, facing the paintings and whispering to them as if meeting old friends.
I discovered that literature was inseparable from other forms of arts in the works of writers associated with Paris – a discovery that fascinated me. It seems that for every writer who has been in Paris, there will always be paintings, film, music, philosophy, and photography in their works.
When I visit the Luxembourg Gardens, I think of Hemingway, who wandered here as a starving artist without enough money for lunch. When I go the Père-Lachaise cemetery, I’m reminded of Andrei Makine, who found political asylum here from the Soviet Union in the 1980s. He made a temporary home in a family tomb in the cemetery as he wrote the masterpieces that made him famous.
At the cafés that Parisian artists and intellectuals frequented in the old days, like Les Deux Magots or Café de Flore, I can still feel their presence.
Visiting the Arc de Triomphe conjures images of Paris during the Nazi occupation as seen by Erich Maria Remarque, while a trip to Gare Saint-Lazare makes me think of Marcel Proust’s narrator, who took the 01:22 train ride to Normandie and Balbec to reach England.
I must not forget to mention the famous Impressionist paintings of Gare Saint-Lazare by Claude Monet. Just like that, I’ve become a regular visitor to the city. Whenever I wander around Paris, I often think of the Theory of the Dérieve by Guy Debord, and realize, to my amazement, that I’ve repeated the same route over and over again during all my visits in the last 10 years: Centre Pompidou, Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral, Shakespeare et Compagnie bookstore, Café de Flore, the Lourvre museum, Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, and Montmartre Hill. This realization reminds me of Guy Debord’s “dérive” theory as presented in Patrick Modiano’s novels.
On a recent visit, while standing below the renovation site of Notre-Dame Cathedral, I looked up at the two towers between the scaffolding and saw thin clouds drifting like a river flowing over the two towers. A black shadow of a bird flashed by, just like a shadow of time. I suddenly realized that some things would stay the same regardless of external changes, for their essences remain. I saw lonesome travelers like me, standing quietly by the riverside, gazing towards the Notre-Dame under a giant crane in its restoration after the historic fire
In the small alley to the left of Shakespeare et Compagnie bookstore, I stopped into a favorite bakery that serves amazing profiteroles. To me, Shakespeare et Compagnie is the heart of Paris and a must-visit bookstore whenever I’m in the city. The La Belle Équipe isn’t too far from Bastille. I sat on the planter’s wooden platform opposite the door, drinking coffee, and waiting for my takeaway order.
It is a lovely, cozy restaurant painted in teal color and dazzled with red coquelicots. Of all the places that have been terrorized in Paris, this is where I wanted to visit, simply because the owner wrote a book about it. This place is said to have kept the souls of those who have passed on and the soul of the book’s author. I took a train to Montmartre, home and inspiration for so many famous painters. Near the steps of the SacréCœur, people were lazing on the grass, embracing, sunbathing, eating ice cream. There are places I’ve been to many times and still want to visit again.
It was delightful for me to discover Théo Van Gogh’s apartment in Montmartre, where Vincent Van Gogh had once resided. I remembered Van Gogh’s painting of Paris from the window of this apartment, matching the image of the opposite building next door. I have traced Van Gogh’s footprints from letters and paintings, to Auvers-Sur-Oise village, and the Van Gogh museum in the Netherlands – just as I followed Franz Kafka’s footsteps in Prague.
The act of exploring the soul of a phenomenon, a person, a city, a novel, or a movie is, in fact, an exploration of one’s soul.