The tendrils of our memory whip us back into our pasts. Once sparked by sound, smell, sights, or certain feelings- we are brought back to another instant, and are enveloped in a wash of nostalgia and a full awareness of being somewhat in another time or space.
Our mental associations are incredible. For instance, I cannot smell apple soap without thinking of my preschool, I cannot eat an oatmeal cookie without thinking of my childhood in my cousin’s kitchen, and I cannot taste white tic-tac’s without thinking that for the first 20 seconds that they are in your mouth, they taste like Christmas.
Similar to our sensory association, we come to associate places with certain things, certain sensations…things that, when we experience them in another setting, bring us back to that time and place for in our minds- those aspects constitute an attribute to our “genius loci” of a particular setting. These short paragraphs about Paris are the place’s genius loci through my eyes:
Paris tastes. Paris tastes like no other place I’ve been. It tastes like fresh baked cheap baguette, crunchy on the outside yet warm and airy within. Paris tastes like smooth beverages enjoyed at bars after hours with good friends. Paris tastes like salt. Salt in the meat from charcuteries, chased down with sec white wine, enjoyed in candlelight amongst good friends on checkered tablecloths. Paris tastes like clove and orange hinted vin chaud, hot wine, that I dislike, but you can’t help but try here this time of year. Paris tastes salty, fresh, sweet, and strong. Paris also tastes heavy in luxurious creams or the chocolate from angelina’s, or the potent espresso served by every café. Paris will fill you up, and leave you craving more.
Paris smells like winter, and like stone. It’s a regal smell for the most part, less the subways which will always smell like urine (somehow worse than those in NY, I think). Paris smells crisp- like the breath you inhale at place de la concorde looking out over that old stone, statues, a barren zone, on which a breeze of crisp air is brought in by cars rushing by. Paris doesn’t smell of exhaust. Paris also smells like cigarettes, in the morning, in the evening, in the night, every time of day. Paris does not smell fresh, except for baked bread—paris smells old. Not like old women, but like it has been weathered...a hint of slightly damp rocks. It smells like the breezes off of the canals, and right now, at least, of wintertime.
Paris looks like a controlled mess. The streets are cut perfectly, the old buildings looming above, proud and made out of stone and marble. Under the arcades of the rue de rivoli, or in the parks- Nature is nature, leaves litter the ground, and the white dust from the tuileries gardens covers your shoes—but the trees are cut into perfect shapes, and paris appears precise. Paris looks like black and white and shades of grey from the front, but scarves of all colors wrapped around the necks of its inhabitants, who walk with their legs ever-so-slightly turned out, under their black coats.
Paris feels secretive and hard to penetrate to a level where you are exposed to the true way of life. Paris lives a dual life- one accessible to tourists, and one for those who live amongst her crisp, old, beauty…Paris feels divided…you can define the neighborhoods into the Pakistani quarter, the red light district, the latin quarter, the tuileries, the hipster neighborhood, opera. Paris feels precise. Paris feels quiet, like you have to approach her gently or she won’t show herself—you must explore in order to feel like you’re part of anything. Let Paris get to know you first, just walking around, then she’ll open up her wealth to you. Paris feels cold on the surface, outside of the shell, but pleasant inside.
Paris sounds like a slur of words, and sometimes confusion. Paris sounds like that obnoxious noise the subways make before the doors seize and close. Paris sounds like the birds in the Jardin des Tuileries. Paris sounds barren at night, and like echoes of footsteps down her endless roads in the yellow of the streetlights that keep the city alive.
I'll miss you, Paris, but I'll take my impressions with me, and will undoubtedly be reminded of you often.