Each time I arrive at the Gare du Nord, I walk down the platform and look up at the enormous metal arches that form its roof, and I inevitably get a pinch in my stomach that clearly resembles the proverbial ‘butterflies’. Like something wonderful is about to happen. It’s amazing that a large, kind of miserable train station of all things can give off an atmosphere of infinite possibility, of romance and excitement, of something vaguely hedonistic and undeniably exciting – but somehow it does. And Paris never disappoints, delivering either a beautiful adventure or at least the tantalising promise of one dangling right within your reach.
Paris is a city steeped in memories. It’s strange that some cities can take on memories more readily than others, and store them in layers upon layers of each other, whereas other cities, where one might have just as much personal history, remain oddly – well, impersonal.
Why is it that a horrible touristy block at St Michel in Paris stores so many vivid mental images and emotions, whereas, for example, Jericho beach in Vancouver which has seen just as much love and heartbreak remains a very neutral – though beautiful – place? Is it just that traveling somewhere creates richer memories than when they are created in a “home city”? But returning to Figueres or Barcelona was much less intense, although my experiences there were no less beautiful.
Something about Paris is charmed; something about it stores histories particularly well. Perhaps it is the sheer amount of history that it already holds within its rather small antique confines. And something about it also evokes particularly strong emotions. Somehow I’m more ready to give in to the most ridiculous impulses in Paris, things that I would never consider doing – or even considering – elsewhere.
The streets store your stories, and places that are yet unexplored lie waiting, ready to embrace your most uninhibited of emotions. They lie in anticipation of your pain and your boundless triumphs. The air buzzes. And yet the city’s stony façade remains just a blank observer, calmly adding your memories to the ones that came before, collecting them and remaining stately and aloof. I guess that’s what makes it so irresistible.