Monday Morning Musings in Paris: Which part of the elephant are you touching?
|G. Renee Guzlas, artist|
Living in Paris, I'm quite often reminded of the tale of the six blind men who were instructed to touch one part of an elephant. The man who felt its tusk described it as a spear, the one who stroked its side believed it to be a wall and the blindman who touched its trunk was sure that it was a snake. While each one argued that his description of the elephant was correct and that the others were wrong, each of the blindmen's descriptions were accurate for that specific part of the elephant.
Still wondering what this tale has to do with Paris? Let me tell you a story.
When Stephane, Sara and I went to Chez l'Ami Jean for Thanksgiving dinner, we arrived around 7:30 p.m. because that's when we're used to eating in the evening. Walking into the crowded restaurant, I felt a bit disappointed when I noticed that almost all of the guests were speaking English. Based on the reviews, I had expected more of a local restaurant. But an interesting thing happened while we made our way through course after course of food. Slowly but surely, the English-speaking people were replaced by Francophones. Which makes sense because they usually like to dine later in the evening. When we finished our dessert around 10:30 p.m., there wasn't an Anglophone left. So, of course, if you ask one of the people who dined at 7:30 to describe Chez l'Ami they would probably tell you that it's full of tourists, while if you asked someone who arrived at 10:00 p.m., they would say that it's a hidden gem known only by the French. Both would be correct according to their experiences.
Likewise, my descriptions of Paris are going to differ from that of a French person, an illegal immigrant, a tourist or even another American expat, especially if it's their first time living abroad. But more than any of the other places where I've lived, I've noticed that people seem to feel as if their experience is the only "real" or valid one. Perhaps it's because we want to feel that Paris belongs to us, that we have a special relationship with her. We don't. She's like a capricious woman with many admirers who knows how to seduce us with her myriad of charms. Some of us are entranced by her architecture and museums, while others are passionate about her food and cafés.
One of my goals for 2012 is to interview some of the other residents of Paris and visitors because I want to understand more about the elephant than the small part that I'm touching as an American expat. Thoughts, comments, ideas?
|Eiffel Tower in the fog. If you only saw it on this particular evening and hadn't ever seen a photo of it, your description would be quite different than if you saw it on a clear day.|