When I think about Paris, my memories of past trips there always mingle with films and strains of songs that I listen to on late night buses home whilst staring out of rain-streaked windows. That is what Paris is to me: grey and imposing and endlessly confusing, with Metro stops boasting names that tangle my tongue and patisseries that I can never tell apart, amazing coffee and pain au chocolate and old men playing accordion on every cross street. There are statues every few metres, massive statues that make you forget that they are each exquisite works of art and incredibly hard to make. There are carousels next to world-famous landmarks, theatres and boutiques, cobbled streets, and that ever-looming tower that takes your breath away whenever you catch a glimpse.
We were there for the International Arts Gathering, a gathering of Christian artists from all over Europe, which meant that my mates and our students were also there, and I loved watching the students dress for Paris. They bought berets and wore their chicest clothes, and to be honest, they looked cuter than most of the people that we passed. The best part of all was their love of being photographed, and for the first time, I had the models I always crave when I walk down particularly Parisien streets.
Because you know, Paris doesn’t change you. It is a city that so many people dream of visiting, but when you arrive in Paris, you are still yourself. You are just yourself in Paris. But something about the strains of accordion music and the humiliation of trying to order a croissant in broken French and the confusion of the Metro and the way that seeing Notre Dame for the first time makes you feel small and temporary and glimpsing French people carrying baguettes as if it is normal and not utterly beautiful calls out the best in us, the edges that we inhabit in dreams but forget to wear in real life.
And I love that about Paris. It reminds us that we are more than our everyday selves. It reminds us that we were made to create, that we, too, can have a part in the vibrant life of this city. This city speaks, but so do we, voices clamouring amidst the cacophony of daily life that has captivated artists for generations. Our voices matter. We won’t know how for a while, perhaps, but they do matter.