Following where the glossy tourism brochures lead is one way to see Paris, but there are other alternatives if you want to get beneath the city’s skin. The Parisian spirit which the brochures offer can be found almost anywhere, and above all in your own imagination. Every Turkish person feels Europe to be special, and if one of its capitals were to be singled out, it would surely be Paris. Although, as those who remember the spirit of 1968 are aware, the city no longer sets the mood of its time, it retains its magnetism. The famous Parisian spirit naturally tells you to visit the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame and sit in a street cafe. ‘Surely you must have seen the Louvre, the Basilica of Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, the Opera House, Montparnasse, and the Champs Elysées?’ it demands. Leaping up the rungs of the class ladder, or entering the category of special occasions, it exclaims, ‘Not choose the Ritz for your honeymoon!
At least consider the Prince de Galles, the Hôtel de Bristol, or Hôtel de Crillon (don’t miss the ‘Romancing the Crillon’ package, where the happy couple has the chance to stay in a double ‘de luxe’ room, be welcomed with flowers, have champagne for breakfast, and be presented with a special bag to keep the wedding gown in!). All these have their attractions, of course, but what really makes a city irresistible is the life there, and perhaps, too, the disillusionment which this life brings. Once you begin to feel disillusioned, that is the moment of transition when the tourist sees through the glitter and begins to perceive the real city. Then gradually you start to understand the tortured fantasies of Baudelaire in Paris Spleen, and the sense of claustrophobia in Les Amants du Pont Neuf. Paris is no longer the remote, other-worldly, and romantic place full of promise that it had been. So how can a Parisian spirit continue to exist when its feet are firmly on the ground?
Sunset over the bateau mouches on the River Seine is always ready to charm. And as you watch this city of lights and land of liberty and equality from the river with its bridges like diadems you may not want to be promoted from the rank of tourist. However, if you do desire to experience insider perception combined with the travel’s sense of ‘here today and gone tomorrow’, there is just one place to go in Paris: the street markets. In fact, every city in the world has its street markets which expose their true character. Those in Paris (particularly in the north part) are collections of small but significant clues as to just how old this city is. Here local life comes into focus, together with the people from Morocco, Algeria, Senegal, and other countries who have become part of this life, or sometimes failed to do so, as you wander past red and yellow peppers, countless varieties of cheese, and the strange aromas emanating from them all. Everything from antiques to junk, everything you could never possibly want, is jumbled here on the stalls.
As Victor Hugo said, ‘When you look into the depths of Paris your head spins.’ Early on Sunday mornings is the best time to explore the street markets of Paris, discovering the endless definitions of art, love, and gastronomy. Then you run out of cigarettes and find that the tobacconists are closed. On weekdays, too, watch out, because they almost all close at eight o’clock. I see that annoyed you. So welcome to Paris.