Purple Magazine
— Paris Issue #31

ariana reines

ravishing paris

text by ARIANA REINES

Paris is a ravishing place. If I were a slender blue being from the planet Nbiru, I would want to go there. As it is, I am a squirrelly American with roots in the Polish Holocaust, and I have been a refugee there more than once. There is a moisture in the air here that verges on sweetness, and I have experienced nothing of the kind anywhere else. It makes people look wonderful. It is part of the mysterious perfection in the arrangement of hair and scarves, but it is also an emanation, or so I often speculate, from far before 19th-century Paris seduced the world, and far before the Sun King seduced Paris away from Paris and into Versailles, something dating from a mystic Catholic simplicity or maybe going all the way back to Gaul, something Joan-of-Arc-y, something out of Bresson films, an alchemical dewiness that might have helped Nicolas Flamel and Perenelle with their magic mixtures.

The first time I left Paris, I was 22, and I told people it was because it was too beautiful, and I was afraid, actually afraid, that in my chambre de bonne (that’s French for garret, bitches), eking out a bohemian existence speaking in my native tongue to the shockingly unimaginative seven-year-old son of jurists, writing a novel about Doubting Thomas, reading Proust, and having a lot of drunk sex, that I would become complacent about beauty, and the narrow existence through which not only beauty but also splendor so clemently allowed me to access them. That if I stayed long enough to get used to my antlike marginality to socialized majesty, I would never make anything truly great. I was right to leave.

I went back again after quitting graduate school in New York, after my brother tried to kill my mom and was lockdown hospitalized in psych wards, first uptown then upstate, after a manuscript I’d sent out while addicted to the yellow blow a housemate of mine would procure for me weekly from a gentle single mother, who never touched the stuff, had won a prize, after failing to figure out how to manage being both in love with and involved with a girl who lived across the country and a couple who lived across the city, after taking a gallery to small claims court for not paying me for the writing they had commissioned from me and the judge ruled in my favor and then the gallery did pay me, thus allowing me to procure an 18th-century flat in the fourth arrondissement for the summer, wherein I ripped the abovementioned manuscript apart and rewrote it, subsisting on one sandwich a day, two pills a day (a neuroscientist friend had armed me with an envelope containing a month’s supply of controlled excitement), one pack of Lucky Strikes per week, and three regular lays, one of whom would eventually become my boyfriend.

I would go back again today. I would go right now. Do you know of an empty apartment? I just finished a book that took me seven years to write, and all I want to do now is live. Paris is good for living. The loving is easy, the oranges come from Spain, there is absolutely nothing like the smell of rising bread, coffee, cigarettes, and scooter fuel in the morning. Being an artist there is actually respectable. It’s also true that things don’t feel as dead or as haunted by alreadiness as they did 10 years ago. Then again, my favorite neighborhoods — the 20th, the 18th — immigrant and working-class neighborhoods, never felt and never feel dead. Maybe Parisians seem a bit less precious about themselves — dare I say they seem to have developed a sense of humor? — all the while preserving lovingly the traditions that make Paris Paris. Is it possible this shift has something to do with the terrorism France has experienced over the last few years? I don’t mean to be crass because my heart shook with the memory of it when I was there over the summer, but somehow, though France has been so badly wounded in the heart, it seems to be recovering a sense of its heart. Where Parisians used to seem a bit jaded or sour, inured to the opulence around them, people now seem to cherish more not just the fabulous palaces and cathedrals that make Paris historic, but also the sweet quotidian details — the épicerie on the corner, the feminist bookshop, the teahouse with its pyramids of pastel postmodernist marzipan — that make life there worth living.

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[Table of contents]

Paris Issue #31

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