Quick Note Before Reading: I didn’t really have a plan when I wrote this. I kinda just wrote things down as they popped into my head whether I was sitting in the subway, on a bench outside of Buckingham Palace, or waiting for one of the countless photoshoots to wrap up. That being said, this piece is a bit choppy at times, jumps from topic to topic, and sort of just…ends. I was planning on editing it into a more coherent piece but I figured this is as good as any way to really explain our trip. This wasn’t meant to be a log of “on day 1 we did this…” more of just a general feel of the countries and how I felt about them. Enjoy!
Paris is shockingly beautiful. Like, alarmingly so. The aesthetic, the continuity of it all is simply outstanding.
Paris has this almost third-world type feel with first world sensibilities. It’s modern but not so much that it’s lost its charm or character, which happens all too often as we become more and more industrialized. The way the people seem to genuinely enjoy life, live passionately as they sit shoulder-to-shoulder sharing a cigarette at the cafe. It’s raw, vivacious, and all together enchanting. You can see and feel life itself there.
Sorry for the injection of nerd culture but Paris is similar to what makes Star Wars so great. The only consistent main character in that series is the world itself – the universe they’ve created is dirty, rugged, and far from perfect. Lived in is the best way I would describe it. I’ve always been drawn to worlds like that – something like Alien or Blade Runner – rather than the vision of the future as this like sterile, flawless white utopia. What have we done, as humans, to give any indication that’s what the future would look like?
But that’s Paris. It’s not particularly clean, the people aren’t dressed to the nines, the air always has a tinge of smoke in it. Yet, that’s exactly what draws you to it. It is busting with character. More character than any place I’ve been before. Every building, every street corner cafe screams that Parisian aesthetic. It’s like a city forgotten by time – stubborn yet gloriously set in its ways. You get tastes of that in other cities – a building or a block of history perhaps, but nothing like Paris. It’s as if the city as a whole came to an agreement to remain the same through the pressures of time.
Maybe it’s my American bias – no wait, it’s definitely my American bias – but I went to Paris expecting to be treated – umm let’s say – less than ideally. Everyone knows the stereotypes of the French. Yet, even the people seemed genuine – from the person sitting next to Mae asking if she would mind if he lit up a cigarette to the waitress teaching Ryan how to say sausage in French (something he failed at miserably). We didn’t have that moment of people looking down on us because we were American or didn’t speak French, but who knows maybe we were just lucky.
And honestly I wouldn’t have been upset about that in the first place even if it did happen. People talk about the French around here, and everything that goes along with them, as if they’ve never been to NYC, as if they’ve never been to literally any another major city. Any major metropolis lends itself to that sort of behavior – minus Tokyo of course. So really, what’s the difference? I’ve had friends who have literally been spit on in the NYC by a homeless person. I’m sure it’s some mix of arrogance and misplaced nationalism that’s the cause of these stereotypes.
Genuine. That’s only word I could use to describe Paris. The city, the people they’re not pretending to be something they’re not. They know exactly what they are and embrace it fully. All faults considered, if I had to chose between a city and people like that or somewhere maybe a little bit cleaner, a tad more courteous but lacking in soul, I’d chose the first city every time.
London, simply put, is just New York City draped in a fancy accent. Honestly, I really don’t get it – the clamoring, the rave reviews, the “you must go to London” attitude – especially if you’re from the New York area in the first place. It hits all the same beats, albeit slightly cleaner. It’s just as chaotic and frenetic as NYC. There are still homeless people on every corner, assholes pouring out of the bar at last call, taxi drivers with no regard for human life, and yet, if you speak with an English accent it seems all those sins are forgiven. Honestly, if a homeless man of the street told the girls to “fuck off” but said it in an English accent, they’d still look at him with googly eyes.
Whereas if I had to sum up Paris in one word it would be genuine, I can’t say the same about London. It’s the same vibe I get from walking around somewhere like the financial district of NYC. People consumed with trying to fit a role, trying to act in accordance with how they believe they should act – like the overly posh London fashionista. Same difference, same nauseating feeling.
Maybe it was my naivety or ignorance, but the diversity of London was straight up astounding. Every corner was brimming with different languages, different cultures. I knew London was diverse, a haven for immigrants, but I didn’t know how much so. I loved coming up from the underground on these long, impossibly steep escalators and being able to catch glimpses of conversations of the patrons heading in the opposite direction. You could hear them for a brief moment and then they were gone. Different language after different language – Indian, French, Middle Eastern, English – and I could keep going. And yes, I know this isn’t unique to London alone, but the degree to which it was happening was unlike any other city I’ve been to. It was like every new face, every new conversation was a snapshot into a different culture. It was consistently brilliant.
And yet, the biggest benefactor from all this diversity wasn’t myself, but our food. My God the food. London really is the hub of culinary world. Every corner provides a taste of another country. The food is Paris was great, but the variety of London was overwhelming.
Finally, soccer. It was a last minute decision to try and get to a soccer match, one that I was definitely on the fence about doing. And yet in the end, I couldn’t be happier that we decided to go. It was a much different experience than any sporting event I’ve been to in the states. Firstly, and this was true of our visit to Wimbledon as well, the stadium (if you can even call it that) was located in a seemingly inconspicuous town. Again, town not city. Imagining walking around your neighborhood, turning the corner, and among the houses lies an arena hosting a professional sports team from one of the best leagues in the world. It was bizarre. It was nothing like it is over here with stadiums mostly occupying the heart of the city.
It was also a much smaller venue. I know this certainly isn’t true for every team, but the stadium at Fulham was tiny – around 25,000 seats tucked right up next to the field. Not something you would expect from one of the most popular leagues of the most popular sport in the world. It created a much more intimate vibe than anything over here. When the teams walked off the field and waved to the crowd you got the feeling they were actually waving at you, like they were playing for you. That you weren’t just a dollar sign in a seat – more of that college or high school sports vibe. I’m sure this isn’t how it is at every stadium. I’m sure the biggest teams like Manchester or Chelsea have arenas properly equipped to handle their popularity, but the experience at Fulham was oddly refreshing.
Also. Soccer is hard. I should’ve known better. They say the tv adds 10lbs, well it also seems to add 10ft of extra space you don’t have when you watch sports. When you watch hockey or basketball on tv it looks like they have so much room out on the ice or court, but then seeing it in person, seeing these behemoth people in person you realize there really isn’t enough space to breathe let alone play. The same is true of soccer – duh. On tv it looks like they have all the time in the world on this enormous field, but in reality it’s way more claustrophobic than that. The closing speed of some of the athletes was incredible and the decision making had to be twice as fast. Again, the smaller stadium made this painfully evident. Being right on top of the athletes from the stands definitely delivered a better experience and perspective on the game.