Love Letter to Paris

Montmartre, Paris. D. Johnstone

Montmartre, Paris. D. Johnstone

Paris is a cauldron of turmoil, of beauty, of contention, of ferocity and desire. It is a melting pot of divergent passions. One can feel the tremors lurking just beneath the cobblestone streets, on the Boulevards, in every tiny bistro – constant quakes of extraordinary life impelled from a history steeped in revolt and the poetry and prose of a celebrated French literary canon: Voltaire, Proust, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Camus, Flaubert, Rimbaud, Céline… the list goes on. There is a consuming energy and joie de vivre that remains unmatched in Paris. I marveled at the rhythm of the streets, at the resolve of a local café owner, who told me to “Vous allez!” when I asked for an espresso in my very bad French, and the kindness of a stranger who went out of her way to help me when events conspired to threaten my life.

Fabric merchant in Pigalle, 1986. D. Johnstone

Fabric merchant in Pigalle, 1986. D. Johnstone

The first time I was in France the franc was still in use. I felt as if I had traveled back in time – to the romantic notion of 1920s café life and afternoon Pastis in Pigalle where hookers beckoned from behind red curtains and the alchimie of possibility – both pure and tainted – was everywhere. It still is. The spirit of Paris does not alter – it is charged with the alchemy of potential, of unrestrained insight and courage and the unerring sense of what is just. I’m not sentimental – never have been – but upon hearing news of the attacks in Paris I wept. It was as if a part of everything I held dear, everything that I believed would come to fruition, every molecule of inspiration and revelation and beauty that I had yet to discover, had been taken from me.

We are destructive creatures – we humans. Evolution has not been kind to us; in many ways it has all gone to Hell. A cursory reading of any history book will expose our debauched trajectory and yet, there is something ferocious and pure in the history of Paris. From the French Revolution to the 1968 revolt that effectively shut down the country, Paris remains an emblem of liberty and freedom – a magnet for the world’s greatest artists and thinkers to gather and create and inspire and rail against all systems of oppression. French author André Gide observed, “Art begins with resistance.” Paris will resist this violence and in the aftermath become more influential, more adventurous, more tolerant, and more resilient. For Paris, the alchimie of possibility is too powerful for them to do anything else.

— D. Johnstone

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