Paris, love and the reputation of a city
For as long as I can remember, Paris has been described, as the city of love and romance.
This reputation has been built on a social, cultural and political history, that has earnestly stoked this opinion and fanned international flames of desire, for the capital city of France.
When I think back to when this idea of Paris, as en ville de romance, entered my consciousness, the first thought that came to my mind was an old song I used to hear on the radio called Je t’aime. I recall that it was quite a shocking entry to the UK charts at the time, partly due to the fact it was French (and not many French songs crossed international boundaries). But what was most memorable about the song, was its sexual and explicit nature, which had the nation of Britain collectively clutching its pearls! Although, it did go to Number one in the charts!
The song was a breathy duet between Serge Gainsborough and his partner at the time Jane Birkin. Over a matter of minutes the song morphed from a sweet exchange of loving verbiage, to a rather heavy, intense explicit sexual encounter. It left so little to the imagination, it was banned from the shores of many conservative European countries.
It wasn’t a shock to the French though. They just rolled their eyeballs and embraced this crude portrayal of love and sensuality, hailing Gainsborough as un artiste magnifique. However, it laid bare, in my opinion, the free and liberal nature of the French, when it came to things of a sexual nature.
Interestingly, it was this unrestrained attitude and behaviour to sex that led to the evolution of the term, French Kiss. No other country had a gesture of romance named after it, as far as I know. This most intimate and romantic bisou was given the name French kiss because at the beginning of the 20th century, the French had a reputation for adventurous and passionate sex practices. The French called it ‘un baiser amoureux ‘ (a lovers kiss) or ‘un baiser avec la langue’ (a kiss with a tongue). In 2013, the word ‘galocher ‘– to kiss with tongues – was added to the Petit Robert French dictionary, the first time a single word had been used to describe the practice.
Speaking of kissing, this iconic image (below), that adorned the bedroom of so many “cool” students in the 70’s and 80’s and probably even today, could not possibly be ignored. This photograph alone oozes romance, and its location outside the famous Hotel de Ville in Paris, further reminds us of why Paris has the reputation as a city for lovers.
Robert Doisneau, who captured this image, was a famous French photographer in the 50’s and was commissioned by Life Magazine to take shots of couples in Paris. He saw this couple and snapped them instantly.
But all this, is just surface fluff and tickle! A rich history tells of many an informative ode with regards to Paris, France, and its unbeatable amorous reputation.
French literature is littered with tales of romance going back centuries. Many an epic tale of love, steeped in a moral maze of social and economic challenges, illustrate the art and skill amongst the French literati to conjure up the image of Paris as a city of romance. Victor Hugo brought us the unrequited love of Quasimodo and Esmerelda. Cyrano de Bergerac set in France in 1640, had the protagonist delivering romantic prose of love for a handsome but unpoetical friend; and of course there is the love story of Cosette, Marius and Valjean from Les Miserables, located in Paris in the 1800’s – arguably one of the most romantic stories ever written. And so many more, too many to mention.
But in real life also, the romance between Napoleon and Josephine, Louis and Marie Antoinette, Eloise and Abelard, continue to capture the imagination of lovers of love.
But what appears to set France apart from more Anglo societies, is its openness with regards to sex, sensuality and any public displays of either. And this is evident in the French attitude to things such as nudity for example. The French have a very laissez-faire response to such things. Recently a nude restaurant opened in the city; and a nude theatre show along with a nude audience, was widely reported! They are pretty laid back and accepting of expressions of self in this way compared to the Brits and Americans, who certainly over the years (less so now) have responded with a moral guilt trip or public shaming. Could this be to do with the religious history of these countries? The Puritan takeover in Britain and the USA maybe? Some scholars think so!
Perhaps this is why so many people flock to France and its attractive capital city, as they know that here, they can express themselves freely, without judgment. Paris is all too willing to set the scene for such open self expressionism and purposefully provides the back drop, actively encouraging the perception, through as many outlets as possible.
In film and in the arts Paris plays up to her reputation, making her more alluring than ever.
Aphrodite, otherwise known as, Venus de Milo is probably the most famous ancient Greek statue in the world. Created around 100 BC, it is believed to depict Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty (Venus).
No prizes for guessing where the most romantic sculpture in the world can be found! The Louvre in Paris.
Even the memoirs of Casanova, who was Italian but spent many years in Paris were bought for over $9 million, and reside in the French capital. ‘The original versions of Casanova’s erotic memoir has achieved the status of a French relic” said, Tony Perrotet of Smithsonian Magazine.
France is the country where cinema was born and there has been many romantic masterpieces created by the French and enjoyed by millions. Breathless, Les Enfants du Paradis, Amélie, Paris Je t’aime, The Artist, Blue is the Warmest Colour, to name a few. Most of which extol the romantic virtues of Paris.
And was not the sexiest bombshell actress at one time, a Paris native? Bridgette Bardot.
Add to this the scents that massage the senses from Chanel to ummmmm Chanel? Ha! I know there are many perfume houses here but, who can forget Marilyn Monroe’s unabashed admission that the only thing she wears to bed, is Chanel No 5!
In addition to all of the above, you have the exquisite setting in Paris: The Eiffel Tower, Montmartre and Notre Dame. Cobbled, winding narrow streets, hugged by picturesque apartments and illuminated by the ‘city of light’ lamps. The gorgeous glistening River Seine (where reportedly David Bowie asked Iman to marry him), and those stunning bridges. Bridges made even more famous by the love locks craze that first started in the capital, leading to thousands paying homage every year to ‘immortalise’ their romance with a lock that sealed their relationships!
Oh how tourists lamented when the love locks were pulled from les ponts a few years ago. But the French showed no anguish when the locks were wrenched from their hinges. To them, the whole idea of how this ritual symbolised love was antithetical. In France, love has a freer spirit, there is no lock or force. The French didn’t just find the locks physically ugly but the idea behind them, was at odds with what they truly believe. Nonetheless, the ‘love-lock’ concept added to the romantic image of Paris.
It’s also important to note that the French do place marriage as a top priority. It is the key relationship in the family. In other cultures the children tend to dominate, at the expense of the relationship between the parents, but the French try incredibly hard to maintain the romance in their marriage. But this too comes with an understanding, widely accepted it seems, that infidelity can play a role even without compromising a marriage. It seems loosely accepted that certain needs may need to be fulfilled and those caught doing it – even publicly sometimes – are rarely vilified (Remember the François Holland sex scandal? The French hardly raised an eyebrow). Which is not the case in most other cultures like in the UK of America. One may not agree but its appears to be a cultural thing but this tide may be changing.
Paris is famously and unashamedly romantic. Even the thought of a quiet dinner here, with the distant sound of an accordion playing in the background, conjures up images of love and romance. The city appears to captivate once romantic intentions, with a love strike rate unmatched by any other city but why? Because they have that delectable secret weapon – the French language.
The French accent is literally romance served, period! It is charming, beguiling and mesmerizing and can have, even the most unromantic pragmatists quivering like jelly. It is verbal seduction. Someone French could merely be giving you directions and even at that point, you are unwittingly melting. There’s just something about it!
With all these things in her favour, you can see why it will always be her intention to ensure that, ‘Vous avez un coup de foudre!’ You fall in love with her at first sight!
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Happy Valentines Day, Paris love x