I love Paris. Maybe it’s cliché, maybe I’d sound cooler if this post began “I love Kuala Lumpur” (and who knows – I probably would love Kuala Lumpur), but my love for Paris is more than a superficial infatuation with the Louvre Pyramid on a dark night when the Eiffel Tower sparkles in the background. My love for Paris is a love of the city’s soul. What is the city’s soul, you ask? Ask a hundred people and you’ll get a hundred answers, but my answer is: ideas.
I finished my work in Sardinia in a blur (as you can tell by my lack of blog posts), and I arrived in Paris a week ago today. Getting set up to continue my research at the Museúm national d’Histoire naturelle is an ongoing process. I have to get an access badge, register my computer with the museum’s network, have a preliminary meeting with my postdoc advisor, retrieve my materials, organize my work for the month, make appointments to use imaging equipment, buy civil insurance… If only all I had to do in order to do my research was the research!
But I’m impervious to the complications of re-finding my place here because I’m so darn happy to be back. Paris is one of the homes I’ve chosen. Few places I’ve traveled have felt so immediately comfortable, and I attribute that comfort to being surrounded by ideas. Ideas make me happy. I rarely feel more myself than when I’m mulling over some new discovery or work of art, and these things are everywhere in Paris. Posters for independent films hang beside the usual blockbusters. Flyers invite you to watch comedians dissect everything from family relations to global politics. Newsstands display Beaux Arts and Science&Vie with more fanfare than the French equivalents of Cosmopolitan and GQ.
And those are just the mainstream ideas. Get to know a Parisian, and you’ll find yourself drawn into subcultures of ideas that lead to more ideas that lead to who knows where. I wasn’t in Paris a week before one of my new flat mates invited me to her concert at La Java, where Edith Piaf once sang, as part of a celebration of À Nous la Nuit, a French movement similar to Take Back the Night. Before the evening was over, I had been invited to feminist film festivals and shibari demonstrations, and I can only guess where attending those might lead. Sadly, they’re taking place after I return to the States, but just knowing they’re out there adds to my sense of being a happy rabbit dropped into a twisting warren of thoughts.
Ideas make Paris the perfect place to be a researcher. Even if most of what I encounter isn’t directly related to my work, the constant flow of ideas makes me feel curious, sharp, and creative. The atmosphere is inspiring, and it’s everywhere. Even on my morning metro commute, everyone is reading.