The Truth About Paris (Everyone Else is Lying)

Photo by Calihan Huntley

I woke up on Christmas Eve with one thing in mind. Paris, France.

I knew while I was in Paris and the following few weeks that I had thoroughly enjoyed my trip, but I didn’t realize how much I loved the city until I was back in the states with no future Paris trip in my sight.

Paris could have gone a totally different direction for me, as almost everything that could have gone wrong, did. Despite delayed flights, canceled hostels, traffic, and tickets bought for the wrong day, I still had a little illicit love affair with Paris.

I came to a tremendous realization while in the fashion capital of the world. That I, Calihan Huntley, was currently living in Madrid with my feet planted solidly in Paris. That tower I was staring at from across the street? That was the real Eiffel Tower, not one from a picture. That painting that people are waiting in line to see up close? That’s the Mona Lisa that I stared at intricately for a good part of my childhood, but this is the real one.

Paris is so heavily photographed that I thought coming to the city would be sort of mundane in a strange, 21st Century way. I see the Eiffel Tower almost every time I open Pinterest, and the famous paintings displayed in art museums are projected onto our classroom Smart Boards. It’s something I oftentimes struggle with. Not realizing that I am in the places that I once admired pictures from, just because I had seen so many pictures that I couldn’t distinguish the fake from the reality. In a moment like that, it’s understandable why older generations think technology is so evil.

We did the big and important Paris Things that everyone must see when they travel to the city. A lot of times the big tourist attractions in various cities get a bad rap. It’s similar to being a fan of an artist, but not wanting to admit that your favorite song is the artist’s most popular song. It’s almost as if your love can be validated by how deep on the album your favorite song it. In reality, it’s the most popular and the most visited for a reason. The Eiffel Tower at night is a scene like no other and The Louvre is big enough you could walk for two weeks without seeing all of the exhibits. Maybe they’re the top two items on any TripAdvisor list, but maybe we can all just learn to acknowledge TripAdvisor might be right.

We did the small, intricate, local things as well. I was lucky enough to travel with two of my friends, Aubrey and Naia. Aubrey had visited Paris many times before and had friends who gave her a lot of ideas for more unknown areas to visit, and Naia knows enough French to get us by. It’s not often that I’m the weak link of a trip, but in Paris I was truly just along for the ride. If Aubrey said to turn right, I turned right and prepared to see the next beautiful sight. When I couldn’t read my menu, I handed it off to Naia to read out loud to me. 

That had to be some of Paris’ appeal to me. All of my other travels of the semester had been alone, meaning I had nobody to lean on but myself. As much as I tell myself that I enjoy solo traveling more since it puts me in complete control of my trip, I also oftentimes ponder the notion that I might be getting too good at being alone. To the point where I don’t enjoy it as much as I think I do, but I see the ability to be alone as a sort of accomplishment. As important as it is to know how to be by yourself, I’m starting to learn that it’s just as important to step back and let someone else make the plans and order the food for me.

One of my favorite places that Aubrey took us was Place du Tertre. It was a plaza on the top of a hill in Montmartre. Almost every square inch of the place is filled with artists creating different pieces in different mediums. You can sit down right then to get your portrait done in charcoal or oil paint or watercolor or pencil or pen or by camera. No request is too big.

Not anyone can display their art in the plaza though, each artist must submit their portfolio to the city and get approved before setting up shop. I immediately fell in love with this idea. That a city would care so much about the art displayed on its streets that they would check the portfolios themselves. It also implies that there’s a team of artists sitting in the government building right now, who are employed by the city just to look at portfolios and discuss their techniques and likes and dislikes. After each project in my collegiate photography class, each student would tack up their work on the bulletin board for other students to compliment and critique. I wonder if the artists of the Paris government also tack up the potential portfolios on the wall of a small lounge with a coffeemaker and dishwasher running in the background.

We went down the famous Av. des Champs-Élysées as well. The avenue with all the famous, mainstream designers on it. Seeing the street was something I wanted to do, and dragged Naia and Aubrey on a 20-minute walk just so I could gaze longingly up at the fashion buildings as I glided down the street. I wasn’t too interested in going inside any of them, which was good as the low-rise jeans and leather jacket with a zipper missing wasn’t the ideal dress code. I just wanted to be on the street and fantasize about the days I would come back to Paris while working for one of these companies. I might have let myself get into my head a bit too much, daydreaming about spending fashion season in Europe when I’m currently just an average girl from the midwest with big dreams.

I wasn’t allowed to stay in fantasy world for too long though, which is probably for the best. High tailing it back to Montmartre in the pouring rain and overly crowded metro, we had a concert to get to. I spent my first night in Paris eating grocery store salami on the rooftop of my hostel, my second night opening and spraying a bottle of champagne on the balcony of Naia and Aubrey’s hotel room, and my third night attending a concert of a small French artist. 

I’ve been thinking about the word ‘engrossed’ a lot lately, which is probably why Paris has been at the forefront of my mind. At the beginning of each big change in my life, such as going back to school, I like to pick a new word to live by for that time period. One of the words I’ve been thinking about is ‘engrossed’ because a majority of my time lately I feel as though I’m just going through life on autopilot. I don’t want to wake up one day in the future and have taken a big part of my life for granted, no matter how mundane it might seem now. So I looked back on my life in the past six months and asked myself, When was the last time I felt truly engrossed in something for more than an hour?

The answer that popped into my head was immediate. I was engrossed with every little intricate detail of Paris, France.

Yours truly,



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