By Pragathi Praveena
People all around the world possess an idealised romantic version of Paris in their minds, thanks to mushy novels and schmaltzy movies. This summer, I discovered that the clichés were true, and that Paris can turn a cynic into a believer. No, really.
It was a journey that started last year in September, when I began to look in earnest for internships abroad. Although from an Electrical Engineering background, my interests tended strongly towards neuroscience and I was looking out for universities that offered a holistic exposure to Computational Neuroscience. After a few heartbreaks that seem trivial in retrospect, I landed an internship in Paris at École Normale Supérieure (ENS), via the Charpak Scholarship. Cue ten unforgettable weeks of my life.
I have just plugged in my earphones. The dulcet tones of Between the Bars by Agathe Iracema transport me right back into Paris…
Somewhere in Ménilmontant, in the city’s 20th arrondissement, I am sorting through my grocery – camembert cheese, pink wine, spaghetti, pasta sauce and a dozen apples. Twenty minutes later I have spaghetti al dente, wine in a mug and cheese and apple for dessert. I relish my meal, heaped together rather amateurishly, delighted nevertheless that it has made it through without being burnt, undercooked or stuck to the sides of the pot. The aftermath of the cooking adventure – a mess of utensils and ingredients – is resting in the corner of my studio apartment which houses the kitchenette. In addition, I have a microwave and a kettle, a nice TV with a full French subscription that is put to use only during the FIFA World Cup, a very comfortable bed that isn’t conducive to waking up, a coffee machine that is, and a shower with hot water, which is extremely helpful since Paris has been cold for most of the summer and warrants a sweater on all days.
Since I had travelled widely through Europe before and I don’t really feel the urge to plan and backpack, I decide to stay in Paris for the most part and explore.
So, first things first.
Are Parisians extremely well dressed, fashionable and chic all the time?
Do the French smoke a lot?
Is Paris a patchwork of cobbled quaint streets?
Not entirely. They have tarred, wide and boring roads as well. But there are enough of the stereotypical streets in every neighbourhood to live up to your expectation and relive Midnight in Paris.
Are French guys cute?
Are French women hot?
Do the French eat cheese, sip wine and ooze lovely poetry all the time?
The first two – definitely. The speech does have a tendency to get a flavour of romance and poetry. They are also very nice to people from other countries and are very forthcoming and gregarious.
Now that we have swept the usual questions out of the way, let’s move ahead. My Paris experience basically ran along these lines: