By Alissa Ralph
You are standing on the corner of Broadway and Prince Street with a Starbucks latte. It’s autumn, and you’re feeling sentimental. You’re wearing a scarf your mother knit you when you were in seventh grade — then, the size of a blanket, now, a just-right shawl. The pattern is a bold tartan, and you inwardly thank her for making something so perpetually chic. You’ll have to give her a call later; maybe soon, you think, because the October breeze is tempting you indoors. Everyone around you is going somewhere. A woman pushing a baby stroller goes from a speed- walk to a jog, adjusting the volume on her headphones. A teenage couple holding hands stop briefly in front of an eyeglasses store display, giggling with those-would-look-stupid-on-me’s and I-think-they’d-look-cute’s. The subway whines and rumbles beneath your feet, somewhere far below this world — in what feels like another world completely. You’re reminded of the Tube in London.
You’re there, now, as though you never left. You’re standing with a map in your hand, wishing your iPhone hadn’t run out of battery. Oxford Circus, you think, must have been no coincidental name, as the place is overrun with people, noise, lights, cars, consequences, life. You’re not sure where to look, so you look up. The buildings are old with stone and brass-paned windows. They are filled to the brim with tourists from countries you have or haven’t heard of, speaking flurried languages you only might be able to identify. They’re people who hope they’ll see the Queen, people who want to kiss atop the London Eye. You know the people who pass by like ghosts — save for the ones that step on your toes or bump you with their briefcase — are the real Londoners, cursing rush hour in the most congested part of the city. If they stopped for long enough, you know you’d see them pull back their trench coat sleeve, look at their Daniel Wellington watch, and wonder if they’ll make it home in time for Sunday roast. It’s getting dark now, after all.
And in Paris, the nights make you feel the most. You’re sitting at a small restaurant, and the stirring you feel comes after 8pm, when the string lights lining the Rue de Buci are on and glimmering. It is a hard emotion to put into words, but everyone around you seems to be feeling it. You have a glass of Bordeaux on the table and a menu in your hands. You can’t decide between the mussels and the blanquette de veau, but you’re so full of a gentle calm you’re almost not hungry anyway. The joie de vivre you feel is emanating from everything. Twosomes are everywhere, embracing under a store’s awning or passing by with a little dog on a leash. It’s funny to you how close Paris is to the Paris you always envisioned: bathed in romance, romance, romance, and alive with art, music, and culture. You want to talk to everyone, no matter how bad your pronunciation is. You want to sketch the sculptures at Le Louvre. You want to run up the famous Sacré-Cœur steps without losing your breath, and eat that second (or third) crêpe of the week. You want to fall in love. Instead, you order another glass of wine, and decide on the mussels.