I refuse to submit to the idea that Paris is a cliché. I marvel at the same picture of the Eiffel tower everybody takes from the same exact spot. I love to remember walking through modern streets and suddenly encountering a block full of very old buildings or a very old church.
I live in Puerto Rico, a country that little more than 500 years old. So no one has any idea of how fascinated I was in a city as old and memorable as Paris, where the same streets were walked by people when Columbus first came to Puerto Rico, where the Seine River was crossed daily by human beings 1,000 years ago.
Paris is a cliché. But it has not become it for nothing. When I went in summer 2004 to take a month-long class at La Sorbonne, I had never had a digital camera (I was exclusively a Lomographer only until 2007 because I had no money nor interest in digital cameras). I owned a Nikon FM10, the same camera I had bought to take my undergraduate photography class. It’s a completely manual, 35mm camera, and if you know how to deal with aperture and exposure, you know the photographs you’re taking are infallible. It took time to focus, though.
That camera went everywhere with me in Paris in 2004. It was later stolen in a break-in at home, but at least I have beautiful memories of it, which are evident in the wonderful photographs I took with it. It strolled with me by the Seine. It was heavy in my purse while I rummaged through the July “soldes.” It shared space with a set of watercolor pencils I bought at a “ten cent” store in Boulevard Saint-Michel with which I repeatedly attempted to draw while sitting in the cozy, little park next to the Museé de Cluny (I always got distracted there watching an old man who came every day to feed the pigeons, which expected him, and finding little nooks in the stone walls). It saw great works of art. It allowed me to photograph inside Notre Dame Cathedral (because of its obvious lack of flash).
They didn’t allow me to photograph from the Arc du Triomphe, though. I had a tripod and was planning to take those breathtaking pics of nighttime Paris, with the Eiffel tower in the backdrop. While I was installing it, an employee told me not to. I was heartbroken. I took several pics that came out moved (and that really annoyed me back then) and spent the rest of the night crying and in a bad humor. I later learned it’s prohibited to take nice, defined pictures of the Eiffel tower at night, when it’s lit-up. The government of France reserves the right to publish them.
Paris turned my life around for a while. I had been there before with my mother in 1999 (we backpacked throughout Europe as my high school graduation present), but only for three rainy days that were too uncomfortably wet and cold to be July. My mom also went again, without me, later. It wore off with time, but after visiting it this second time, I obsessively believed my sole purpose in life was to find the way to live there. I printed the pics roll by roll, every time I could get some money, and meticulously organized them in numbered albums, like some sort of logically ordered collection.