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Paris's ambiance is intoxicating

Loran Smith

Loran Smith

Coming to Paris offers unparalleled emotional and spirit-enhanced stimulation. It's the "feel" which envelopes you the moment you arrive. I like The City of Lights, and I like the French. Walking the streets, even when you are alone, causes you to gently drop into the depths of gratitude-a humbling and enriching experience. Every city, for the most part, offers something redeeming, but none has a comfort level like that of Paris.

Joie de vivre. Viva la France!

You are safe, best I can tell, wherever you go in Paris. There is occasional unrest in the suburbs, but Paris remains as unsullied as it was a century ago. The police walk around the airport with submachine guns, international terrorism being what it is, but you simply cannot imagine anybody packing a pistol when strolling the streets of Paris. A thug mentality doesn't reside here. Right away you notice the absence of tension as you become a Parisian for a brief spell.

My hotel room in a neighborhood near the Eiffel Tower is comfortable and efficient, although it would barely measure up to American budget motel standards when it comes to familiar construction and typical conveniences. I would never rent a motel room in the U.S. as modest as the one I had recently at the St. Dominique, for only one illuminating reason: it would likely be in a neighborhood where I would feel unsafe and threatened.

Paris's ambiance is intoxicating, its everyday life so accordant and congenial. Lovers, arm in arm, strolling along the Seine, little old ladies walking their dogs as midnight approaches, and on every block restaurants whose tables spill out into the street and leave little space for pedestrians to traverse. Both patrons and pedestrians reflect a "nevermind" attitude as the encroached thoroughfare tightens and narrows.

Everybody in Paris seems to be having a good time in the evening -- a gathering of friends to enjoy a good meal, which is always complemented by the pouring of good wine. The wine is always good -- mostly great -- in Paris. Could that have something to do with the atmosphere? The same bottle of wine in another setting, accented by stress or something disagreeable, would make the wine's taste and appeal seem lesser no doubt.

When you are a visitor, you can enjoy Paris if you don't speak French, but one can only imagine what it would be like to be able to sit and eavesdrop on the conversation at the adjacent table. If you don't speak French, it doesn't have to ruin your evening. You can still get a table on the sidewalk. Your waiter will speak enough English to help you order, and you can point to a dish at the table beside you. The French, in my experience, will eagerly try to help you. In fact, they are downright generous with their hospitality if you lead with a smile and politely ask for assistance.

The treasured time for a stroll in Paris is just after sunset, when enough daylight remains to read a newspaper while sitting on a park bench. Walk the Avenue des Champs-Elysees in the direction of the Arc de Triomphe and marvel at the throngs of people enjoying the end of their day -- walking leisurely and socializing as if there is not a suffering soul in any hemisphere.

If you find your way to La Tour Eiffel, you want to go when darkness has encroached. That is when lights illuminate the tower from its base to its apex, some 1,063 feet -- the tallest structure in Paris. It would be difficult to discover a more stunning sight than the Eiffel tower in the evening.

Walking the neighborhoods of Paris is tonic for the soul, but regrettably, you realize that it is one of the remaining few places in the world where you can do so without apprehension and trepidation.

Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at loransmithathens@bellsouth.net.