“Paris is a brand. Every year more than forty-two million visitors buy into ‘Vive le France’, making it the most successful brand in the world.”
“The national characteristics… the restless metaphysical curiosity, the tenderness of good living, and the passionate individualism. This is the invisible constant in a place with which the ordinary tourist can get in touch just by sitting quite quietly over a glass of wine in a Paris bistro.” Lawrence Durrell, 1969
What else can be said? All adjectives and superlatives have been used exhaustively. It is simply Paris. This one word conjures up images of the Eiffel Tower, Arc De Triumph, the Moulin Rouge, and the Louvre. Even before the visitor arrives, they have inherent perceptions and inherited memories of the French capital. So intrinsic is Parisian culture on the rest of the world that visitors feel they are returning to a place from their past, not arriving into an unexplored city.
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Memories are filtered through a grainy black and white lens, as it adds an extra element of romance as visitors reminisce on walks along the banks of the Seine with a lover; sip espresso in a smoke-filled café in the roaring twenties reading Le Petit Parisien; or even the never-ending evenings of champagne, hedonism, and burlesque, where any act is forgiven and lost to the night.
Paris transcends the confines of street signs and building numbers, it refuses to be so defined commonly. It is the ultimate source of creative inspiration for the layman and artist alike. Lautrec, Renoir, and Matisse are among an infinite list of artists, directors, authors, and architects who sought and found their muse in this bohemian jungle. Their names and the works they created, just like the visitor’s life-long memories of romance, charm, and passion, are synonymous with one word, Paris.
But Paris is so much more than just a city. Paris is a brand. Every year more than forty-two million visitors buy into ‘Vive le France’, making it the most successful brand in the world. It doesn’t need marketing, it’s instantly recognizable. The familiarity of the city-scape brings to mind not only Paris but all of Europe. There is no market share, it is the market. Paris doesn’t just sell itself, but every other nation on the continent.
Whilst Rome, Berlin or even Athens have their own draw cards, you can’t say you have been to Europe if you haven’t been to Paris. It may not be your first destination, but it’s certainly the first question that is asked on you return home, ‘Oh you’ve been to Europe, did you visit Paris?’ If the tourist can be viewed as a consumer, then it can be said that they also have a choice. But with such a desirable attraction, coupled with social expectations there is no choice, Paris chooses you.
Whilst it’s a mere reflection of its former glory, no other city is designed so perfectly to meet the tourist experience. It plays on its own romantic identity. Café Les Deux in Montmarte, where Améle was filmed and now a major tourist destination, is the perfect example of this. The film is about ‘an innocent and naive girl in Paris, with her own sense of justice, [who] decides to help those around her and along the way, [and] discovers love.’
This is exactly what Paris sells; the image of the rebellious, but innocent youth, falling in love for the first time. It’s so overwhelmingly powerful that it is undeniably bought into, time and again. But does this experience offer anything of real substance? The guidebooks suggest to ‘head off the beaten path and explore the side streets’. But these narrow cobblestoned pathways are designed for passes by to become lost within. Independent contemporary galleries meet antique stores and bistros in perfectly restored eighteenth-century townhouses. It’s this small attention to detail that makes it so immaculately flawless.
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The tourist is not an independent character exploring the city, their agency is not their own. They play the role of their own deepest desires and the city provides the scene, aromas, and time period. Paris is in vogue and everyone wants to be one of the beautiful people. It’s there on display on the major boulevards, where ‘locals’ are living a perceived yet temporary existence in a city out of time.
Jean Cocteau, a French poet, wrote ‘In Paris, everybody wants to be an actor; nobody is content to be a spectator.’ But these words are by no means a critique of Paris. For want of a better word, Paris is perfect. Disneyland isn’t on the outskirts of the city; it is the city. It’s where dreams come true and will stand eternally foremost in the hearts of visitors because after all, ‘…we’ll always have Paris.’