As we noted in our June 26, 2020, post, “Paris/France and…” is a series wherein “and” leads us to categories whose subcategories link to the city/country we know and love. Having explored Paris/France and Body Parts, Paris/France and Colors, Paris/France and the Classical Elements and Paris/France and the Five Food Groups, we move on to Paris/France and Emotions.
− It’s France! It’s Paris! Everyone wants to come here, right? Right (Paris is said to have hosted almost 18 million international visitors in 2018, with an equal number coming from within the country)! Everyone is happy to be here, right? Wrong: not everyone! Have you heard of the ominous-sounding “Paris Syndrome”?
Per Wikipedia, “Paris syndrome…is a sense of disappointment exhibited by some individuals when visiting or going on vacation to Paris, who feel that Paris is not as beautiful” (or, we add, as romantic, sexy, exciting, glamorous, civilized, Hemingway infused, Picassoesque, culinarily exquisite, commercially tasteful) “as they had expected it to be. The syndrome is characterized by a number of psychiatric symptoms such as acute delusional states, hallucinations, feelings of persecution (perceptions of being a victim of prejudice, aggression, or hostility from others), derealization, depersonalization, anxiety, and also psychosomatic manifestations such as dizziness, tachycardia, sweating, and others, such as vomiting…The condition is commonly viewed as a severe form of culture shock. It is particularly noted among Japanese travelers.”
While the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not include this as a recognized condition, some of those suffering from it have sought treatment by Paris-based mental-health professionals and at times have been repatriated by their embassies, per this article and at least the beginning of the video it contains.
Fortunately, between the Paris Syndrome-suffering tourists and the jaded native (or transplanted) Parisians who shock expatriates by grousing bitterly about traffic jams, pollution, dog droppings and generalized stress in “the most beautiful city in the world” (our words), there are those of us who arrived decades ago; who planned to stay a month and wound up staying a lifetime; who planned to stay a lifetime and have never looked back; who have let not a day go by without looking at the radiant Parisian sky (or rhythmic Parisian rain), or at a monument that so many can merely dream of beholding, or at a characteristic shouting match between a white-aproned, haughty waiter and a cowering café customer who dared ask for reasonable service, and considering ourselves…happy.
as presented in a (very) small sampling of artistic output–long viewed as an individual’s means of recognizing, facing, processing, at times even curing depression:
literature − What were YOU doing at the age of 18? Whatever it was, with some exceptions, it was probably not as spectacular as becoming an overnight international literary phenomenon, as did Françoise Sagan with her 1954 debut novel, Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness, followed four years later by an English-language film adaptation). And Mademoiselle Sagan (a pseudonym, based on Marcel Proust’s Princess de Sagan in his À la recherche du temps perdu [In Search of Lost Time]) was not the first writer to greet this emotion: Her title came from the opening lines of surrealist poet Paul Eluard’s “A peine défigurée” (if these uncapitalized words in titles looks strange to you, this might help): “Adieu tristesse/Bonjour tristesse.”
painting − The American prohibition-era temperance groups had their “demon rum.” The French had their absinthe, banned at the beginning of the 20th century as a supposedly hallucination-inducing, addictive psychoactive drug then exonerated–and reauthorized–in the 1990s by new European Union food and beverage laws. In between, as les buveurs d’absinthe (absinthe drinkers) sought refuge in its promise of psychic relief, they–and the cafés they frequented and the equally dejected companions with whom they imbibed–were immortalized in works such as this:
music − Which brings us to what has to be the most gut-wrenching, depressing, bleak, disheartening, dispiriting, oppressive, somber, doleful, heartbreaking, pathetic, mournful, joyless, melancholy song ever written–per not only Jacques Brel’s plaintive music, but especially his groveling, self-effacing, pity-drenched words: “Let me become the shadow of your shadow, the shadow of your hand, the shadow of your dog.” Really? Wow!! (Here’s the entire English translation. Keep scrolling down, below any ads that might be on this site. And try not to jump out a window.)
FEAR − A brief list of what the French seem to fear most:
– not being able to go on summer vacation (long summer vacation)
– having any part of their social safety net taken away or reduced (understandable)
– feeling guilty about no longer wanting to visit grandma 52 Sundays per year (a two-hour drive each way)
– failing (as do all of us, but “If at first you don’t succeed, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try, try again” is not woven into the cultural fabric)
– la malbouffe (junk food [read: fast food – read: American food]: rightly so in the gastronomical capital of Earth; although mal = the adverb “badly,” here it is used with poetic license as an adjective modifying bouffe, which is slang for “food,” the equivalent of “grub,” “chow” [the verb is bouffer])
and if you’re a Gaulois: the sky falling on your head!
− Remember our road-tripping couple from the “Vegetables” section of “Paris/France and the Five Food Groups,” posted this past June 26? Well, there they were with a pledge to gleefully drive their rental car to as many villages in la France profonde as time and gas money would allow. But at a good number of the inns where they stopped for the night, they were treated with what they could only describe as … disgust. The scenario repeated itself regularly: They asked for a room in their foreign-accented French. The innkeepers looked out the window. Saw their car. Looked back at them. Then, with sneering sarcasm, spit out, “Oh! Our friends are here!” The couple was never outright denied accommodations, but they sure weren’t made to feel welcome, either. And they had no planetary idea as to why!
Fast forward several weeks as they sat in a line of cars at the German border, readying their passports for what they expected would be a customs control. They were prepared to say they had nothing to declare. They were prepared to say they’d been traveling through France. They were prepared to say that once they returned the car, they’d be flying back to the U.S. But to their great amazement … they were just waved through. No stopping at the border. No questions. No suspicious looks. Just: Good to go!
Then the whole thing hit them. Seeing its German license plates, the border guards must have assumed that the car the couple had rented in Berlin belonged to fellow citizens: border-control not needed. And all those horrified—disgusted!–innkeepers must have assumed that their new guests were cut from the same cloth as the occupiers who had oppressed France during World War II. Yes, this was 1971, a bit over 25 years since the Allied victory. But in pre-Internet days, especially in the slower-moving French provinces, 25 years was a blip on a timeline. Today, it’s an archeological age.
− “Wow! A medium-size, round box made of bread and filled with interesting, delicious finger-sandwiches!” exclaimed the first-ever person who, on a buffet table, saw a medium-size, round box made of bread, lifted its lid–also made of bread–and discovered that it was filled with interesting, delicious finger-sandwiches. This was–and is–a pain surprise (pronounced, roughly: pa seerpreeeeeze, and meaning “surprise-bread,” as in, “Oooh, what gastronomic marvels am I about to discover?”).
The surprise is not always good (some slapped-together pig-innards crammed between two slices of industrially produced baguette for a get-together at the local police barracks to celebrate the end of the sergeant’s nephew’s first semester in vocational school) but can be spectacular (some exquisite beluga caviar spread onto Russian pumpernickel with a mother-of-pearl spoon [so as not to taint the taste], for a [pre-covid] Paris Fashion Week after-party attended by A-plus listers).
In any case, what’s inside is usually a seerpreeeeeze.
as in an angry mob, as in storming the Bastille–in honor of which, here is a smattering of fascinating (at times myth-busting) facts and figures:
Per Lisa’s great article about Bastille Day festivities, the French do not call Bastille Day “Bastille Day.” They call it either le Quatorze juillet (or le 14 juillet [July 14], and juillet is usually not capitalized, both because months are not capitalized in French and per the link to capitalization rules in SADNESS, above)…or…la Fête nationale ([the national holiday], and notice the “e” on nationale, turning it into a feminine adjective modifying the feminine noun fête; notice also that the circumflex-accent usually replaces an “s” in English [and in Latin, Spanish], with “feast” thus becoming fête). Saying “Bastille Day” to a French person has about as much meaning as saying “Fife-and-Drum Day” when speaking to an American about July 4th.
– The Bastille–a fortress 70 meters (220 ft) long and 30 meters (90 ft) wide, with a moat encircling its 25-meter (80-ft)-high walls and eight towers–was used as a prison by French kings. So, how many prisoners did the Revolutionaries bravely free when they stormed this stronghold? On July 14, 1789, there were ONLY SEVEN PRISONERS IN THE ENTIRETY OF THE IMMENSE BASTILLE!! (There would have been eight, but several days earlier the Marquis de Sade–after whom the term “sadism” was coined–had been transferred to the Charenton mental hospital.)
– A fortress, you say? A prison? Immense? That skinny little column on the place de le Bastille (Bastille Square, and with some exceptions, in street, avenue, boulevard, etc. names, French does not capitalize the word designating the thoroughfare)? Don’t worry–you’re not alone: Unaware that the Medieval building had been demolished by 1791, a visiting Soviet dignitary is said to have asked his French-president host how they had fit “all those prisoners” into that narrow space!
– No one really knows whether it was Marie Antoinette who with ignorant callousness said, “Let them eat cake!” (more accurately, “Let them eat brioche!”) in response to a remark that the peasants were starving for lack of bread.
– And what was a major reason for that lack of bread? Queen Marie Antoinette’s penchant for draining the national treasury to indulge her taste in expensive footwear? Possibly. King Louis XVI’s act of draining the national treasury to help win the American Revolution (with the equivalent of BILLIONS of today’s dollars, as the enemy of my enemy is my friend)? Partially. A volcano? A volcano. A volcano??? Seeking the award for Most Overlooked Crucial Fact in History is the Icelandic volcano Laki, in whose Wikipedia entry we learn that the “meteorological impact of Laki [contribued] significantly to several years of extreme weather in Europe. In France, the sequence of extreme weather events [affected the] harvest in 1785 [and] caused poverty for rural workers, as well as droughts [and] bad winters and summers. These events contributed significantly to an increase in poverty and famine that may have contributed to the French Revolution in 1789.”
See you soon for the next instalment in our “Paris/France and…” series!
Shari Leslie Segall is a writer who lives in Paris.