What makes a city? Do people really matter?

I was pleasantly charmed by a movie I watched recently.  “Midnight in Paris” by Woody Allen, is set in Paris and Owen Wilson plays the character of Gil Pender, a screenwriter trying to write his first novel.  While exploring the city by night, he mysteriously transports to the 1920’s and meets all his favourite writers, musicians and artists.  He falls head over heels in love with the city.  However his fiancé does not share the same sentiment and ironically he falls out of love with her.

Midnight_in_Paris_Poster

Now, I have never really had a deep desire to visit Paris.  Maybe because I thought it was overrated or people fussed about it too much.  In any case, hubby and I had an opportunity to backpack through Europe a few years back.  We were set to spend 2 nights in romantic Paris.  We tried finding our hotel but really struggled to get around because no-one would respond to us in English.

We ended up leaving “romantic Paris”…we couldn’t find any romanticism.  We ended up walking around for hours.  I build up this grudge against the Parisians and immediately decided they were arrogant and snobby.  There was no way we would spent our hard-earned money there.

Quite disappointed we left Paris

Quite disappointed, we left Paris

We left and spent an extra two nights in Barcelona!  Wow, what a city!  Ironically we had a total different experience!  We had a lovely, warm reception, and people made an effort to help us.  It quickly became our favourite place, and I would go there on the drop of a dime.

Now 8 years later, I’m rethinking everything…especially after watching this movie.  Also, a friend of mine and fellow Blogger, Wade Manning, moved to Paris recently, and I really enjoy reading about his experiences.

In hindsight, I realise I was a bit ignorant.  I could have made an effort to learn the basic: Bonjour Monsieur, parlez-vous anglais?”  But I also ask myself why they could not make an effort to be more friendly?  Why must they be so snobbish?  Maybe our decision to leave prematurely robbed us of some brilliant experiences.  And that is what travelling is about…learning about new places, people and cultures.  And we chose to abort “living the French way”.  We never got to eat any French food or visit the Eiffel Tower… none of that!

So I pose the question:  “What makes a city? Do people really matter?”  My conclusion is…yes, people matter.  People can either make or break your trip.  Coming from sunny South Africa, I am proud to say that our people are said to be some of the friendliest in the world.  I have met countless tourists and visitors and they would always commend us.  “Ubuntu” is what and who we are.

Desmond Tutu explains what Ubuntu is:

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”

Children of South Africa

Friendly children of South Africa

I love that…and I try to live that.  Our general culture in South Africa is one of Ubuntu, and yes you do get rude and angry people who choose not to live by this concept.  And this is true for every country in the world.  Maybe we just ran into the wrong people on that disastrous day we arrived in Paris.

Time is a healer.  I think I’m ready to embrace and give Paris another chance.  As Owen Wilson’s character sums it up in this quote from the movie:

Adriana: I can never decide whether Paris is more beautiful by day or by night.
Gil: No, you can’t, you couldn’t pick one. I mean I can give you a checkmate argument for each side. You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can’t. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights, I mean come on, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe.”

I think I’m ready to experience this now.  Paris is now once again on my list of places to visit, and this time I will go ready and armed!

Paris, nous voici!!

So again I pose the question:  “What makes a city? Do people really matter?”  What is your feeling?

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