Paris is more of a presence in my life than a place. For the last 25 years I have spent time there, mostly long stays of 3 or 4 weeks. Strung together it probably amounts to two or three years. I have rented the same apartment on rue Maître Albert for the last 15 of those years. In many ways it feels more like home than Baltimore where I wait between Paris trips.
Each arrival in Paris is like a continuation of the last visit. Rather than remembering Paris it is a if I'm forgetting Baltimore. The time between compresses until it vanishes, as if on my last morning in Paris I walked up to Place Maubert to get a taxi to the airport but changed my mind at the last second and continued up rue Monge to the Keyser boulangerie and now I'm walking home with my warm baguette and a new day in Paris in front of me.
Paris is the place where I feel most present. I relate to the city in a physical way - sound and touch and smell. Yes, I see it as well and in fact record a lot of what I see on film but when I close my eyes and think about my experiences in Paris I hear it and feel it and smell it. When things in ordinary life remind me of Paris it is never the visual but rather the sounds and textures and smells that carry my thoughts.
One of the first things I do on each visit is walk the short distance to Notre Dame. Just inside the back gate, nearest the river, to the gardens behind the cathedral are four trees arranged in a square and one of them has become a symbol for me of my relationship with Paris. It has been oddly grafted in a way that makes it seem animated in a welcoming way. It is very much how I feel in Paris, grafted on, not born here but taking nourishment from its cultural soil. My tree has rough bark with deep crevices and as I rub my hand along its roughness, that texture on my hand welcomes me again to Paris.