We’ll Always Have Paris

Rosana Francescato
5 min readMay 2, 2023

The beauty that humans create

As I was watching a random video the other day that ended with a French song evocative of times past, I was suddenly filled with the feeling that whatever we do to our crazy world, we humans have created some amazing and beautiful things.

Although I’ve been writing about the ways we destroy and separate ourselves from nature, overlook women, and generally mess things up — or maybe because I’ve been writing about these things — this felt to me like a moment of grace. It compelled me to deviate from my planned post for this week, which to be honest I’d barely started on. Not that I have a super-strict schedule. And there was something about this moment that brought up a feeling I wanted to capture.

Some of my posts are more informative than others, and I enjoy learning as I write. But sometimes it’s good to pause and reflect, and evocative songs have a way of getting us to do that. Though this one got me thinking about Paris, the feeling it evoked went far beyond that city.

What is it about Paris?

I’ve only visited Paris briefly a few times, all very long ago. Although I loved it, I don’t have any special connection to the city, or to France. But it has such a strong presence in our Western culture that I have a very specific and powerful feeling attached to the place. Lately, that feeling has been welling up when I see movies or TV shows set in Paris, pulling me in, making me want to visit again.

I get a similar feeling with some other cities, like New York and Chicago, cities that have a rich tapestry of history embedded in them (and in those two cases, memories of my own). Old cities feel so alive with history — even if, like me, you’re a terrible student of history and can’t remember facts to save your life.

You don’t need to know the details of history to feel the presence in cities like Paris of those who have come before us. You can feel it when you’re in the midst of streets and buildings where so many things have happened to so many people. Shaping and reinforcing this feeling are books and movies, such as the noir films set in San Francisco. When I go to my dentist near the Stockton Tunnel, I always think about The Maltese Falcon. Paris, of course, goes back much farther in time, but for me, it evokes the late 1800s and early to mid 1900s — likely because of my references from books, movies, and art.

More than just cities

This Paris feeling, like the New York, Chicago, and San Francisco feelings, is about much more than just the streets, parks, and buildings that make up a city. It’s about more than culture, as complex and interesting as human culture is. It’s about a zeitgeist, or maybe various zeitgeists from different times, each of which can stir up a whole set of associations and sensations.

And that, more than the cities themselves, is what really gets me.

I’m prone to comparing modern life and all its ills to previous times when we lived in harmony with the rest of nature. I yearn for the community and healthy living of hunter-gatherer and other less-modern societies. I can’t help but think their way of life is better. Maybe I’m romanticizing those societies, but I truly believe they had something special that we’ve mostly lost.

When I get to talking about this, people remind me of the amazing things we’ve created in Western civilization, in addition to advances in science — particularly, our music, art, and literature. And that’s a valid point. If you threw me into a hunter-gatherer society, I’d miss all of those things, and I’d certainly yearn for modern comforts and conveniences. You can’t go back. (Although Europeans who were captured or taken in by Native communities in the 1700s got used to living with them and often preferred that life.)

But when I get that Paris feeling, it strikes me that there’s much more to appreciate in modern civilization beyond the wonderful art that we’ve created, in all its beautiful forms. There’s some special quality we’ve created in each time and place. When I think about the many places I’ve never been and the many times I’ve never experienced, and the richness and uniqueness I’ve missed in each of those, I feel sad to have missed out on them. I appreciate those I have experienced, like San Francisco in the 1980s. Or the zeitgeist of my hometown, Urbana, Illinois, in the 1960s and 1970s, which had its own beautiful quality — and even the zeitgeist of my own family at the time. I think of these with great fondness, imperfect as they were.

What endures

We’re living in the most difficult and alarming times that many of us have ever experienced. I don’t know how we’ll look back on these times, or if fondness will be involved. Nostalgia is funny, of course, and we can feel it even for times and places we didn’t love. There’s no doubt, though, that our current times are causing undue suffering for countless humans and other species. Wherever we come out in the next few decades, even if things improve dramatically, we’ll be looking back on a lot of collateral damage.

In light of all this, I find some measure of comfort in reflecting on the beauty we humans have created throughout our time on this planet. Some of it is beauty we’ve created intentionally in our works of art, but some we’ve created just by existing as social animals.

The special fabric of each time is woven into our history. There’s a way in which all the times and places that have come before live on in our collective consciousness. And maybe in the collective unconscious. Whatever happens, they can’t take that away from us.

We’ll always have Paris.

Originally published at https://flowerchild.substack.com.

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Rosana Francescato

Clean energy analyst, advocate, communicator spreading the good solar word