She’s beautiful in the way only an American promise-land can be, a rigid alabaster facade and best-kept-secrets abound. Blessed with perfect comic timing, her laugh is always right on cue, but she takes her confidences as seriously as she takes herself so don’t look too closely— a row of grinning pearly whites reveal nicotine like zebra stripes and a layer of rouge on cheeks thick enough to stain. Too much pavement not enough soul, too much honkey-tonk not enough drear and whisper. Sure, she’ll take your breath away, but you’ll find she’s stratified her affection.
I've been here for years and long since memorized the gothic angles of these gridded southern streets, the slow curves and little sighs that indicate a path right or wrong. Along the way, you quickly learn not not to confuse such knowledge with intimacy, for affect’s never been a ruse intended to reveal more than the superficial—childhoods spent chasing fireflies barefoot in the grass, Elvis crushes, county fairs, or first kisses—so much pillow-talk fluff. ‘Give us this day our daily banal;’ here where true secrets are guarded close to the heart you can ‘cross yours and hope to die,’ but anything worth knowing will be taken to the grave.
Still, the truth is I don't belong here either and Nashville doesn’t take kindly to strangers— she’s all “bless your heart,” but inside I know she’s gnashing her teeth as she kneads her biscuits. Paste jewels and gritty glamour offer no harbor in a storm, no rest for the weary. Still, it's tempting to settle, as it always is. Golden tresses curling just-so call to fingers, and promises of morning-after intimacy keep flickering hope alive. It’s impossible not to appreciate the skyline in her smile, but when I reach to touch the kitsch of these Broadway lips my mind never fails to tug me away.
In an instant, memory turns to the shape shifting streets of another, how they waver from ethereally whimsical to breathtaking violence in the span of an afternoon walk or a busker-filled metro ride. Light and arcades; an open handed invitation calling lovers and strangers alike to climb right down into the marrow of her bones and pop back up again with the rest of the rat-eyed-dreamers, or lose themselves in cobblestone streets and cliché strung rooftops. Yeah, that's Paris for you, mystery and manners with a seething soft underbelly of sin all hidden behind doors whose paint whispers romance and revolution. Whereas Nashville's your typical southern belle: pomp, circumstance and a neon lit smile hiding anything that might be considered immediately authentic. "The bigger the hair, the closer to God," they tell me, and surely she's going straight up, 3,000 a day—but in fame or flames, who's to say?
If I had to quantify my feelings, I'd say Paris was the Sartre to my De Beauvoir, inspirational in spades but unconventional and always requiring work. Perhaps because no matter how challenging, the struggles we choose remain somehow more palatable than the ones imposed upon us— a common sentiment amongst those who make a foreign city home or the rootless of any sort. It’s the thrill of finding ourselves in the isolating thrum of a rhythm not our own, the pulsing surge of a crowd or the ebb and flow of river that resists familiarities. It’s the synesthesia of streets and colors that become maps and tastes when we close our eyes, a modern mess of graffiti-memories that people our solitude as we embrace the role of the Baudelairian flâneur, buoy-less, a mind tethered only to the unknown.
So here I remain, if only for the moment, head resting on the heart of this city but mind wandering off to another, just a skipped beat and some 7000 odd miles away. And so I leave you with the wisdom of a wanderer: Cities are like lovers, some to be taken for better or worse, others existential and unrequited, a modern romance, a work perpetually in progress. In the end, whether our hearts lean towards the lull of the steady or the ebb and flow of the ache is personal, but as for me… well, I'll always have Paris.