Saturday, 9 October 2010

Paris syndrome

Right, this should be the last post inspired by Paris for a time. While I was there, I got to thinking about Paris syndrome, the sickness that affects mainly Japanese visitors to the French capital. Officials at the Japanese embassy say they have to help up to 20 tourists a year when their experience of a dream destination is destroyed by elevated expectations, the language barrier, cultural clashes, crime or plain rudeness.

This is not to be confused with Stendhal syndrome, whose symptoms of fainting, rapid heartbeat and so on are much the same, but is provoked by a particular sensitivity to overwhelming beauty - perhaps much like Henry Miller, 'wandering and wandering' along the Seine, below, though most usually inspired by art. Also named Florence syndrome, the 19th century writer Henri-Marie Beyle (Stendhal) was overcome in the city: on the porch of Santa Croce he was 'seized with a fierce palpitation of the heart; the wellspring of life was dried up within me, and I walked in constant fear of falling to the ground.'

The full-on breakdown abroad is a common outcome in the work of writer Geoff Dyer, whether on the beach in Mexico (Out of Sheer Rage), in Detroit (Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It) or at a pilgrimage site in India (Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi). I feel a sense of liberation somewhere no one knows me, surrounded by another language, but perhaps for some people this can prove too much.

My own relationship with Paris is different: I've been going there since childhood and, while the city hasn't changed that much, I wonder about myself reflected against it: the different, or maybe-not-so-different, mes that have visited, and stood in the same places (pictured, a bar I first visited more than half a lifetime ago). Those moments don't come in the full-time bustle of London, in the same way parents, because they are all the time with their children, don't see them growing up.

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