Seems to me I read a lot of stories with Paris and the city is a symbol, apparently, of change, and often in literary fiction, loss. Stories centered there often featured love, but always change and transition. Due to a terrible hotel experience, Paris is not my favorite city and due to some bookclub reads, I cannot think of the city as romantic. In literary fiction, no happy ending is guaranteed, there I more books with a Parisian theme than I report, but, recently I read two books with Paris as a central element and, it got me to thinking about why Paris, and even France, is so synonymous with romance.
I did not enjoy my first and only visit to Paris, but another trip to France did not result in better sympathies between me and the country where love rules, much less Paris.
So why are Paris and France so associated with Romance? A search online reveal nothing historical or anthropological to identify the reputation that makes it the “City of Love.” And, what makes the entire culture one that is associated with love and romance?
Here’s what I think:
Chivalric Tradition and the far reach of French Court Manners:
The “romance” of France may begin in the Middle Ages with the tradition of chivalry and courtly love that is associated with the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England as the wife of Henry 2, formerly the Queen of France, but the Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right. As Queen of France, Eleanor actually went on Crusade making her a legend before her marriage to Louis VII was annulled. As a Duchess in her own right, Eleanor left Louis and headed off to her Duchy of Aquitaine. Two French counts attempted to capture her and force marriage, but Eleanor had already (it is thought) arranged to marry Henry II, Duke of Normandy and he and she were married just eight weeks after her marriage to Louis was annulled. The intrigue of these events and the tumultuous nature of the long marriage would have added to the allure and legendary status of this French and English couple.
Of all her influence on culture, Eleanor’s time in Poitiers between 1168 and 1173 was perhaps the most critical, yet very little is known about it. Henry II was elsewhere, attending to his own affairs after escorting Eleanor there. Some believe that Eleanor’s court in Poitiers was the “Court of Love” where Eleanor and her daughter Marie meshed and encouraged the ideas of troubadours, chivalry, and courtly love into a single court. It may have been largely to teach manners, something the French courts would be known for in later generations. Yet the existence and reasons for this court are debated. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleanor_of_Aquitaine#The_Court_of_Love_in_Poitiers)
The influence would be felt as French manners and language became the standard throughout Europe as marriages were made among the noble and royal families of Europe. Even Anne Boleyn, future Queen of England, spent about six-years serving Mary Tudor, Queen of France and her successor Queen Claude. While her reign as Queen of England ended in tragedy, her “French ways” at first lauded and then reviled, she was the mother of Queen Elizabeth I who was known to be well-educated and “She could speak and read six languages: her native English, as well as French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, and Latin.” (https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_I_of_England)
Troubadors, the bards of the chivalric tradition moved the stories told in France to the rest of Europe.
Paris IS Beautiful
Although I did not enjoy Paris, I could appreciate the beauty of it. Even in WWII I understand streps were taken not to screw with Paris.. There are all those amazing iconic scenes: the Arc de Triomphe is moving, the Eiffel Tower, while an marvel of engineering for the time, has never struck me as romantic, others seem to feel it is a symbol of romance. But the neighborhoods of Paris are beautifully arranged and their uniformity makes a lovely display of architecture, but it that romantic?
Truth, Love, Beauty!
Bohemia was a part of Czechoslovakia but, as you may recall from the movie, MOULIN ROUGE. poetry, art and love was the language of romance in the late nineteenth century and there were many poets and writers who went there. Since this was the seedier side of life – prostitution, consumption, poverty in unheated garret, I can’t see the romance in it. But, “suffering for one’s art” is romantic (until one is the person suffering). And, perhaps this is where our modern concept of Paris as a center of romance and love lies. The advent of film and telecommunication, not to mention the paperback novel, spread this idea across the western world.
Most of us are now far enough removed from that time that we can look back, and be thrilled to see Ewan MacGregor tapping away at his typewriter about the loss of his love.
Food, Wine, Chocolate!
Champagne, butter, pastry and chocolate. No further explanation needed.
As for me, what would make Paris romantic and more lovely was getting the hotel room I reserved; it would go along way to helping me better understand the allure of Paris.
Do you think Paris is the center of romance? Why do you think it is, or isn’t, the be all and end all of romance? Check back over the next couple of days as I look at two contemporary romances situated in Paris.