Paris, you say? Yes, I know Paris. Paris is where art, sex, and sophistication all intersect. Yes, I know Paris. In Paris we smoke cigarettes in small cafes into the wee hours of morning, thinking not of the past or the future, only the present. That’s Paris. In Paris we wear berets and eat fresh baguettes on street corners, the steam from baguettes encircling our heads. That’s Paris. Paris is where a child, named Gustave, feigns a scraped knee in a busy plaza and mugs you. That’s Paris. In Paris, you’ll find heartbreak as easily as you’ll find a man mugged by the very same Gustave, again, a week later, in the exact same plaza.

That’s Paris. I know Paris.

Been to Paris? Yes, I suppose I have, if by “been” you mean “consume” and if by “Paris,” you mean… well… “Paris.” Paris is for exploration and exhumation. Paris is for 19-year-olds from Cleveland getting into fistfights with men in clown suits over a taxicab. That’s Paris. In Paris, the wine flows just as the Seine; rapidly and without concern. In Paris we dance. In Paris, we cry. In Paris we drink too much and enter the wrong apartment, accidentally sleeping in the wrong bed. That’s Paris. Paris is where you sleep in the bed of the clown that beat you up a few days ago, but he’s actually pretty cool about it and the two of you form a friendship.

I know Paris.

Paris is where the exhibition is the show. In Paris, we dance in the streets to the craggy sound of an old phonograph. In Paris, we lose the tube portion of our sleep apnea machine and struggle to breath through 90 sleepless nights. That’s Paris. Paris is where the clown you punched and later became friends with tries to steal the part of the sleep apnea machine you lost, but comes up empty. That’s Paris. In Paris, we read the greats. Hemingway, Beauvois, Cervantes, and the note the boy Gustave slipped under your door saying he was going to kill you in your sleep. Paris is drinking a cup of steaming coffee at a time that is both the earliest of morning and the latest of night, while your clown friend tells you he has another lead on a sleep apnea machine and you tell him that you’re worried about the whole Gustave thing.

That’s Paris.

In Paris, boys become men and men act like boys. In Paris, you are tricked by a beautiful con artist named Adrienne and end up clothless in a barren studio apartment near Versailles, only to later learn that Gustave set the whole thing up. That’s Paris. Paris is where you study abroad, but only go to class the first day and instead spend the semester drinking, eating, going into debt, and hanging out with your clown friend. That’s Paris. In Paris, magic isn’t a sleight of hand card trick or a woman being sawed in two, unless it is a woman being sawed in two by a few friends you made at a nightclub, who you later found out were known associates of Gustave.

That’s Paris.

Paris is the antithesis of death, unless you are killed in Paris in which case it is not the antithesis of death. Paris is where you go to trial for sawing a woman in two and your only character witness is the clown who you fought and whose bed you slept in. Paris is where your lawyer tells you there isn’t any evidence pointing toward your involvement in the murder, but that he secretly suspects Gustave has the judge in his pocket. Paris is where you go to prison for sawing someone in half. That’s Paris. Paris is where your best friend, who is a clown, consistently writes to you for the first year you’re locked up, but then gets engaged to a woman named Bella and you never hear from him again.

That’s Paris and I know it well.

Paris is a perfect facsimile of both heaven and hell. It’s anguish. It’s ecstasy. It’s getting released from prison on good behavior and then hiding out from Gustave for the remainder of your time on Earth, hoping that little hellion never finds you, but knowing, deep down, that he will.

So yes I’ve been to Paris. In fact, a small part of me wonders if I ever really left.