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Essential Journal

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Addressing the Table

Itinerant bartender and co-owner of Liverpool’s Present Company, Jake O’Brien Murphy, ponders on the double-act of disillusion and delight that defines the city of Paris

words by Jake O’BRIEN MURPHY

‘Paris Syndrome’ is a bizarre, psychiatric phenomenon that affects a small amount of Japanese tourists visiting the French capital for the first time. The onset is sparked by the shattering realisation that the Paris of popular culture is a mere fabrication to sell us romantic comedies, berets and Disney Kingdom tiaras. It leaves grown adults jiberring wrecks, unstuck in the world as their new reality comes tumbling down around them.

My first experiences of Paris all came second hand. In my first few visits to the country, I had hardly even set foot outside of Charles De Gaul International; a chasmus void of chaos where all instructions and directions are written in some dead, almost hieroglyphic language and the airport is entirely staffed by exoskeletal wardens of misery. One of my earliest second hand encounters with Paris as an adult came from someone who I can only describe as odiously cool. A person so terrified of being perceived as unoriginal that their fear had cannibalised all the interesting qualities they might have once possessed. They were the Bez of their own life. They had a walk on part in their own fate.

‘The real Paris doesn’t exist in any guide book,’ they exhorted, side-stepping into a conversation I was having with a friend. We Brits have a wonderful way with passive aggression and underhandedness, it is part of our birthright. We were battered around the head with stories from the ‘real’ Paris as if it were some spiritual absolute. To cut the verbal assault short it culminated in a crescendo of ‘we found somewhere to eat baguettes and cheese’. Enlightened. We stare starry eyed across the channel at Paris, like we could behold Nirvana. We give it so much gravity and romantic weight, as if somewhere in the city there is a hermetically-sealed corner bistro where Jean Paul Sarte, Albert Camus and Pepe Le Pew sit and drink chilled magnums of Beaujolais, lazily flicking frites at their open mouths while they discuss existentialism, chain smoking liquorice-skin cigarettes and sneering at people like me.

Paris, I eventually found out; in a dramatic plot twist, is a wonderfully vibrant place. I have been a few times now, and upon each return I am charmed more and more into loving it. It is a constantly-shifting, modern city. The energy of the place is infectious, there is optimism and an eye on the future. The people always seem to need to be somewhere else, but don’t mind being late. There’s a pace to how they eat and drink that I revel in. We sat in a pub called the Cambridge Public House, owned by my friend Hyacinthe Lescoet. Hyacinthe is a behemoth of a man with a gentle voice and the kind provincial soul of his native Brittany. His raison d’etre is flawless hospitality. He handed over palomas and beers while I sat with a few friends, reminiscing and catching up. It was a strange feeling, I always equate pubs with my childhood and therefore my home. Here I was in oh-so-chic Marais, inside a pub, with a group of friends; thoroughly enjoying doing relatively little. Not a beret or a gaunt, postwar thinker in sight. If this is what Paris has to offer, the Japanese can keep the ‘real’ thing. JOM