If anyone has ever told you that Paris is glamourous they either have only walked along the Seine and Saint Germain or theyíve have never had to live in a rat-infested insect-crawling Parisian flat like me.
I left for Paris in 2004. I was 30 years old at the time and didnít know a word of French or a thing about photography, yet I had set my heart on becoming a Parisian photographer.
A few weeks before leaving at night I used to skim through photography magazines in an attempt to self-teach myself skills that all those artists spent years mastering at prestigious Art schools. Truth is, the thing that all those expensive Art schools donít admit is that they can teach you the technique but canít bestow you the talent. Few people become artists because of their incredible skills itís those with the talent that actually make it. For me it was different because at the time I didnít have either, I was like a clean canvas ready to be hit by the muses or some kind of epiphany, whichever came first.
Instead of buying one of those French for Dummies books I relied on Serge Gainsbourg albums and Charles Baudelaire poems that my friend Azzurra had sent to me as my source to learn the language because as Azzurra said, ďAll the French youíll ever need to know are found in these CDs and poems,Ē she had assured me.
I arrived in Paris with the knowledge of being able to initiate dirty sex talk and poetic tragic phrases but with no idea how to ask simple directions or where to buy metro tickets. After the first week I realized why all Parisian cafťs are constantly full. All the people there are aspiring artists who have little to no money and usually their only meal of the day consists of coffee and crepes. With little money myself it became my staple diet for over a year. Looking on the bright side, I lost fifteen pounds and never looked so fit. Eat your heart out Kate Moss. But seriously, donít try this at home, unless youíre dying to know what the bohemian way of life is like.
I soon learned that the best models a poor photographer can find are usually found in subways. A homeless person is more willing to let you photograph them for twenty euros while a regular model demands at least one hundred euros. For the first six months I used to spend my mornings working at a used bookstore while at night I scurried around the cityís underground in hopes of finding the perfect scenarios and models for my so-called artwork.
Although I still live in a flat where the rats are better nourished than me, somehow it feels like its been worth it. At least Iíll have a few interesting anecdotes to tell my grandkids someday. Not to mention that putting the words photographer and Paris in the same sentence garners you instant intrigue and glamour. The last time I was at a cocktail party at my hometown at New York City and what looked like a very successful managerial type woman asked me what exactly I did in life, the mention of living in Paris and being a photographer earned me a few free drinks and free cab ride home. Perhaps Paris isnít glamorous but it sure makes you look glamorous.
Iíve come to term with the rats, in fact Iíve even named the fattest one of the bunch Monsieur Gaston and most of the insects are dead ever since I found out that developing chemicals are much more lethal than any stupid insecticide. The trick to success is not to try to indulge what others want for you but to have the courage to let your heart direct you instead. And my heart directed me here, in the French capital of glamour, intrigue, and yesÖvery obese rats.