Traveling from Paris to Mumbai within a short period of time was a harsh transition mentally and physically. I went from Paris back to the United States for a couple of days of skiing at high altitudes in Telluride, Colorado and then began the 19 hour flight to India. With Paris still very fresh in my mind, naturally I kept comparing and contrasting these two amazing cities.
Paris is orderly, Mumbai is frenetic
Wandering around Paris the buildings are full of small nooks with hidden treasures on every street it seems. A gargoyle here, an old gas lantern there catches your eye and takes your breath away daily. These embellishments adorn mansion-block apartment buildings of even the modest appraisal. The eyes don’t register that most buildings have a gray pallor because there is so much else pleasing about them. The strict tenant rules forbid people from displaying anything but flower boxes on balconies facing the streets. Thus there is a calm orderliness about Paris that goes hand in hand with its beauty.
In Mumbai, there are many beautiful and interesting buildings all of which display some color, however, I found myself not paying much attention to them because I was I was drawn in by the surrounding poverty and humbling domiciles that stood along side them. The most expensive private home in the world with its modern amenities sits in the middle of crowded areas where reportedly 10+ million homeless people sleep in sub-par housing, many without indoor plumbing or electricity. Mind-boggling.
Shades of Gray verses colorful and celebratory
Paris is gorgeous, but shades of gray, both in dress and in architecture. Yes, black is the color of choice for Parisian women who like the slimming effects that help keep the myth going that French women don’t get fat. Some women wear a pop of color in a scarf or handbag, but mostly they play it safe. They look confident, but not particularly cheerful. They look sexy, but sedate. They look like they spent a fortune on their clothes and accessories, and for many that’s true. I like to say, “They wear their sunny side in.” They are warm people on the inside and cold on the outside.
Mumbai is exotic and colorful, a direct contrast to Paris. Traditional saris are going by the wayside with their multi-layered draping, but not the bright colors! Sophisticated Indian women are wearing less layers, but more patterns. The women seem much happier than Parisian women on the outside despite some challenging conditions they live in just because their dress is cheerful and flatters their skin tones. Their smiles are warm and gentle, as are their manners.
In Mumbai, it struck me that the prettiest buildings were ones that the Brits had commissioned or influenced, but that in general they were not well-preserved and lacked strong character. The depth of the poverty permeates the cracks in the facades of every building. Even the faces of the more middle income homes were cracked, and littered with trash, or laundry hanging in the polluted air. Yet, there was a simple beauty that enabled us to overcome the otherwise depressing looking city. People in Mumbai mostly work with their hands and everyone has a job of importance, whether it’s stone washing jeans to be shipped to foreign lands or a tailor working in a nook altering clothing while chatting with passers-by. Time is something most Mumbaikars have and that, my friends, is true luxury.
Traffic is one thing both cities have in common, albeit in different ways. Paris has a great deal of pedestrian traffic due to public transportation and motorcycles are growing in numbers but it is seems like organized chaos and the city is easily navigated. Mumbai is crowded day and night with automobile traffic. Mostly riddled with old beat up taxicabs, the drivers beep constantly while they are driving, making the city seem more hyper than it really is and keeps tourists on sensory over-load when traversing across the city.
Paris is glamorous yet colorless, stylish but reserved, busy but muted, and Mumbai is exotic and colorful, conforming yet unique, friendly and frenetic.
They could not be more different, but I enjoyed each immensely and I’d travel from Paris to Mumbai again in a heartbeat.