Ville Lumiere – A Parisian Travelogue

October 29, 2007

There is a French word which I really like to share with only you this evening. It’s a word that doesn’t lend itself easily to the English translation, “d’epaysement.” A few years ago, I shared a carriage with the Paris Bureau chief for the New York Times, his translation of the word felt just right.

“The feeling of not being assaulted by the familiarity of things, a change in surroundings where there is no immediate point of reference.”

He went on to add, “Most people don’t make it a point to d’epayses, only to end up re-creating a home they once knew in a place away from home….ensuring, they never ever left.”

This is unfortunate, as it’s too true. Although one may even spend years working, living and playing in a country, their unwillingness to d’epayses ensures they never really left home.The British and Americans are the worst, go to any country in the world and you would most likely find either a sliver of Dorset complete with immaculate cricket lawns or an American club that regularly serves up super sized whoppers next to a giant screen spewing live images of baseball games. As for us Singaporeans, we don’t endeavor so hard to create fiefdoms in foreign lands, but we more than make up for our lack of verve by insisting on speaking in Singlish. Nonetheless  after exhausting the run of the mill dialogue as to which school, university, unit we more than make up for our lack of fetishness – when the conversation invariably turns to the very serious issue of bartering or begging for Maggi instant noodles. Trust me you know you’ve being away for too long, when you’re willing to trade your hippest CD’s for a packet of Maggi instant noodles. It never fails to amaze me even today how our entire historical sense of being revolves around the humble instant noodles. What I usually find unfortunate is whenever I ask whether they joined the locals at the café for a morning croissant or an evening aperitif, shopped at the outdoor marche, went to the local fete, or people-watched in the place, the answer is invariably, “dowan lah.” They may have had an amazing boat ride on the Seine, but they don’t know the real Paris – one has to make it a point like I mentioned to be depayses – step off the boat and walk around for that sort of knowledge – even perhaps try to get lost.

Until you have really wasted time in a city, you cannot pretend to know it well. The soul of a city like a heart of a woman is not be grasped easily; her heart has many chambers, but as every Parisian will tell you, just as one begins to acquaint oneself with a building by first stepping into the lobby – the first chamber is to understand why she is often called, Ville Lumiere or City of Lights.

Though it’s a appelation that is associated with Paris, it has become a sobriquet a term of endearment. Say Ville Lumiere and some will conjure images of well lighted sparkling pools doting the length of the Seine – the Champs-Elysees and Eiffel ablaze. Or perhaps the Pantheon, Sacre Coeur, Trocedero – all bathed in a yellow hallo.

Personally I’ve often imagined the expression has more to do with the soul of the city. Apart from the illicit thrill of Paris – they also have real shops, colorful, family owned café’s, full of evocative smells and all of them seem to disregard the local bye law by spilling out quite openly into the streets, where minds meet and tongues wag into the night. To me café’s are just not places, they’re like transit points very much like airports, train stations and space stations where all sorts of people gather around, only in Parisian café’s they do something most of these places don’t do outside Paris – they talk and talk and talk…..I am reminded so much starts with just conversations. The kind of conversation in which you start with a willingness to become a slightly different person, these are conversations that open the possibility of changing your mind. Perhaps that why so many new experimental hubs in the world insist on using the word “café” as a metaphor to describe their quest for vibrancy, verve and variety – certainly, for centuries, many in the world have been drawn to Paris like the proverbial moth to the flame precisely because it offers the opportunity for life changing conversations.

In a sense the appellation ville Lumiere isn’t about physical light at all. Half a dozen other cities probably have more and brighter lights than Paris these days. Rather it’s a reference to the light of intellectualism that attracts the verve to ignite, political, spiritual, cultural and intellectual change. The glow emitted by these café’s which dot Paris is not simply climatic to what many refer to as “la atmosphere”, it’s a spiritual force that also shapes one’s character, opinions and judgments.

It’s a powerful astringent – in these café’s a man learns at least three things, how to roll cigarettes from the outside in, listen to three conversations simultaneously and write his history, where the latter usually involves deconstructing established structures and reassembling them again like Lego bricks, nothing ever remains the same, man observes….he seeks out…. works it through…..takes a position, where he knows if he doesn’t someone else will just come along and write his history, only to end up being told where to go, stop there, turn left, sit down etc. I guess the reason why I see these café’s as embodying the light of the city is because they’re offer a way of escaping the cacophony of modern life by truing oneself through a rigorous process of discourse – by this, I mean you can teach a man to draw a straight line; or how to string a sentence or even pronounce a word, with admirable speed and precision; but if you ask him to consider the deeper meaning of why he writes, he stops, his execution becomes scraggy; he thinks, and ten to one he thinks wrong; ten to one he slips up and doesn’t quite manage to convey what’s really in his head on paper – that’s what happens when sometime mechanical is rendered a ‘thinking being,’ till then he was simply a monkey trained to pick coconuts, a machine, an animated tool, that to me is what these café’s actually are; miniature production houses that keeps churning out critical thinkers. So even if it sounds like a cliché to the uninitiated, this is where the light burns brightest in the City of Lights.That realization occurred to me one muggy evening, many years ago when I found myself mulling over Thoreau’s dictum the “mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I found myself suddenly a stranger in a sea of many and soon that familiar depressing sense of estrangement from the mainstream fogged it – deepening the abyss – but how ridiculous it is the self-pity of the loner as he leans over the bridge pulling on a cigarette seeking answers from the Seine – that night in the language of rivers, she said, Yes..

As I looked out along the quay at the many yellow lights of the café’s still opened, I remembered the moments and the waters I had crossed in my life – it was enough for me to sigh and simply express knowingly somewhere….somewhere……somewhere……yes….Ville Lumiere….one just needs to learn how to find it, even in Singapore….happy d’epaysement. 

(By Darkness / The Travelogue Series / Paris – EP 99878 – 2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)

17 Responses to “Ville Lumiere – A Parisian Travelogue”

  1. anongal said

    That just sets the mood. It’s nice to just walk with an intelligent man who makes one laugh in Paris, even who likes to have conversations with rivers.

  2. kokopops said

    “somewhere……somewhere……yes….Ville Lumiere….one just needs to learn how to find it, even in Singapore….happy d’epaysement.”

    Darkness shines. What a way to begin the week. Certainly very sophisticated and sweet.


  3. dotseng said


    I just want to inform all of you, I dined with darkness last saturday. He told me, there were no terms, no conditions and he welcomes all of us.

    When I asked, why the brotherhood has opened their ranks? The boy simply flashed a smile, nodded and looked out into the bay at the Marina.

    It could have meant few or many things – but I sensed even he knew, this day would have to come.

    His eyes said it all.

    Do have a very productive week.

    Peace out


  4. primagirl said

    Why does it take so long to load this site? Is that all Dotty? That’s like saying nothing?

  5. libby's said

    Is that all? You mean that all there is to it? What abt the finer details, like what was he wearing, where did you dine etc.

  6. dotseng said


    There is really nothing to tell, when I arrived, he was already there waiting for me. He sported a charcoal turtle neck, very dapper. I noticed, he had a pair of driving gloves on the side and of course, his famous Nokia, that we all know, he writes on. I have seen Bambi some 2 years ago, but only briefly, what comes across almost immediately is how completely different he is in real life to his moniker persona – soft spoken with manners to match, totally beyond reproach.

    I found him extremely calm and relaxed. He appeared to be more preoccupied with what I wanted to eat and when he asked me to follow to him to kitchen, I nearly died. So there he was smashing away at pots and pans while I sat in one corner. He seems to be quiet an ease with the kitchen staff in this up market restaurant in Esplanade. I shan’t mention the name for obvious reasons and they all seem to be conversing in Cantonese. I think the chef and him go back all the way to NS days or something. It didn’t take me very long to notice, he must have worked professionally as a cook at some time in his life, it was the way he proceeded, very sure footed.

    We dined in a private room. There was no one around which was unusual for a Saturday night. No waiters either, he insisted on serving. The lights were soft and it felt just right and very comfortable. We even had a spot of wine, I am sorry, rather I may have over done it a wee bit. It went terribly well with the drunken prawns and fresh oysters.

    He didn’t strike me as the talkative sort at all. For man who is so opinionated in his writings, that should seem terribly at odds, but it doesn’t seem that way, when one is talking to him for some curious reason. Not the showy type or the try too hard sort – just very calm and collected. I didn’t register it when I we were dining, only much latter did I realize, I was doing most of the talking while he just listened.

    Curiously, we didn’t talk about blogging or even “just stuff,” not even once – except after dinner when we walked along the bay. I did ask him why, the bro had suddenly decided to allow girls to blog using their banner. He just smiled and shrugged his shoulders. I didn’t press, it seemed like it would have just spoilt a delightful evening, if I did.

    We walked and he told me things, interesting things like why he and the rest writes and how they actually produce those articles. Very interesting. I am sorry to be coy about it, but I don’t feel it’s appropriate to share, as it could very well be private and that was really all there is to a delightful evening.

    Oh btw, I did ask, whether he wanted ask anything about Scimmy, he said, that will come in good time, for the moment, he was just interested in what I had to say, that is the most important thing.

    Peace out


  7. dotseng said

    Hello all,

    This is to reply to some of the questions posed.

    How is the traffic here? Abt 500, most are coming from search engines, over 99%. I find this disturbing as it means many of our regular and new readers are still flying blind. First IS, then WOS, both have hit them quiet hard – 500 is paltry and I am sure, we will do significantly better in the days to come, as most seem to be logging directly from the fav bookmarks.

    As this is a ‘red eye’ site, most BP readers would log on directly hopefully, but many are still reading off the cache for some funny reason, probably 80%.

    Why have the bro-hood opened up their ranks to their readers?

    I believe this is a natural progression that’s unavoidable. One reason has alot to do with resource allocation, I dont think the Bro have the resources to sustain the pace, not with only 7 to 8 writers.

    They seem to be giving us a free rein and that’s good, so I hope to see more ppl stepping forward to take up the slack.

    Many Thanks, I hope this answers most of the questions.

    Peace out.


  8. dotseng said

    Hi ya,

    I just wish to assure you all, EVERY single article posted in WOS, will be reproduced here sometime in the future. The Brotherhood Press has a mirror copy of all of them.



  9. Catherine The Great said

    Dotty Dearest,

    Pls don’t let it go to your head,

    “Oh btw, I did ask, whether he wanted ask anything about Scimmy, he said, that will come in good time, for the moment, he was just interested in what I had to say, that is the most important thing.”

    That idiot says that to everyone!

    Sorry, we all know, he can be a charmer, when he wants something. Duhhhhhhhh! They had their site nuked rite??????????????

    Even a fool has a charm abt him -right, but where do you go dissing off Scimmy?

    I really wonder sometimes what kinda of bitch you really are?

    Yes plz, do censor this!

  10. koalabear said

    Waulah Wei! You r really too much leh missy. Just bc he was nice to you, you turn against Scimitar!

    Wau, you really too much leh!

  11. juicybaby said


    Dats not very nice 😦

  12. juicybaby said

    I expected more loyalty from girl power pte ltd, this Bambi Character is a smoothie, he knows, how to divide and rule, how do you think, he managed to stay on top of the Bro monkey pyramid?


  13. bagawan solo said

    Actually, I dont blame missy. I can tell you that boy boy, is very devious and manipulative.

    So let’s be fair, she is a spring chicken and he is a lau chiau like Tony Leung in Lust/Passion, so really wat did you all expect?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

  14. Dr Dee said

    I really dont think that was very nice missy – why did you have to do that to sis scimmy? Was it necessary just for that con man?

    We all know, he plan the whole thing from A to B. Did you really believe the restaraunt was empty by coincidence or that he could just step into a kitchen?

    Really, I am so disappointed in you.

    Do be careful, he is a live wire!

  15. primagirl said


    Why do you think Lady likes him? Only the best chimps make it in the brotherhood. They r not like PAP, there are no ranks etc, just a chair on the top of a hill, so one gets devilishly manipulative and devious.

    Do remember that missy, when you deal with him. Another thing, he is much older than you, so he has the additional feature of experience and can probably read you like a street directory.

    Whatever has happened, has happened. I just wish to know whether he has contacted you. Lets work towards the future, its so good that you shared all this with us, bfr it’s too late.

  16. Mary Poppins said

    Goody Morn,

    Firstly, may I ask, is it wise for such an inexperience lass to deal with the likes of Bambi Bad Boy Darkness. I would have imagined, its like sending a lamb to slaughter?

    Perhaps there should be an intermediary to oversee that everything is above board, that way, we can be assured that Missy will not miss a heart beat and do something she will come to regret

    Just my 5 cents

  17. dotseng said

    Good Evening,

    All of you are imputing all sorts of nasty things concerning baby darkness, I don’t see it that way, I am sorry. I will do as I see fit, thank you very much.


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