Paris syndrome

the eiffel tower

C'est beau!

It's not everyday that my love of things Asian and my amazement for things absurd can be painted together in less than broad strokes. But they appeared side by side in finely kerned newsprint recently—a Reuters news story so fantastic I doubt I could have imagined it.

It seems that doctors, ever in search of new conditions to justify their expertise, have coined a new syndrome. Wait for it, visiting Paris can make you ill!

To it's fans, Paris is a haven of creativity and culture, the birthplace of artistic and intellectual movements such as the theatre of the absurd, deconstruction philosophy and the cinema of poetic realism. Points of evidence for it's detractors as well by the way...

It is said that one man's heaven is another man's hell, and for an increasing number of Japanese tourists, the trip of a lifetime to the French capital has become akin to a living Dantean nightmare.

"Around a dozen Japanese tourists a year need psychological treatment after visiting Paris as the reality of unfriendly locals and scruffy streets clashes with their expectations, a newspaper reported on Sunday."

Of course inhabitants of the land of Zazen, the Kamakura Buddha and the Bushido warrior code should need little sharpening upon the straight edge of Dharma (the path to truth), for the teachings of the Buddha profoundly pervade their culture to it's deepest level. All the same the preacher in me can't resist a small sermon on Buddhism's noble truths, beginning with number two: "Expectation, people, is the cause of suffering..."

New Zealand rugby players also know something of the not so visible French underbelly, and for years have steeled themselves for it's first hand experience, bringing new meaning to the sporting expression "Giving your all." French flair has a darker side at the bottom of a maul.

The newspaper article continues:

"Already this year, Japan's embassy in Paris has had to repatriate at least four visitors—including two women who believed their hotel room was being bugged and there was a plot against them."

At this point I am reminded of the lyrics of a once popular song:

"Just because you're paranoid
Don't mean they're not after you"

It may seem that the world is out to get us at times, and occasionally it actually is, but it is best not to develop a complex about such. Nevertheless, some people do take their encounters with paranoia a little too far:

"Previous cases include a man convinced he was the French "Sun King", Louis XIV, and a woman who believed she was being attacked with microwaves"

The latter account is probably a little overcooked.

Pinching myself, for it is really no laughing matter, I can't help but be reminded of a story about a British Queen's Guardsman who, while on duty outside Buckingham Palace, became convinced that he was in fact a newt, as in with a green tail and scurrying under the house—albeit 6 feet tall and holding a ferocious side-arm. Stranger things may have happened to someone wearing a bearskin, bushy, busby hat, but I can't tell you what they would be.

French psychologist Herve Benhamou gives "Paris Syndrome", as the psychological culture shock of visiting the Île-de-France région has been dubbed, a suitably rational perspective:

"Fragile travellers can lose their bearings. When the idea they have of the country meets the reality of what they discover it can provoke a crisis"
the eiffel tower

I personally recommend meditation as the safest, most secure way to emerge successfully from behind Maya's blinkers. The glass mirror of worldly illusions in front of us is best not shattered immediately, lest we crumble like a toasted croissant.

An employee of the Japanese Embassy in Paris was quoted as saying:

"For us, Paris is a dream city. All the French are beautiful and elegant ... And then, when they arrive, the Japanese find the French character is the complete opposite of their own."

I do have some sympathy for these Japanese tourists. Having just been to Japan, I can recognise their shock and confusion in the face of our harsh Western societies, and place it inverse to my own awe and appreciation of their harmonious Eastern culture. Harmony, order, beauty and perfection shimmer in reflection from their spotlessly clean streets.

But welcome to this world. Literally. From a distance, our planet may look like a radiant blue jewel in blackest space, but the lustre and beauty so evident from heavenly realms recedes rapidly upon human birth.

This is the task that that faces every spiritual seeker, the challenge to see heaven on earth despite the imperfections that flaw our giant rock's surface. As all paths to truth state explicitly, the diamond gemstone of enlightenment is to be found right here, buried in the heart of darkness...

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