Paris vs. New York: An artist's take

By A. Pawlowski, CNNPublished 13th January 2012
Vahram Muratyan's personal tale of two cities began with a serious case of the travel bug.
Born in Paris, he started flying to New York with his family as a child -- the frequent trans-Atlantic trips made possible in part by his mother's job at the now-defunct airline TWA.
"I think I grew up with an obsession with the city," Muratyan said, vowing to one day move to the Big Apple.
The graphic designer finally came to live in New York for three months in fall 2010 and found himself doing lots of people watching, sketching and thinking of home.
"The idea of comparing the differences between the two cities came because I was starting to miss Paris," Muratyan said.
"I was trying to understand why and what actually was missing from each city that was in the other city."
The result is "Paris versus New York: A Tally of Two Cities," a whimsical little book of illustrations that first gained a following on Muratyan's blog and that pair everything from a croque-monsieur and a hot dog to cancan and Lady Gaga.
The artist, who now spends time in both cities and calls the illustrations a friendly visual match between the two, recently spoke with CNN from his home in Paris. The following is an edited version of that interview.
CNN: What was your first impression of New York?
Muratyan: The first thing I remember from the United States and New York is the amount of snow, because I was there during wintertime. We don't have that here -- we don't have 1 meter of snow in the city, we have 1 meter in the Alps when you go skiing. It always melts right away in Paris.
I came back alone when I was 17 to celebrate the end of high school; I got the trip as a gift to go in the summertime. What struck me was New York's perspective: You are on the street and you can't see the end and it's just striking when you see the amount of buildings.
Another strong memory: I used to have my own way of orienting myself in the city because I couldn't understand how it worked -- the avenues and the streets. I always got my bearings from the World Trade Center and when I came back in 2003 after 9/11, it wasn't there anymore, of course, and I was really lost.
CNN: A lot of people are overwhelmed by New York. Did you ever feel that way?
Muratyan: No, I feel really like I'm at home. I'm not overwhelmed by the urban jungle.
CNN: What do you miss about each city when you're in the other metropolis?
Muratyan: In New York, I used to miss my bike. But now I can even have a bike there, so it's becoming more European than ever.
I used to miss baguette bread and now it's OK. I can find something much closer to Paris baguettes. And there's a big variety of bread there, so I don't care.
In Paris, I miss the way people can talk to each other just for even five minutes in the street like in New York. People are more easygoing. It's something that is missing in Paris, in a way.
CNN: Both cities have a reputation, deserved or not, that its residents are rude. What's your take on that?
Muratyan: It's a superficial way of looking at the cities when you are there for four or five days. When you get to know the people better, you find they are absolutely exquisite. But you have to be patient -- more patient in Paris.
Many people have that first reaction in the tourist places. I think it's because they're overcrowded and the waiters aren't patient any more. The best way is to move away a bit and to have a distance from that.
CNN: Both cities are known for fashion. What are your observations on that?
Muratyan: In Paris, it's much more minimal and when you are wearing something (unusual) people are like, who do you think you are?
In New York, people give you compliments about it. I see ladies who keep looking at each other and they're not looking (to spot something) wrong, they're complimenting each other -- oh, I love your dress. It's something that's not often the case in Paris.
CNN: What's your favorite illustration in the book?
Muratyan: CDG-JFK. (Image No. 6 in the gallery.)
I love airports because you are not gone, you are not home, you are in between.
That illustration is all about traveling and not knowing where a plane is going when you're looking at its trail in the sky.
CNN: What's your favorite meal in Paris?
Muratyan: I love everything from a brasserie. Good brasserie food would include steak tartare, boeuf bourguignonne, bouillabaisse.
CNN: What's your favorite meal in New York?
Muratyan: Burgers. It's really very cliché, but I can't help it.