Arts, Culture & Media

'Paris vs New York': Comparing Two Iconic Cities

If you had to choose between New York or Paris, what would it be? French Graphic Designer Vahram Muratyan has been pondering that and has produced a book of prints called "Paris vs New York-A Tally of Two Cities." It is a collection of clever cultural comparisons, side by side.

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Vahram Muratyan's book "Paris vs. New York" is an affectionate tribute to the two cities he loves most.

He grew up in Paris but he often traveled to New York with his family, thanks to his mother, who used to work for TWA. So Muratyan did many transatlantic crossings, but when he turned 30, he decided to settle down in NY for a while to help his project along. He'd been working on a graphic blog— witty comparisons of sights and scenes in New York and Paris. Then he decided to turn the blog into a book. He named it after his blog "Paris vs. New York —a tally of two cities". That's a take on the Charles Dickens classic "A Tale of the Two Cities" which is set in Paris and London. "So in a way, it was a new century's story to tell" Muratyan said, "and in a way, it was my story."

Muratyan was determined to tell his story to New York publishers. He went knocking on doors until someone paid attention. "Paris vs. New York–A Tally of the Two Cities" did become a book, and such a successful one— in France and in the US—that it's recently been released in an expanded, Deluxe Edition: "The Complete Series of The Two Cities." The book presents New York images on the right-hand page, and Paris images on the left.

When I met Muratyan in Boston, he showed me one of his favorite sets of images from the book, one that boils down the cultures of New York and Paris to creative emoticons. See the "Non-Yes" image below.

Muratyan said this image is a way of expressing the optimism and upbeat mood he finds in New York in almost any circumstance. He said the French tend to be negative about things. "But it's an attitude, and it doesn't mean it should be taken too seriously," he said. That's why the caption on the "non" side reads: 'J'aime rien, je suis Parisien' (I love nothing I am Parisian), and on the New York side, one that reads: "Never take no for an answer," which Muratyan sees as a business-oriented statement. "I think it's something I experienced many, many times, and I kind of like the two attitudes," he said. "I don't want to choose and say 'I prefer the 'yes' version.' I like the fact that sometimes it can be hard to get something in Paris."

The go-getter attitude of New Yorkers is something Muratyan saw first-hand after Hurricane Sandy hit the city in late October. Muratyan was in town for a book-signing then, but that event was canceled. So was New York's marathon. But the marathoners took part in a run in Central Park to raise money for Sandy's victims, and Muratyan joined in.

Muratyan's book shows some of this upbeat spirit, for instance, two versions of workers on a break: New Yorkers are jogging, while Parisians are smoking. And there are many more winks at contrasts between the two cultures. There's the ultimate symbol of urban lifestyle, a cup of coffee. In Paris, a tiny cup of "expresso" and in New York, a giant tumbler of "Americano"… to go. See also: Baguette versus Bagel, Cancan versus Gaga, Marie-Antoinette versus Madonna. And one of my personal favorites: an elderly woman hunched over a cane on the French side, facing her American counterpart who is standing straight, and in a track suit.

But Muratyan said the idea was not to mock anybody or anything.

"It's not to say that what we have in Paris, you don't have it in New York, and vice-versa," he said, "it was a way of saying how the two are influencing each other. The main thing was also to be able to show something like a dialogue, something like a bridge between the two cities."

This bridge also materializes with the tête-à-tête of two grand pianos, meeting in the middle of the page: on the left, a black one, with the name " Debussy" and on the right, a white one, with the name "Gershwin."

Two composers who embody the spirit of Vahram Muratyan's beloved cities.

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    An illustration from Vahram Muratyan's 'Paris vs New York.'

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    French graphic designer Vahram Muratyan. (Photo courtesy of Vahram Muratyan)