veryone has seen the expressions of padlocked passions on the Pont Des Arts, once weighed down so heavily a portion of the bridge collapsed.
And yet a few hundred yards upstream, hard by the Palais de Justice, wedding rings of the newly divorced are daily cast into the serpentine Seine by those who have won and lost in the game of love.
An ambiguous aroma stalks the streets of blinding lights.
Oh, Jonathan Sexton could write you paragraphs of his old Parisienne days, to paraphrase dear departed Belfast bard Gary Moore.
After all, he spent two years of his life in the French capital; he and his wife Laura’s first child was born there but his brief exile was not always blissful.
“At times, you think, God, I could live here forever,” he once said. “Other times, you think, God, I just want to go home.”
Lovers may love Paris but it is not always reciprocated; his time at Racing was ultimately unsuccessful and not always acclaimed by the natives.
And, as he braces himself for his seventh visit to the Stade de France in an Ireland shirt – who knows will it be his last – he can reflect on equally ambiguous emotions from a dozen years of biennial encounters.
From the uncertain, initial steps of a greenhorn in green, through two title-defining ties and others where personal and professional ambitions subsided.
He has delivered a knockout blow with a spinning ball and received one himself with a spinning elbow.
Familiarity has forged both contentment and contempt.
“Yeah, it has played a big part, definitely,” says the Irish captain of his unique relationship with the city.
“You know, even some of the big wins like ‘14 and ’18, they’re some hard lessons as well.
“I remember coming off the bench in 2010 and what an incredible atmosphere to be in as a youngster, someone trying to get into international rugby, how different it was.
“It is one of the great places to go in rugby definitely and obviously Paris, you know every time I go back there, it is very familiar.
“Having lived there for two years, it brings back some great memories, you know, from my time in Racing but also times with Ireland.
“And then sometimes it brings back some not so good memories but, as I said, it is a very special place to go.”
Even more special with a win. It took him three attempts to do so.
He celebrated his first international win in Paris, as you might have presumed, with a drink.
But not, as you might have assumed, with a bottle of beer. Instead, he necked a bottle of water, washing down a Panadol.
You don’t need a hangover to get a headache at the home of French rugby.
He posits 2014 as the most memorable encounter even if he can recall very little of it to his memory.
Mathieu Bastareaud knocked Sexton clean out when charging at him and leading with his right elbow.
And so, as Brian O’Driscoll was feted on his final appearance in France by leading Ireland to a title win, Sexton was not on the pitch when his team-mates celebrated Joe Schmidt’s Championship in his first year in charge.
As he would wanly remark later, he was there but he was not there.
Two days later, he walked into the Racing training ground fearing the worst against some of the team-mates who had openly declared they would physically assault him in that game.
Instead, his colleagues offered him a standing ovation and an engraved celebratory portrait.
Truly, though there may be no love lost, there remains respect amongst warriors of the battle. Within 15 minutes of his return two years later, Yoann Maestri clattered Sexton – now once again a Leinster player – with his elbow in an off-the-ball incident.
Whether in word or deed, Sexton wears a target; from doctors and ex-players questioning his health to this week’s odd intervention from Philippe Saint-André, declaring his preference for Ross Byrne.
“It’s nothing new for me in this fixture to have some things thrown at me that you wouldn’t expect,” he sighs.
It is, clearly, a measure of respect, a currency that soared still more when he delivered that epochal dropped goal that initiated the 2018 Grand Slam.
Then, as now, that represented merely a step on the road to potential glory which perhaps explains why it rests behind 2014 as he momentarily turns the scrapbooked memory of times past.
“Any time you win a trophy, it is incredibly special. So to get a trophy at the end of that day was brilliant…even though my memory of it was a bit eh…you know. Bastareaud got to me a couple of times that day!
“I just think any time you get the trophy you will remember that game more fondly than any of the others, so I’d say 2014 would be up there definitely.
“How many times have we won over there in 20 or 30 years? Not too many. It takes a special team to go and win there and it will take a great performance. That’s all we’re focused on.”
So much is different now for Sexton in the dozen years since he first visited Paris but he remains eager to owe tribute to how much his brief two-year stint there aided that change.
“I was so used to the Leinster way, to the Joe Schmidt way with Ireland and Leinster over the years, and then to get exposed to a set-up in Racing was very different, you did learn a lot about yourself and how a team runs and how it operates.
“So I am definitely better for the experience and I definitely learned a lot when I was over there.”
The place still enthrals Sexton, propelling him to the zenith of genius as it did in 2018 when it seemed as if his imperious reign was incapable of ending.
And yet it baffles him too, as it did in 2020 when he departed in head-shaking anguish, even though a decade earlier, he had stalked the veteran out-half in Ronan O’Gara. Now he was feeling the breath of younger rivals.
But his team will rely on him once more this weekend. And he is not done yet. And then Ireland return in 18 months’ time, seeking to consummate their yearning, unrequited love.
But now to enjoy this moment.
“It’s always a nicer place when you’re winning.”
As in love, so too in sport.
JOHNNY IN PARIS
2010 – France 33-Ireland 10
Slowly emerging from the shadows of Ronan O’Gara, Sexton gets 10 minutes from the bench as Grand Slam champions are pummelled.
2012 – 17-17
Having edged his Munster rival from the starting line-up, Sexton starred in a game his side should have won.
2014 – 20-22
Arguably his most dominant display, scoring two tries and demonstrating bravery despite constant assault as Joe Schmidt’s side clinched the title in his maiden championship.
2016 – 10-9
Despite kicking his side into the lead, France’s
targeting of him worked to their advantage this
time; he departed the fray prematurely as the
home side struck late for narrow win.
2018 – 13-15
“It’s spinning, it’s spinning!” You know the rest; the final of three accurate kicks delivered under the most extreme pressure delivered the lastgasp win to launch his first Grand Slam.
2020 – 35-27
The wheel turns full circle; now he is the veteran out-half being replaced; his unhappiness evident as Ireland slump to defeat.