First, I should apologize for falling off of this for a while. After Alsace, I had some personal business that I had to work through and I just lost all motivation to write anything for a while. However, you’re in luck: I went to Paris over the weekend and you know I’ve got stuff to say! Without further ado, here’s a short recounting of my very short trip to the City of Lights (or Love, if that’s your preferred nickname – me, I’d say it’s the City of Sights)!
Now, the only reason I got to go to Paris at all was because the family that I’m staying with was nice enough to bring me along on their family trip for their daughter’s birthday. Talk about a cool fifteenth birthday! I had an idea of what we would be doing, but I didn’t know all the details and I didn’t really care for that matter. I just knew I’d be spending a weekend in Paris and that’s all that was important to me! I had prepared for Paris by reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and it made me feel that much more excited to see all the sights!
After a not-so-terrible three-hour car drive (commutes aren’t bad in France, the scenery is just so nice) we arrived in Paris. As we neared the city, the traffic changed drastically and it was almost as if I was in San Diego (I wouldn’t go as far as to say LA traffic). I got my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower at this time and it was seriously magical. I didn’t fully expect that my experience of Paris would live up to my dreams, but that city is seriously so beyond what you could imagine. After almost another hour trying to navigate the city, we arrived at the small studio apartment where we would be staying thanks to generous friends of the family. Let me tell you: this place was tiny. Picture a recent post-grad’s first apartment in NYC, something along those lines, except that this place was quite nice for Paris. I realized it was going to be really close quarters with all four of us, but I could deal because I was in Paris!
After a quick lunch at the apartment, we headed out for our first stop of the trip: Musée du Louvre! Before I get into the Louvre and all of it’s glory, I’d just like to point out that the Paris metro system looks quite intimidating, but after having ridden it a few times, I think that I could confidently navigate it own my own if I had to (like, say, if I had plans to visit again soon…). After emerging from the underground station, we came up to ground level right in front of the massive museum. When I say massive, I mean massive! The Louvre is probably the biggest single building I have ever seen in my life. It is so long that it just goes on and on and on; as you look down the street, you can barely see the end of it! And not only is it a long building, it is also big inside. It has multiple subterranean floors and floors above ground level as well. The reception area is underground, just below the famous glass pyramid where you get a cool perspective to the outside through the glass tiles. I was in awe, as I would be for the entirety of the trip. An analogy that came to mind as I stood inside the vast building was that it was almost like an airport in its size and its people-traffic. Think: LAX, par exemple. It was so busy, it felt like I was at Disneyland. Though, I would say that all of Paris sort of feels like Disneyland, with the crowds of tourists and embarrassing Americans. We had tickets for a temporary exhibit on Vermeer and other Dutch artists of his time so that was our first order of business. I am not at all versed in art history, so I was just along for the ride, really. The wait for this one exhibit was like the wait for Space Mountain on a Saturday; it was two hours before I saw a single piece of art at the Louvre! But, boy, was it worth it! I fully enjoyed learning about and regarding those fine art pieces, and even discovered some new favorite pieces. After a quick repose, we went to discover some other parts of the museum. Since it was up to the birthday girl, we went to look at Islamic art. I wasn’t complaining, I’m quite interested in that culture and history so I was glad to go along. However, we spent what felt like (and in all likelihood probably was) two hours in this small exhibit and thus concluded our visit in the iconic museum. So no, I did not get to find out if the Mona Lisa would give me a smile. But hey, there’s always next time. It certainly isn’t the sort of place you could take everything in during one visit anyway. As we left the grandest museum I’ve ever set foot on, the sun was just beginning to set. We walked out to the exterior of the Louvre and I saw the great glass pyramids in all their glory. From across the street. Because we were just leaving. Hey, I didn’t make the itinerary. I desperately wanted a picture of the Eiffel Tower because the sky was a hazy purple, but all dreams can’t come true at once. So with a quick glance in the direction of the tower off in the distance, we were off. At this point, we were all pretty exhausted from the travels and from waiting in lines, so we didn’t even try to grab dinner at a restaurant. We just picked up some quick food from the Carrefour closest to the apartment and called it a night.
The next morning, the actual day of the daughter’s birthday, we woke early to start the day. It worked out in my favor that the daughter has an interest in Islamic culture and history because I happened to get her a bande dessinée about just that as a gift. It just happened by chance that the sole french graphic novel that I’ve ever read is one of the few that she hasn’t, and it’s a subject that interests her! It’s called Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, and you should really check it out — yes, it has been translated into english and yes, there is a film so you don’t even have to try very hard. She seemed pretty pleased with my gift, but I’m just glad I could get her something. After a breakfast of pain au chocolate for the second day in a row (I could eat pain au chocolate everyday), we
headed out to see some sights. First stop was the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, another big, beautiful church to check off my list. It was really incredible, but unfortunately we couldn’t go inside because the line was about 300 people deep. However, simply regarding it from the outside was enough for me. The church is situated on the Seine, which is equally as amazing to look at. Though, I think that has more to do with the fact that I was considering all the history and pop culture references that I relate to it, namely: Midnight in Paris (film); Ratatouille (film, you know, that part where Linguini almost kills Remy?); Vikings (TV show); and The Little Paris Bookshop (great little novel you should also check out). We walked along the Seine, not the romantic part on the water, but above, on street level like normal people do. I took in some of vieux Paris, it was all so pretty. I was trying to take a mental picture of everything that I passed by because we were moving too fast for actual pictures. Then we headed off to another museum.
As I stated before, I’m not well-versed in fine art. I am also not well-versed in contemporary art. Let’s just put it this way: I’m not well-versed in art in any way, really. I like to look at art and that’s pretty much all I know. The museum that we had tickets for this day was the Centre Pompidou, a super famous modern art museum I had never heard of before. Much like the Eiffel Tower or the glass pyramids at the Louvre, the Pompidou Center was a bit of a controversy when it was built. The building is this complex structure that sticks out in the 4th arrondissement next to all the other buildings. After a much short wait, we got inside the museum and prepared for our guided tour en anglais! Lucky me! Apparently, an English guided tour was easier to attain than a French one for this day. The tour started with Matisse, one of my favorite artists, then moved onto surrealism and finally ended with modern installation pieces. Overall, I really enjoyed the tour. It made me realize that I should be taking more guided tours in museums, I learned a whole heck of a lot in just two hours. This museum is also the place where I saw my first true Warhol pieces in person, an extra special treat for me. From atop the centre, you get a really awesome view of the Paris, too. After stopping in the gift shop and trying to keep myself from buying all the books, we went on a hunt for lunch.
Unlike the day before, this time we were really going to be Parisians. We found a small, typically-Parisian restaurant and stepped inside. It was so super cute and I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe Hemingway or Fitzgerald had eaten there. Although the street we were on was full of tourists and tourist shops, I could tell that some of the people dining in the little place were regulars and that made it seem that much more authentic. Something of note is that french fries are a lot better in France…. duh! After our late lunch, we made for the Jardin des Tuileries. The garden starts at the Louvre and ends at Place de la Concorde and covers a pretty large area. From a quick wiki search just now, I learned that it was originally created by Catherine de Medici (!!!!) and eventually opened to the public and became the place to go for Parisians. This garden is unlike any other I’ve been to before. Yeah, Central Park is pretty neat, but does it have roman statues every fifteen feet? I don’t think so. Tuileries Garden is really something else. There are amazing sculptures everywhere you look, with art students sketching at the base of them and tulips and fountains and just everything you could want aesthetically. I probably got whiplash from trying to look at everything as we strolled through. At the end was Place de la Concorde, with a big ferris wheel and an even bigger line. So no, I didn’t take a ride, but I didn’t really wish to anyway. And right after Place de la Concorde, you hit Avenue des Champs-Élysées!
Along this long stretch of road, you’ve got gardens and then shops like you’d expect to see in New York. There were tourists everywhere and we tried to walk by the stores without going into every single one of them, but we didn’t always succeed in this. Hilariously enough, there was a GAP with a dj in the window hyping up passersby. Also, the Louis Vuitton store is not just a store, it’s an entire five-story building with a huge Vuitton flag flying atop it. We also passed by the memorial that had been out since the most recent attack in Paris, it was sad and beautiful to see all the flowers and sentiments. Then finally came the grand arch. Situated in the middle of a huge rotary (have I mentioned how many rotaries there are in France?) was the Arc de Triomphe. It was so much bigger than I had anticipated. I can’t even fathom how anyone was ever able to construct such a giant monument like that. Everyday at 6:30p there is a ceremony for the Unknown Soldier who rests at the base of the arch and we arrived just in time to view this from across the street. All in all, it felt like a pretty special moment, even if I don’t know very much about French history.
Next, we made our way to the theater district of Paris. This area and this culture is very Parisian. It’s like going to New York and seeing a show, except that it’s more important in France. We had tickets to see a comedy that night and I was definitely looking forward to taking in more of the French culture. Right outside of the metro station, I saw the Moulin Rouge. No, our show wasn’t a cabaret at the Moulin Rouge, but it was still neat as heck to see it! And even cooler to see it under the night sky after our show later that evening. Oddly enough, this part of Paris is made up of theaters and gentleman’s clubs. It was a bit bizarre for me that there was advertising every which way for adult shows and adult massages amidst the regular theater advertisements, but this is what makes Paris Paris, I guess. We stopped for dinner in a quaint little Italian place where I had a delicious pizza before the show. The show we saw was a well-reviewed and newly popular play called “Silence, On Tourne!” which I came to find out is the French equivalent of “Quiet on set!” Who knew they said different things in French and English productions, huh. The play was hilarious and I actually didn’t have too hard a time keeping up, though I think that might have to do with the fact that comedy is pretty universal and theater plays rely a lot on physical comedy. After the show, as we made our way back to the apartment, we were walking literally at midnight in Paris! Unfortunately, I didn’t get picked up in a car and time travel to another era, but I’m not complaining.
The next day, we woke whenever and took a slow start. We cleaned the tiny apartment and then hit the road. Before leaving the city, we went on a quick little car tour of Paris. It was nice because I got to see areas we didn’t see before and I also got my best picture of the Eiffel Tower this way. We took another stop by the Arc de Triomphe, where it looked even cooler with a giant French flag flying in the middle, then a stop at the Palais de l’Élysée (the French White House, if you will), and finally quit the city. I was a little sad to go, but I know I’ll be back. Paris is seriously beyond words. I couldn’t even begin to describe what it’s like or the feeling I had when I was there experiencing it all. The only downside to the whole experience was that for some reason, my homesickness really hit a head when I was there. I think it was maybe a mixture of being away from family for six weeks and being surrounded by all these tourist and also all these amazing, historical buildings and just feeling like I wanted to experience all of this with the people that I love. No big issue though as I’m sure to do that one day. I hope this wasn’t too long, hopefully you took a break while reading it — I sure took breaks while writing it! I only have about a week and a couple days left in Dijon, so I’ll try to make the most of it and have something else to write about before I leave!