My family took a European vacation when I was very young – perhaps 8 or 9 – during which we spent several days in Paris. (I cannot prove it, but I’m fairly sure this first foray into international travel was when my parents decided TWO WAS PLENTY OF CHILDREN. MAYBE EVEN TOO MANY. BY ABOUT TWO.) My memories of that trip are a series of decontextualized flashes; a restaurant with a wine list longer than the actual menu, my acrophobic mother clinging to the back wall of the elevator as we attempted to ascend the Eiffel Tower, a glimpsed view of a gaudy glass pyramid outside the Louvre. My plan for returning to the US had always been to make my way to Europe and fly home from there, and Paris is as good a departure point as any. I found some staggeringly cheap airfares leaving Charles de Gaulle (provided I don’t mind a ten-hour layover in Iceland) and thought to myself, “Why not?” After a grown-up’s curiosity and considerable peer pressure from numerous friends, I decided to City of Light and Love another chance, this time from the perspective of a (semi-)cultured adult.
I know what *my* favorite street is.
My first impression is one of disappointment: contrary to what I’ve been led to believe all my life, the Eiffel Tower is NOT visible from every single window in the entire city, and the streets are NOT paved with tiny, durable croissants.
Tragic, I know.
View of the city from the Basilica du SacreCoer
I’m struggling to think of something profound, or at least entertaining, so justify this blog post beyond the requisite “I’M HEEEERE!!!” Or even something profound or entertaining to write in my personal journal. What is left to be said about Paris? So many of the great writers, thinkers, movers, and shakers of the Western world were either born there or lived there at some point, that to try and say something profound is like trying to come up with a lawyer joke no one has told yet: you’re basically going to fail right out of the gate. Here is a sampling of some good ones.
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
- Ernest Hemingway
“America is my country and Paris is my hometown.”
- Gertrude Stein
“Paris was a universe whole and entire unto herself, hollowed and fashioned by history; so she seemed in this age of Napoleon III with her towering buildings, her massive cathedrals, her grand boulevards and ancient winding medieval streets–as vast and indestructible as nature itself. All was embraced by her, by her volatile and enchanted populace thronging the galleries, the theaters, the cafes, giving birth over and over to genius and sanctity, philosophy and war, frivolity and the finest art; so it seemed that if all the world outside her were to sink into darkness, what was fine, what was beautiful, what was essential might there still come to its finest flower. Even the majestic trees that graced and sheltered her streets were attuned to her–and the waters of the Seine, contained and beautiful as they wound through her heart; so that the earth on that spot, so shaped by blood and consciousness, had ceased to be the earth and had become Paris.”
― Anne Rice
“Paris is a place in which we can forget ourselves, reinvent, expunge the dead weight of our past.”
― Michael Simkins
“He who contemplates the depths of Paris is seized with vertigo.
Nothing is more fantastic. Nothing is more tragic.
Nothing is more sublime.”
― Victor Hugo
Had enough? Well, thank God – me too. Perhaps Paris is the heaving soul of art and culture, the world’s greatest city. Perhaps it once was, and is now a sprawling folie a deux; it’s great because we spend so much time standing around convincing each other it’s great, and the first one to look away loses. (I mean, not likely – any city with this many shops devoted solely to cheese MUST be at least a LITTLE great – and yet it’s always possible.) But really? It doesn’t matter. Because every minute I spend with my fingers on this keyboard, typing in this blog window, is one less minute I can spend with those same fingers wrapped around a crepe (or the stem of a wineglass.) City of European clichés it may be; I am going to enjoy it as such, and be totally unashamed. Bring on the resin Eiffel Tower statues and the overpriced cafe pastries. I will stuff myself silly and be happier for it.
Despite an extremely pleasant first day, I am not yet sold on the idea that it is overall a better city than DC (my #1 pick), but I am nonetheless overjoyed to have made it here, and sad my trip must soon end.
But not before I bankrupt myself buying even more books. Per usual.