I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris. The Weekend of February 7th, 2014.
It hadn’t even been a week. Jetlag—the very real and antagonistic foe—was still creeping its way into my bones, into the normal processes of my body. I had been sleeping for three hours a night. I had absolutely no appetite, and had to force my unwilling body to keep food down. My eyelids perpetually sagged, probably giving off the aura of a homeless foreign wanderer to the Italians I passed on the street. I hadn’t made it to the store to purchase a bath towel yet, and had resorted to using a t-shirt to dry myself off after showers (which I still hadn’t figured out how to work—thanks to the fickle faucet, the hot water lasted five minutes). Adjusting was not a word I consulted in my lexicon. Culture shock was a ringed fist punching me in the face. As I picked my bruised head off the pavement, the stars of the city dancing in my head amazed me with overloaded perception. Milan was beautiful. With less than a week to explore, I was to take an early morning flight to Paris for four days of jaw-dropping cultural immersion.
My flight left at a reasonable 6:20 in the morning, meaning—since I had to take an hour-long bus ride to the airport—sleep was a luxury I could not afford. Due to the persistence of jetlag, it probably wouldn’t have came anyway. My experience at the airport was quick and simple. Loading myself like a confused sardine onto the highway tunnel of a plane, I hoped that no one noticed the scared American white boy in between his fits of fighting to keep his eyes open and baffled incomprehension at the fact that he was about to visit Paris.
Of course, things never go so smoothly when traveling; it’s a simple fact of life. Our plane descended among tempestuous skies, only to rise again a couple hundred feet from the runway. Apparently, the angry wind was proving too risky to land the plane, and we began circling the airport for an hour and a half. Eventually, the captain felt confident enough to attempt a landing. Through his voice over the intercom, one could sense the scared reluctance. I have never been a person afraid of flying, but such behavior would make a coward out of any one. The plane swiftly landed as everyone breathed that proverbial sigh of thank god.
On the bus ride into the city center, I stared out the window to view the green sea of fields in France’s countryside. They reminded me so much of the rolling fields of the Hudson Valley, sans the mountains. Home was far away but inconsequential at the moment. These were the green fields of France.
My girlfriend, Lucia, who was studying abroad in Paris, picked me up at the bus stop. For us, a month had passed by not seeing one another. We reunited in Paris of all places, a weekend ahead of us that would make honeymooners writhe in jealousy. The Parisian monuments, I knew, were about to reconfigure my DNA into another believer in the magic of the French city. The apartment we were staying in that weekend was nothing short of a movie set. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ve read so many novels and poems about Paris, and now I was going to experience that city like so many brilliant people before me.
We wasted no time. First on the agenda was a trip to the Sacre Coeur, the first of the infinite number of churches I would visit in Europe. I’m not a religious person in any way—I teeter between the useless definitions of atheist and agnostic and reject organized religion like most other students my age—but visiting such beautiful churches really gives you an appreciation for the beauty humankind can be capable of. After climbing the steep steps and traversing the neighborhood of Montmartre, I got my first look at the cityscape of Paris off the top of the hill. Unfortunately, photographs couldn’t do the view justice. I tried in this picture anyway.
I suggest you just go there yourself. The Sacre Coeur’s interior was entrancing as well.
Climbing down the hill, we found a cute restaurant to get dinner. Of course, I went for the three course meal with a glass of wine. I wanted the French experience. The first course was a thick Pumpkin soup. I was already finished after that delicious plate, but was then handed a whole steak with potatoes. It tasted so good, but my stomach was already bursting. I had to force down every bite in masochistic pleasure. For dessert, I had some strange amalgamation of flan and caramel. It was… not the type of dessert for me. I left the restaurant happily awaiting a food coma, but not before visiting the Moulin Rouge.
The next day was a blur of monuments. The outside of the Louvre was first. The sheer massive structure was enough to spend a lifetime gazing upon in awe. My apartment back home is three bedrooms. From there, we went to get lunch at Ladurée, the famous macaron shop. I had a veggie sandwich and some potatoes, which I could eat for the rest of my life. Dessert was a caffè and a macaron. Surprisingly, the meal wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be, and I wasn’t thrown out for wearing a denim jacket. No, the punk doesn’t ever leave my spirit, not even when fine dining. Sorry Parisians, for trampling on your customs. I hope we can still be friends.
It was back to the Louvre, where I was able to see the Mona Lisa. Unfortunately, the Louvre is just so massive. You could spend a week there and not see it all. I plan to return again at some point in my life. I felt like I was missing out a bit, by not spending a whole day there, but art isn’t really my area of expertise anyway.
Of course, dinner was the best ham and cheese crepe I’ve ever had in my life, paired with some nice cider. Parisians know their food, a trait which I will forever appreciate and admire.
Day three was Notre Dame, and I happily shouted “Sanctuary!” when I saw the towering cathedral. I’ve always been a big fan of the Disney movie. Now I’ve been there.
I have so much more to say, but my rambling can only be tolerated for so long. Every hour was a story.
All in all, Paris was everything I dreamed it would be. In reading and watching movies, I had formed this grandiose romantic ideal of how the city was. Somehow, Paris managed to smash my expectations while simultaneously humanizing its people. No place I’ve been to since has quite been the same. The moveable feast now follows me.