Travel

Paris: Distant But Not Dissatisfied

20130223_232106Oh Paris. Our tryst was beautiful but fleeting, passionate but shallow. You were charming, surprisingly friendly, and often delicious, but we just didn’t connect on a fundamental level. We didn’t quite get past casual banter over crepes, never pondered the deep questions of life together or asked each other’s hopes and dreams. Despite the way you warmly helped me navigate your streets, I was persistently, profoundly aware that I was a vistor on them. Sure, we had some moments — channeling Midnight in Paris on Rue Mouffetard that first night, sipping wine in the fairytale-esque bar of Ladurée, marveling over your art, a moment of beautiful silence in Sacré Cœur, but something was always missing.

To preface, we had a great group of people in Paris, saw all the sights, relaxed, ate onion soup and macaroons, drank wine, laughed, experienced the art, walked the streets, went to Versailles, walked the lock bridge…for the three days we had, we really did it all. And certainly it was my complete and utter lack of French that helped to make me feel like such an outsider. And maybe that’s not even a bad thing. Maybe sometimes it’s good to view a culture as a pure unbiased observer looking in. I just want to make it clear, this feeling I have isn’t Paris’ fault. Nor is it mine, or that of the people I was with. Sadly, I think we just didn’t have enough time to really get to know each other deep enough.

That first night, a group of us wandered into a random restaurant on Rue Mouffetard, and I was greeted with the
realization that in Paris, French onion soup is just “Onion Soup.” And it’s delicious. I followed that up with steak frites, also quite good. We met up with the rest of the gals and meandered back down the road a ways for some dessert and wine, mine being chocolate cake filled with pure molten chocolate. I didn’t hate it.

Our first daylight in Paris brought us to the Louvre, with some pastries on the way. Oh and this.

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Good morning indeed. Now, if anyone knows how to do a museum, it’s me and Lily. Part subservience to the almighty audioguide and part in-depth analysis the likes of which cannot be publicly disclosed, it’s always a great time. Two happy surprises: 1. the Louvre houses the Law Code of Hammurabi. Like, the actual, 18th-century-BC, legible law code. Nuts. 2. Here, I made a connection. My favorite canto in the Inferno, definitely one of my favorites in the entire Divine Comedy, is Canto V, the second circle of the lustful.

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“When as we read of the much-longed-for smile
Being by such a noble lover kissed,
This one, who ne’er from me shall be divided,

Kissed me upon the mouth all palpitating.
Galeotto was the book and he who wrote it.
That day no farther did we read therein.”

It’s impossible not to feel their pain, which, I realize, makes Paolo and Francesca the subject of art on art on art. That fact doesn’t change my excitement when I saw this, the 1855 version (the third of its kind), of “Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta appraised by Dante and Virgil,” by Ary Scheffer. If you didn’t feel it already, you should now. Shout out to PLS and JRo, who facilitated my love affair with this courtly love tale within a courtly love tale within a courtly love tale.

We also hit up Notre Dame, which as a Domer I hate to admit didn’t quite hit me like I thought it should have. Dinner though, at good ol’ Ernest’s house (apparently Hemingway actually lived there), did the trick. Duck, salmon, and Prosecco are never bad things.

The next full day we made it to Versailles, but not before visiting an animal exhibition of its namesake…not on purpose. That’s a story for another time. And yes, Versailles was elaborate and over-the-top and beautiful, but without the gardens in full bloom or even weather that was warm enough to walk around them in, it just felt lacking. Our next stop however, did not. Sacré Cœur was awe-inspiring inside and out, and the rare silence in a tourist destination was welcome and peaceful. (I am choosing to ignore the Godforsaken coin machines.) I lit a candle for family, and it was lovely.

Our little band of ambitious travelers then commenced what turned out to be a five-mile walk. Seriously. Check it.

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It was cold but full of lights, long and tiring but absolutely worth it. On the way we grabbed dinner and later, some drinks and dessert at the famous Ladurée. And at the end of course, the Eiffel Tower and its light show greeted us. That was a bit of a moment for Paris and me, watching the lights from across the Seine. Our final day in Paris, we visited the Musée d’Orsay which, happily and sadly, might be my favorite museum I have ever been to. Sadly, because I definitely did not spend enough time there.

Some day in the future I plan to return and pick up where we left off, this time not only with memories that will give me a feeling of connectedness, but with time to not just see Paris, but live it.

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