Monday, December 1, 2008

I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles.

Oh why, oh why do I love Paris?

The question should really be why
don't I love Paris?

And the answer is: there isn't one. I cannot think of a single, solitary reason that I don't love Paris. In the freezing cold, the sleeting rain, it didn't matter. I love Paris.
I LOVE PARIS! I just want to shout it from the rooftops.

Three days and two nights in
La Ville-Lumiere. And it was magnificent. From my first Parisian sight -- a glimpse of Sacre Coeur as the train made its way into the city from Charles de Gaulle -- the city just had me. It felt like a sound stage, because things that I saw, things happening around me just felt so fake, like I was in a movie. Except it was real. That's Paris. The Paris that you imagine when you think of Paris, of the iron balconies, the gargoyles on Notre Dame, the old men walking home with baguettes wrapped in newspaper, the accordion buskers on Metro, lovers kissing everywhere you look, outdoor tables spilling out of cafes onto the sidewalk even in the winter... it's all real. It's all Paris. It's better than I imagined, because in my imagination, there was no way it was living up to that fantasy. Except it did. It surpassed it. Paris was just so Parisian. That romantic, idealized Paris of books and movies? Is real.

I was staying at a fantastic little hotel in the 5e, the Quartier Latin. Not fancy, but clean, comfortable, and a block from Metro. It was so comfortable that on Sunday, I overslept by over an hour, because it was so nice to sleep in a big bed after an autumn spent sleeping on a thin, twin prison dorm bed provided by the university in my hall. The hotel was so perfectly located, right on Boulevard St. Michel, just blocks from la Sorbonne, the Pantheon (which honors, who else but Ste. Geneviève, who saved the city from the Huns), Jardin du Luxembourg, and the Seine. It felt like the entire Left Bank was right at my feet.

It was a whirlwind trip. Short, but I squeezed a lot in. Saturday was Notre Dame (including walking the 400 steps up to the top towers and the bell for an incredible view and more incredible workout), Jardin du Luxembourg, wandering up St. Michel. Walking from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs Elysee, all lit up for Christmas and bustling on a Saturday night, down toward Place de la Concorde.

Sunday was spent strolling Cimitiere Pere-Lachaise on a cold and rainy Sunday morning to see the graves of Oscar Wilde, Balzac, Sarah Bernhardt, Chopin, Moliere, Edith Piaf, and everyone who's anyone to ever die in Paris in the past 300 years, before getting mildly creeped out that it was my birthday and I was spending it in a cemetery! So I left the most wonderful graveyard I've ever seen, and headed back towards the 7e and the Musee d'Orsay, where I spent the following three hours with Cezanne, Monet, and a special Picasso exhibit, while avoiding the rain. Then it was a quick hop up to Montmartre as it was getting dark. A cup of
vin chaud from the Christmas market behind Sacre Coeur, and spectacular views from its front steps. Next it was a wander through the Bastille, with a stop at a neighborhood boulangerie for a birthday pastry, my "birthday cake," before heading back to the hotel to wash up and change for dinner. It took an hour of wandering around both the 5e and the 6e, before deciding on a little restaurant. Restaurant? Bistro? Brasserie? I still don't know all the differences. But after a frustrating hour of Goldilocksing every restaurant (too touristy, too full, needed reservations, too trendy), I went for the place with reasonably priced duck listed on the blackboard out front, and French football on big screens inside, full seemingly of locals and not fannypack-wearing Americans and Brits. A glass of champagne (it was my birthday!), plate of tender duck and potatoes, and another glass of red wine later, and it was off for one last essential late-night birthday stop: the Eiffel Tower.

I didn't necessarily want to "do" the Eiffel Tower, but I did want to see it up close, especially at night. My Quasimodo-inspired climb up Notre Dame the day before had given me my fill of heights for the trip; I didn't really feel like shelling out €12 to take a glass elevator ride that would quite certainly result in my acrophobia kicking in and me left curled in a corner of the platform shaking and crying and sweating. I just wanted to look at the Eiffel Tower from the ground. So I got off the Metro and headed in the direction of the arrow. It was late, almost 11pm. I was exhausted from a very long day of walking and being on my feet. And I was worried about getting back to my hotel in time. And I'm walking down Quai Branly, and I start feeling annoyed. I took the train all the way out here and I can't see the tower. Which at that point, I was calling the "stupid tower, " because I was tired and cold and I had to pee after all the champagne and wine.
I rounded a corner and I was angry. I couldn't see the Eiffel Tower from a distance. I'd schlepped all the way down to that part of town and now I couldn't even find the damn thing.

And then, boom. There it was. Around the corner and suddenly directly in front of my face. And then I realized: I was at the base of the thing. And it was massive and lit up blue and just spectacular. It was gorgeous. I headed across the street to a crepe stand for a late night crepe with Nutella to serve as my "birthday cake" (I'd conveniently forgotten about the first "birthday cake" I had while walking down Rue de la Roquette). That was when Paris, the City of Light, the city watched over by the saint with my same name, decided to give me a birthday present. I turned around from the crepe stand, about to bite into the gooey, chocolatey dough, and suddenly the the tower lit up.

It was a million flashing and glittering lights running up and down it, like it was a giant sparkler. It was one of the most spectacular things I'd ever seen. I hadn't planned it. I didn't even know about the light show. But there I was, standing at the base of the Eiffel Tower, on my 27th birthday, with my "birthday cake" and Paris gave me a show. It was perfect. Again, it was like some kind of scripted movie, except if it was a movie, I wouldn't have watched. It would have been entirely too cheesy:
girl goes to Paris by herself, runs around the city all day, and caps it off at night on her birthday by somehow accidentally stumbling upon the Eiffel Tower's light show. It would have rated something like a 27% on RottenTomatoes. Except it was real life and my real birthday! My life, even if for one day, was movie-script cheesy!

My last day, today, was great, but in far less cheesy ways. And short, as I had a 2pm flight from Charles de Gaulle back to Glasgow. I checked out of the hotel into the rain, and found myself in the midst of "Normal Paris," which is the Paris of businessmen and students and people going about their daily lives. It was almost better than cheesy Paris, because it still felt amazing and it was so encouraging, seeing people living their normal lives in this incredible place. I hopped the Metro and headed over to the Bon Marche to not shop (racks of Zac Posen and Stella McCartney intimidated me too much to even browse and pretend; I was afraid the sales clerks would yell at me for touching the pretty clothes). And then Le Grand Epicerie, which is also known as the Greatest Food Store on the Planet, also known as Where I Want To Go When I Die. It makes Balducci's look like FoodLion. I've never seen seafood or meats or cheeses like this in my life. I've never smelled olives that were so intoxicating or seen fruit that fresh. It was unreal. But alas, with a full carryon, no bag to check, and restrictions on bringing cheeses and wine (liquid) back to the UK, I just had to stare longingly at the stinky cheeses, and move on, again, hopping on the Metro towards Place de la Madeleine, for window shopping and breakfast, halfway through which I realized that it was after 11am and my flight left at 2pm, and I had to change trains twice to even get to the RER train to take me out to the airport.

So my final memories of Paris include me being That Person sprinting through Metro tunnels and throwing herself at closing doors on trains. I also have to point out how amazingly easy and efficient the Parisian Metro is. By the end of my trip, I felt like a Metro old pro, and it came in handy when running ridiculously late for my flight. But clearly, I made the flight and made it back to Glasgow (though I did get searched by Customs when arriving in Scotland, which has never happened before, so well done me for not trying to smuggle contraband cheese back in).

I miss Paris. I mean, I really
miss Paris. If I have a new life goal, it's that I'll someday live in Paris. And I realize that a lot of people say that ("What's your secret dream?" "Oh, to live in Paris!"), but I really mean it. Paris. I'm living there sometime in the not-too-distant future. I mean it.

Also, the whole myth of "IF YOU SAY SOMETHING IN FRENCH, THEY'LL HEAR HOW BAD YOUR ACCENT AND YOUR FRENCH ARE AND SWITCH TO ENGLISH!" is just that. A myth and a lie. No one switched for me. I limped through in bad French, but for the most part, understood and was understood, even if my verbs were all poorly conjugated, my grammar was all over the place, and I couldn't tell if words were masculine or feminine if they were waving letter-genitals in front of my face. And by the third day, even though it was far from good French, I was so much more comfortable speaking it, not caring if I stumbled. If I could wake up tomorrow with any super power, it would be fluency in French.

Also, Part II, I had multiple people come up to me and ask for directions! Which meant that on some level, people saw me and thought, "
Oh, she lives here!", which is really the greatest compliment any traveler can receive. The best part? The first woman who stopped me? Was French! And the even better part? I was able to, without hesitation, answer her and give her directions to a point where she seemed like she really did believe me and headed off in that direction! Oh, the joys of passing!

I realize how ridiculously saccharine and glowing this all is. But I'm just bursting with love for Paris. Poor Glasgow. Poor dirty, small, smelly Glasgow. I'm being wooed. What are you going to do about it? Come on, Glasgow. Fight for me. Show me you're worth keeping around. Are you really going to let the Frenchie swoop in and steal your girl away ?

And I took pictures. Not many though. These are all worth clicking on and viewing in full size.

Jardin du Luxembourg, with the Eiffel Tower in the background and a wedding in the foreground.

The wedding with the Palais du Luxembourg as a backdrop.

Fontaine Saint Michel on Boulevard St. Michel.

Looking across the Seine from the Left Bank.

Notre Dame de Paris. With Christmas tree!

The doors of the cathedral.

Looking out like Quasimodo did over the city from the top of Notre Dame, though his view would have been sans Eiffel Tower.

Another view from one of the towers, with La Defense in the background.

Looking out from Notre Dame to Sacre Coeur and Montmartre in the north, with the help of one of Notre Dame's gargoyles. This picture is worth clicking on to see it in full-size, not to toot my own photography horn.

The top of the cathedral.

"Sanctuary! Sanctuary! Sanctuary!"

From higher up still. The very top of the towers of the cathedral. Not inteded for people with a fear of heights. Meaning, me. It was problematic for me to say the least, but I'm glad I did it.

The Pantheon, also known as the city's homage to Ste. Genevieve, for the whole stopping Atilla and his gang thing.

Is this another Puerto Rican in Paris?!

The Arc de Triomphe.

��Aux Champs-Élysées, aux Champs-Élysées... Au soleil, sous la pluie, à midi ou à minuit... Il y a tout ce que vous voulez aux Champs-Élysées...

Oscar Wilde's grave at Pere-Lachaise. Women leave lipstick kisses on the stone, in addition to the standard flowers.

A look out towards Montmartre through the clock inside the Musee d'Orsay.

The Salle des Fetes in the Musee d'Orsay. You can actually hold events there. I just wanted to sit on the floor and stay there forever.

The main hall inside of the Musee d'Orsay.

The Christmas market behind Sacre Coeur.

Sacre Coeur.

Sacre Coeur, front on.

A blurry look down the steps of Sacre Coeur onto Paris.

A look up at Sacre Coeur from the bottom. Paris is all about steps. It's why Parisians are all in such good shape.

The Eiffel Tower, Part I.

The Eiffel Tower, Part II.

I really, really, really love Paris.

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