If only summer rain would fall
On the houses and the boulevards,
And the side walk bagatelles, it’s like a dream,
With the roar of cars
And the lulling of the cafe bars,
The sweetly sleeping sweeping of the Seine…
Lord I don’t know if I’ll ever be back again.
I had this song, The Legionnaire’s Lament by The Decemberists, stuck in my head for the most of last semester. Partly because the second to last line just sounds wonderful, but mainly because I decided to head to Paris during my spring break.
Why Paris? Well there were a few reasons but mainly because I missed traveling, the joy of exploring a new city and of making friends from all over the world in a hostel, so it became more a question of where. Anyplace would be warmer than Cleveland, but all southern destinations would be filled with drunken undergrads, so why not Europe? And then I recalled how I always felt badly about not getting to Paris on my round the world trip last year- I’d been when I was 12 years old, right at the tail end of France winning the World Cup they hosted actually, but that was half a lifetime ago and in that half I learned a lot more European history, decided Rodin is my favorite sculptor, and decided I enjoy a good glass of wine. So Paris it was, not exactly the cheapest destination I could have chosen but I’m ok with spending my money when it comes to a good experience. Like remember that trip around the world I did? Yeah, that totally sucked.
To begin, it turns out they have a rather famous tower in Paris that research has proven is the most photographed object in the world. Maybe you’ve heard of it? To be honest I think the Eiffel Tower is one of the best examples of humans engineering something just because they can- it really serves no purpose, other than getting tourists to come and admire it and climb around, but come we do because it’s awfully nifty-looking.
A close-up of the Eiffel Tower, included here because of a detail I only noticed on this trip- they have the names of French scientists on the Tower! Well it makes sense as it was built for a World’s Fair and is a lovely work of engineering, but it made me happy even though I’m certain hardly anyone else notices or knows who these people are (Cuvier was the scientist who showed extinctions exist in the fossil record, LaPlace did some amazing work in classical mechanics, Dulong figured out heat capacity in thermodynamics, Chasles made advances in geometry).
It’s worth noting that I did not climb up the tower, though I certainly spent a lot of time in the area admiring it and eating crepes and what not (food deserves its own post later). The simple reason for this is we did it when I was 12 but at the time we did the stairs instead of the elevator because the elevator line’s always so long, an incident my siblings and I not-so-fondly recall as “the death march.” Plus it was almost 10 Euros to do the stair option, so I wasn’t particularly interested.
So this is something that’s new since I was last in Paris- the Eiffel Tower sellers. See the jumbles of metal? They’re a bunch of those little Eiffel Tower figurines strung up on a metal ring and these guys go around selling them for a Euro or two, sometimes rather insistently. Definitely a common sight in Paris these days!
One thing I was actually interested in when it came to Paris was also how true the ubiquitous stories of street harassment and theft and general mean-ness are true when it comes to the city. Conclusion? Most are really just due to the fact that Paris is often the first international experience many Americans face, so they come into things rather naively and they can and rather badly. I also found the Parisians to be just as nice as anyone so long as you made an attempt to speak a few words of French and they realized you weren’t going to act like an a$$hole. But then I’ve always had a good record with the French people- they seem to assume any girl named Yvette must be a kindred spirit, or at least close enough.
Moving along here’s another famous landmark- the Arc! And I rather like this picture if I may say so as the sunset lighting was good, almost made up for being footsore…
A much further away shot down the Champs-Élysées from the Luxor Obelisk. I confess this is another one of those things that I remember being much more interesting in years past because now it’s primarily American chain stores, and who goes to Paris to shop at Abercrombie & Fitch and eat at McDonald’s?
In what is undoubtedly a traitor to my gender, I’m not much of a shopper. I mean, what’s the point of buying yet another souvenir that will just sit somewhere and add to clutter you already have too much of? So I didn’t wander towards the Paris Opera House until my very last night to check out the shopping because I like to look but will never actually spend the money, especially in the most expensive city in the world.
To be fair all the jewelry shops had some amazing things on display, as I’m not enough of a traitor to lose the magpie interest in shiny things. Plus it’s kind of fun to try and find the most expensive thing on display (answer: a 100,000 Euro necklace!) tho I only did window shopping at the jewelry shops because they all had footmen at the doors, aka people who were in place to make sure those obviously not capable of plunking down a few thousand Euro didn’t find themselves inside.
I did wander into a few footman-less stores though, and here are some of my favorites-
Hard to not love a candy store with all its colorful tins and wrappers. And I swear I was considering buying something here until I tried the free samples and realized they just weren’t at all tasty.
And last but not least, spotted near the Opera was the ballerina store! Specifically they sold pointe shoes- a professional dancer goes through a pair a night so you need to keep a lot on hand. The store also sold ballet-slipper shoes of various colors to augment the sales I suppose, and a healthy dose of leotards and tutus of course.
So that’s my first installment of my Paris visit. Tune in later for posts on the art, the churches, Versailles, and the food!