Sunday, May 13, 2012

What May 11-14 Means To Me: Paris!

Upon seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time, I had only one, singular thought:

Wow, it’s the Eiffel Tower.” 

Hey look, there it is.

During my thirty-three years of living, I think I’ve seen France’s most famous landmark depicted in just about every single way something could be.  Whether it be film, television, art or this...

or this...

Or umm this...'s probably the landmark I've seen most often.  

Because of this, simply being in its vicinity was unexpectedly sobering.  Tourist attraction or not, the Eiffel Tower is probably the world’s most ubiquitous/iconic image, and actually standing in front of it was more powerful than I ever thought.  I immediately catalogued all the wasted bullshit of my thirty-three years; things I was doing that were not visiting the Eiffel Tower, and couldn’t come up with an excuse as to why I somehow never got around to it before. It made me think of all the other things I might be missing out on.  It might be silly to consider viewing a tall, metal structure as some sort of benchmark moment in my life, but I can now at least say it’s something I’ve visited.  I feel like I've earned the right to be a part of a club or something.   

Who here has seen ze Eiffel Tower?


I can't wait to participate in the next meeting.

Ah, Paris.   Home to Monet, Manet, Proust and, of course, America’s favorite punching bag, Glass Joe. Ella, a childhood friend and now expat, was kind enough to provide an extensive walking tour of the city that included the famous monuments, buildings, and Jim Morrison’s grave (I don’t even really like The Doors, but it felt like something I should do.  I actually think it’s a site that’s just become famous for being famous). We continued on to multiple café stops, beautiful churches, and a strange protest that involved a horde of streetblockers, an angry truck driver, and a police bicycle that became the subject of many photographers. All of which resulted in both cultural nourishment and sore feet. I’d say we were like Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunset (A movie Ella and I both love), except I don’t recall Julie using the “privacy” of a sidestreet doorway to slip on a thong she bought minutes before at an H&M.  (Neither of us were prepared for an unexpected hot day.  While I decided to sweat it out, she beat the heat with the purchase of a new summer dress and the aforementioned undergarment.)  The tour ended when we reached her boyfriend’s apartment, and were greeted by six French thirty-somethings singing a layered acapella version of Green Day’s “Basket Case.”  You know, typical.
It’s funny when your preconceived notions of a place actually turn out to be somewhat accurate.  And this one-hundred year old apartment, complete with its old hardwood floors and bookshelves lined with classic lit, fit my stereotype of how native, artsy Parisians my age might live.  The bar we visited later in the evening; with its guitarist and violinist, homemade rum, and customers who immediately engaged me in debates about the merits of communism (“Am I an equal to Mozart?), and the existence of God (What could create this world if not God?  I think you haven’t found yours yet”), was, more or less, everything I expected. In fact, I was invited to go to an Absinthe bar by one of the patrons the next evening at 2am. Sounds like something straight out of Midnight in Paris, right?  Too bad the guy who offered was some strange Greek dude, and not the ghost of Ernest Hemingway.  Anyway, the evening extended into the wee hours of the morning as the aforementioned glee club gave me a crash course in the history of French pop music, which included some odd dancing to tunes by Serge Gainsbourg, Brigitte Bardot, and some guy who beat his wife to death while on a drug binge.  All in all, a pretty perfect introduction to the city of light. 

Paris is easily the largest European city I’ve visited, but I was surprised to find it quaint.  Streets are littered with random cafes, sometimes four to a block.  If most of these were opened in Los Angeles, we’d snicker at their extreme simplicity and count the days till they went out of business.  But in Paris, these cafes exist harmoniously and feel awfully cozy.  It’s not uncommon to order a simple dish like an omelette, only to watch the waiter run across the street to buy the eggs and a baguette from the corner market. (For the record, I love that a fresh baguette comes with virtually every meal.  There are wine enthusiasts and food connoisseurs, but me? I just love bread.  When I was young, my mother always told me not to fill up on bread before the meal, but I did anyway, because, well, I fucking love bread. Duh.)

I completely understand why artists exhaust themselves over love letters to Paris, and also why commercials like this ever existed. Unlike what I mentioned about Brussels (more on this in another post), Paris smacks you in the face with its healthy blend of art, modernity, and history as soon as you get off the train. And it can be overwhelming while trying to take it in with just one gulp.  I’ll have to come back and make an entire trip of the city, but it was nice to get a small taste. 

Paris Photo Dump: 

Tree beside Jim Morrison's Grave.  That's all old gum.  Gross. Did Jim have a thing for gum?

I think that's the bridge Owen walked on at the end of Midnight In Paris.


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