Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en rose” ran continually in my head (and on my lips) while I was in Paris. Literally “life in pink,” the phrase means something akin to seeing life through rose-tinted glasses.
Certainly, Paris to me was like that, even though we waited in the most and longest lines for various attractions. I was in Gay Paree! This is the city where Fred Astaire danced with Audrey Hepburn, where Gene Kelly serenaded Leslie Caron, where the Impressionists and the Lost Generation set the artistic and intellectual worlds on fire. This is the city of people’s dreams, romantic, artistic, intellectual or otherwise.
Did my dreams match up with reality? Yes and no. Obviously, the Paris of my dreams didn’t involve waiting in line for an hour to see Saint Chapelle.
Yet, when I did see sunlight streaming through those riotously colored windows, I knew that yes, I really was in La Ville-Lumiére. The City of Light.
The Panthéon contains, among other things, the graves of Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Louis Braille, and Voltaire, as well as a memorial to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. One of the most fascinating things in there, though, was Foucault's Pendulum, a device that shows the rotation of the Earth. Léon Foucault demonstrated it here in 1851; this is a copy of the original device.
Sacre Coeur is one of the many beautiful cathedrals (or rather, basilicas) in Paris. Climbing a tall hill, we were confronted with panoramic views of Montmartre. We walked in, intending to sightsee, only to bump into a Holy Thursday Mass. Oops! Also of note were the vending machines dispensing holy medals, which was. . .strange.
Finding the Moulin Rouge was a trial. After getting the very clear direction of going "left" from Sacre Coeur, we wandered around Montmartre, getting an eyeful of the Parisian nightlife. However, we were lucky and stumbled upon it. Having watched too much of Moulin Rouge!, I was a wee bit disappointed there was no giant elephant with a singing Ewan McGregor on it.
We found a bistro to drink Bordeaux and for me to eat escargot. Even though the idea of eating snails inevitably triggers an "ew!" for many, I can report they tasted like mussels, pretty much, except cooked in pesto and garlic. Quite tasty. Our server was also a riot. I had heard that French waiters were often rude but happily, that wasn't the case. Ours had lived in California for a spell and was dying to return. He also pumped his fist into the air and shouted, "I love Barack Obama!"
My art history professor fainted when she had seen the Winged Victory of Samothrace for the first time. While I didn't have that reaction, I was certainly enraptured by its dynamism, its striking evocation of movement, strength, and grace. I kept returning to it.
My friend Caitlin really wanted to find the lamassu, giant human-headed winged lion statues. However, the Louvre is a maze, so we spent several minutes haplessly looking for a docent (mysteriously few), finding a medieval moat (!) and sphinx, and bumping randomly into our other friend who was also a little lost. Finally, we realized we had missed a side staircase and here we were. Worth the journey, I think.
Since it was Holy Week, unfortunately, the line for the main sanctuary at Notre Dame was very, very long. However, our Museum Passes got us into the much shorter line for the tower tour. Since we we had to catch a train that night, Aubrey and Bekah got us to agree to leave the line if an hour had passed and we weren't in the building. Approximately 56 minutes and a crepe break later, Caitlin, snickering, pointed out the time left when we entered the towers. For all that, though, we got some of the best views in Paris, a showing of the bell Victor Hugo made famous in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and some time with the gargoyles.
Shakespeare and Company is a bookstore famous for the many, many writers who've hung out there, such as not-so-well-known folks as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein. Packed with people, it was a lovely, whimsical place where brand-new editions of books were shelved with decades-old ones, where there was a pot for people to throw in change for "starving writers," where we wandered upstairs to find someone playing the piano, and where there was a little courtyard with a charming arrangement of toys and garden gnomes.
You see the Eiffel Tower in popular culture so much that it's become a cliché. Still, when we walked up to it, we were struck by how beautiful it was. I know I've overused that word when it comes to Paris, but we were exclaiming at how the black iron was twisted like lacework, how delicate and yet tough it looked against the sky. There's nothing else like it in the world; no wonder it's synonymous with Paris.
We waited an hour for Sainte Chapelle, but this is what I walked into. Before I saw Sainte Chapelle, I had never seen stained glass. Not like this. Easily the single most wondrous structure I saw my entire trip.