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Posts Tagged ‘Tourists’

Today is yet another religious holiday here in France —meaning closed shops, empty avenues and general public bliss. Granted, I no longer have school in the first place, so holidays here don’t really affect me any more beyond their frustrating tendency to close grocery stores on days in which I desperately need food items (like today), but I will give the French a break. It’s a beautiful day, and it was a beautiful weekend and everyone loves a holiday.

My weekend was a kind of holiday itself, as my dear friend Allison arrived on a train at the Gare du Nord from London, where she is taking part in a UNC Maymester summer program, studying theatre and education and generally being British. I haven’t seen Allison since December, and this was the first time we have spent time together outside of Chapel Hill, so it was absolutely fantastic to have another visitor with whom to enjoy the flawless spring weather here in Paris.

Our weekend was lazy and lovely and full of fun excursions. On her arrival Thursday night, we shared a delicious and très français dinner of ratatouille, citrus salad, baguette, wine and a fantastic strawberry-asparagus tart with our fellow Carolina scholar, Char. The food was great and we all enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Friday, I had to finish up my third day of opera research at the Médiatheque Mahler, so I deposited Allison in Parc Monceau, where she caught up on some assigned reading and enjoyed French people watching. We then headed off to the Champs-Élysées, where we took pictures of the Arch de Triomphe and wandered in and out of fancy-looking stores. Dinner was a picnic with friends in the Jardin de Luxembourg, followed by a trip to the Tour Eiffel for photos and gawking. So, it was pretty much a perfect, touristy day.

We decided to visit the Musée de Louvre on Saturday, heading there in the early afternoon and wandering around the rooms in the less-popular wing before braving the sweaty hordes in the Italian art wing. We then prepared for our epic picnic date in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont — something I owe Allison from a botched date attempt at a school banquet last fall — which was tasty and elegant and a true delight. Later, we met up with some of my friends for wine and conversation on the quais of the Seine, just underneath the shadowy and towering Notre Dame.

Allison informed me before she came to Paris that she had a few things she needed to see: the Tour, the Louvre, a baguette and Versailles. While I had seen and done and eaten most of those things, I had never been to Versailles, the epic and monumental palace of the former Kings of France, located just outside of Paris proper. So naturally, it seemed that now was the time to go. With Char and an elaborate picnic lunch we purchased from a market by the Tour — including a ridiculously delicious apple tart — we boarded the train and headed out to Versailles.

The lines were very, very long and the people very, very sweaty and high in number. Part of this comes from the weather — it was a legitimate 80-something degrees Fahrenheit yesterday in Paris — but part of it just stemmed from the palace. Inside was beautiful — the Hall of Mirrors, the galleries, the chapel, the fantastically elaborate meeting rooms and salons — but our favorite part was the park and gardens that stretched out behind the chauteau for miles upon miles of boundless, perfect green.

Hedge mazes, lagoons, canals, fountains, guest houses, statues and more tumble outward from the back of the palace, arranged in perfect geometrical shapes and patterns. We spent a few hours in the park, stopping in hidden cafés in hedge mazes, walking along narrow paths and marveling at the endless green that encircled us everywhere we looked. It was a magical end to a magical weekend.

With a hearty hug and a happy smile, I sent Allison back to England this morning, with both of us looking forward to August in Chapel Hill.

But I’m still here, and my time in Paris is not yet over. True, my rent is up in seven short days, and I only have two finals and three weeks separating me from my summer opera adventure, but I plan to use this stretch of flawless spring weather to truly enjoy the end of the chapter in my life called Paris.

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Paris is a funny kind of city. Weird things happen here all the time, and I often wish I lived with someone so I could tell them about the unusual things I’ve seen.

In that light, I thought I would write a short post, detailing some of the odd things I have seen while here in Paris.

I have seen:

  • Many people, of all ages, rollerblading or rollerskating, all without any trace of irony. I’ve even seen kids rollerblading while doing little chores on my street.
  • A child of about 5 or 6 walking the street sucking on a pacifier.
  • A man in an Egyptian Pharaoh outfit wandering around the Place de l’Opèra, looking for spare change.
  • A girl with a large butcher knife cutting colored paper and making crafts on the metro at 1 in the morning
  • A man with a Christmas tie, in late March, on the metro.
  • A puppet show in the metro.
  • Signs advertising some kind of Easter special at the boulangerie, with a flying egg named (translated) “Super Egg Man”
  • A child in a hat that read, “PhreshTunes”
  • A woman encouraging her young daughter to pee next to a dumpster on a busy street.
  • Many, many, many men peeing in a corner by a job placement office in my neighborhood, at all hours of the day.
  • Numerous people on otherwise athletic jogs through the park wearing elegantly tied scarves.

Come to think of it, it seemed like I had more interesting things to say. Maybe I’ll add more to this post as I remember/see them.

BUT

the most unusual, odd and wonderfully delightful sight in Paris came this afternoon, when I found two wandering and lost American tourists in the Place de l’Opèra: my parents, fresh off a bus and two planes from Detroit!

That’s right, folks, my parents are here in Paris to visit me for a whole week. What will we do? What kinds of fun adventures will we get into? Where we go? What will we eat?

Stay tuned to find out!

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Everyone loves visiting Paris.

Or at least, that’s what it seems like. I’ve had three rounds of visitors here in the City of Light since my arrival in January, and each one has told me pretty much the same thing about their initial impressions of the city:

Oh how lucky you are to live here!” or “I’m absolutely in love with this city!” or “This is the most wonderful city…how can you ever be bored or unhappy here?

Hmm.

If you recall, my opening few weeks here in Paris weren’t the best few weeks of my life. Yes, I found the city breathtakingly beautiful and truly relished the chance to live a life à la française, but I had a hard time adjusting to that very same idolized daily life in that very same romanticized city.

I think that those who visit the city — including maybe my parents, who arrive at Charles DeGualle International Airport on Saturday morning — have a fixed image of Paris that they come here to live out. They are informed by the innumerable images of the city they see in films or read about in books, and for the most part the omnipresent French tourism industry has done a good job in preserving that kind of sugar-glazed, one-size-fits-all experience in the center city.

You want to see the Eiffel Tower? WHAM there it is. You can even climb it! You want to go into the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa? SLAM come on in. You don’t even have to see the thousands of other works on display — you probably don’t know them, anyway. You want a crêpe? BAM eat one, here, there — everywhere in the city. Same for baguettes or Berthillon ice cream or croissants or traditional French cuisine.

The other side of the city, the real living part — that’s not entirely on display, and most tourists don’t care about it, anyway. They come to see Paris from the movies, and that Paris is there for them the moment they walk out of one of the city’s six train stations or pull their luggage from the airport bus.

But I’m not a tourist — I live here — and my impressions of the city are based on repeated, varied views. I see the city just after a snow storm, in the morning after a light rain fall, in the evening when spring seems to be finally descending.

I see it as a resident, and my view wasn’t always so rosy. Things here in France are nuanced and often inconvenient, and require a certain kind of stubborn persistence that I may not have been born with.

Even more, my own touristy impression of the city the first time I visited it two years ago was far from rosy. I admired the architecture and the melodious language of the inhabitants, but I came in the middle of la saison morte — the summer months when most Parisians with sense flee the city in advance of the onslaught of foreign tourists. So the Paris I saw then was a shell of its usual glittering self.

Life gets easier every day. I dive into school, French language, my friends, cooking, running, exploring the city, reading, living — and I gradually forget why I was ever unhappy here.

But the memory lingers. So, when every happy guest tells me how lovely my city is, I agree — knowing how long it truly takes to get to know the city in all its real, rough and quirky charm.

(As a side note, I was graced by the presence of some lovely old — and new — friends from Carolina who are studying abroad this spring in Sevilla, Spain. We shared dinner, wine and conversation for four delightful hours on Saturday night. It was great to see some old friends from the other side of the Atlantic, especially over a delicious meal.)

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