August is the time most Europeans are on holiday, so I thought we would also take a break from psychosynthesis and travel to Paris …
Paris. A big city of grid-like streets lined with pale-yellow palatial buildings which all loom above me seven-stories high. I feel like an ant scurrying between these 19th century edifices of glory as I and my husband run for four days between every tourist site in town— The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre …
We are not alone, but followed by throngs of tourists (28 million per year!) seeking…what? I’m not sure. I’m not even sure what I am seeking. A Parisian experience? A glimpse at artistic genius? Alluring romance? Haute cuisine?
I suppose I am not seeking anything … I can only tell you what I found.
The first evening upon our arrival, we strolled through the holiday-packed Luxembourg Gardens where some things remain simply and quintessentially French. Older men (and even a few women) were playing jeu de boules under shaded trees and beside them, standing in the open air, was a coat rack so the players could properly hang their jackets.
Families strolled under boulevards lined with plantain trees. Children, using long sticks, chased and nudged model sailboats around the pool in front of the Palais de Luxembourg. Other children rode the old-fashion carousel near the théâtre des marionnettes (puppet theatre). The park is full of pale-green steel chairs which visitors can move from place to place. That evening they were all occupied with friends talking, old men reading the newspaper, and young artists sketching.
We passed the apiary and circles of tulips blaring bright red in the sun. Statues of saints and queens, artists and gods, animals and even the model of the Statue of Liberty accompanied us along winding pathways. But even with all this, the only thing I seemed to notice was a young couple completely entwined and glued together on a park bench. “Look!” I said to my husband. “There are two French people in LOVE.”
“You could say that,” said my Dutch husband, who is modest in most cases, but most especially in romance. Let’s face it. Dutch men are not known for their ability to woo women. This does have its advantages as Dutch men, being practical and reasonable, do consider washing the dishes and hanging the laundry as a sign of their devotion. I suppose you can’t have everything.
However, there is a time for everything, and I felt that my husband might gain some valuable lessons while we were in Paris. So, I kept pointing out young couples who seemed to be stuck together in the most private places and in the most public ones as well. Later that evening in a restaurant, I asked that he study a nearby table where the man had not once abandoned paying attention to the female hand before him. It was magnifique! He fondled, fingered, caressed, entangled, and kissed this woman’s pale, white paw. My husband only wondered how in the world they could eat anything, especially with these prices.
But in the end, I am happy to say, he finally got it, and so did I. While waiting at the bar at the Gard du Nord train station, we sat between a young English couple and an older French one. The English couple was quiet to the point of solemn, while the French couple was animated and gay. At one point, the French woman reached across the table and laughingly tousled the man’s hair. “You see,” my husband said. “I could be more French if you were more French.” Touchée! And so, I have now taken on the task of tousling hair whenever I need some handholding.
Finally, the Eiffel Tower. I suppose Paris has so many visitors because of its expert branding. Who doesn’t recognize the Eiffel Tower? Who doesn’t think of Paris when they see it? And who doesn’t want to see it?
But what is it really? A unfinished empty iron shell of a building, very pointed, very tall, very crowded. The most visited monument in the world. That means long lines in the ladies’ room with signs in French, Spanish, English, and Chinese that tell you that the place is also popular with pickpockets.
Besides tourists swarming its underbelly, we saw Chinese models posing for a fashion shoot, a convention of South Koreans performing martial arts, and 50 drum sets ready to thunder together in Le Jazz Festival.
You ride the elevator or climb the stairs for a view of Paris. But we didn’t. Instead, we opted for a quiet corner just beyond its bowels in a small hidden grove complete with ice-cream stand and children’s playground. Lying on a park bench, I stared up at this giant sculpture and the swaying spring foliage above me. It was springtime in Paris and I was exhausted.
In four days, I stood breathless in front of Monet’s La Pie (The Magpie), eaten lukewarm, rubbery crepes and exclaimed “C’est extraordinaire!”, walked down the Avenue Champs-Élysées, window-shopped at Chanel’s and Dior’s, stood on a corner in the Latin Quarters and stuffed myself with falafel and pita bread, roamed the famous flea-markets, managed to always find room for desert, gaped at the only grape vineyard in Paris, and rode in what felt like every Metro, bus, and taxi in town.
Surely, it was time to go home and not come back for at least another 25 years. Au revoir, Paris, à bientôt!