The moment we arrived in Paris was a bit of a shock to the system. Whereas we had been able to navigate Scotland and England seamlessly due to a common language, we had no such luxury in Paris. None of us speak a lick of French, and it’s not like Spain, where we can get by or Italy where we can use the proximity of Spanish to Italian. French is different. It’s smooth and beautiful and refined and completely inaccessible to those that don’t speak it. In Paris, we couldn’t even pronunciate well enough to inform our taxi driver where to drop us off. Were it not for google translate, we never would have made it to the flat.
Although we realized immediately that the language barrier was different for us, so too did we realize that everything has changed for the people of Paris. The city in August was eerily quiet–due in part to vacation time but also due to the dramatic decrease in tourism because of the terrorist attacks over the past year. The recent attacks have left an indelible mark, and they have turned Paris into something of an incessantly beautiful ghost town. We were astounded by the serenity of the streets, and it often seemed like we had the city to ourselves. This made it very easy to get tickets and enjoy all the attractions, but we never went anywhere without seeing teams of four soldiers patrolling the area with semi-automatic weapons. The security is massive and imposing, and you can’t go to any public gathering place without feeling like you are walking through a sort of military state. Paris is clearly and understandably on high alert, and we felt this throughout the week.
Still, that didn’t stop us. The beauty of Paris never ends and was more than enough inspiration for us to persevere. We visited the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Louvre, Arch de Triomphe, Palace of Versailles, Catacombs, Musee d’Orsay, Tullieres Garden, and other treasures. The decadence of Paris knows no bounds.And just when you think the decorative flair on a building can’t get more ornate, you see the next one. It’s lovely and magical and stylish and every adjective you’ve ever heard used to describe the City of Light is likely not enough. The visual splendor is truly magnificent. It is captivating, and so we tried to do what Parisians do. We sat in cafes, ate croissants and sweets, and strolled through tiny gardens in the 15th arrondissement where we stayed—outside the tourist areas of the city. We went to the local sports center and played football with the locals in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. And we basked in all the glory Paris shines.
A word on the people. We did experience a few instances of the stereotypical Parisian frustration with Americans who don’t speak French. This was most apparent with a couple vendors–from the dismissive nature of workers at the local convenient store to the man behind the register at the Louvre who slammed the microwave door in rage when I chose not to purchase a $5 bottle of apple juice. That being said, we also had countless interactions that were incredibly positive with Parisians who spoke a bit of English and we bonded more than once over Paris Saint-Germain, Clash of Clans, Pokemon Go, or conversations about the visual splendor of Paris. Truth be told, far more people were kind and helpful than not.
The city had something for everyone. I was swept away in the wonder of inhabiting the charming streets where so many great writers and artists had walked. Karen was moved by the architectural beauty and femininity that lives and breathes in every arch, piece of wrought iron, and golden dream of Louis the XIV. She was enchanted by each gracious garden and swept away into a dreamlike state by the Palace of Versailles. Jackson was excited to be in the city where his footballing hero Thiago Silva plies his trade, and he loved getting to the pitch–both in the neighborhood and taking in the PSG season opener at Parc de Princes. And Cassius could immerse himself in the dream of Paris. If ever a kid could dream, it is Cassius, and Paris evokes a sense of wonder from the pinnacle of the Eiffel Tower to the dark underworld of the catacombs that had been brought to life in some of his books. The city had something for everyone.
As we leave, it only seems right to thank Paris and the people who inhabit this city for all they have offered the world and for all they offered us over the past week. At the same time, the tragedies of the past year are ever present, and it seems important to acknowledge the lives that have been lost as we hope for a future that is more peaceful and less uncertain. Au revoir Paris and prayers.