NOTE: The Author would like to gently point out that his observations are his and his alone, and they are not meant to be some sort of factual record on what Paris is. This is simply a collection of observations on what he experienced for 8 days in Paris during the summer of 2011. It is meant to be an honest account of his feelings and experiences, but should not be taken as complete truth to what Paris and France are. How could it? That's ridiculous. With that... PREVIOUSLY: PART 1: TOUCHING DOWN PART 2: MEETING THE LIZARD KING PART 3: MY NEMESIS, THE METRO PART 4: BLUE SKY RAIN PART 5: THE GINGER WINS PART 6: KEEPERS OF THE CITY PART 7: THE TUNNELS OF DEATH PART 8: THE THINKER CONTEMPLATES CULTURE PART 9: A SMUDGE ON LIFE'S CANVAS
The day starts the same as it has before, and it dawns on me that the repetitive nature of being a tourist is becoming routine. I'm adapting into the days, or perhaps fading into a numb state of existence. I'm not really sure. I'm only sure that endless gazing upon the beauty of art at a relentless pace is leaving my mind saturated with apathy. Oh gee, another perfectly sculpted marble (or is it porcelain) statue that dates several thousand years before the emergence of America.
I dress for the day and head out into the breaking blue sky of Paris. We've awakened a bit earlier, for today we trek to Versailles, a palace that once was the home of the great Louis XIV.
If my leisurely yawn at seeing yet another beautiful masterpiece seemed incredulous, don't fret. Versailles quickly transforms me back to a place of awe, and I'm left to marvel at everything on display. The golden gateways to the palace, gaudy as they may be, still manage to dazzle the eye. The sheer size of the Versailles palace is breathtaking, so much so that you can't help but think of the sheer audacity of such a person living like this. There's living like a king, and then there's living like Louis. And Louis certainly didn't lack flair or confidence.
Paintings dot the walls, only the dots are the size of small SUVs. You're naturally drawn to the mirrored chandeliers that seem to hang there with emphatic importance, even if they do become redundant. But it isn't just the extravagant large items that catch the eye, it's the small ones. It seems as though everything has been meticulously mapped out and scrutinized for the approval of Louis, from door handles to window panes, only the best would suffice.
And that's just the palace itself.
The gardens stretch out for what seems like miles, and a brisk walk can turn into hours on the gravel-lined roads.
Louis XIV was not only a fascinating man in the history of France, but of the world itself. It's a shame that to many naive people, he's simply a character somehow tied to the man in the iron mask. And while I certainly appreciate a spooky urban legend just as much as the next guy, I also can't help but feel saddened that we tend to cheapen the depth and impact of our historical figures, and usually with the arm of pop culture and entertainment. Certainly, as an aspiring filmmaker, the hypocrisy isn't lost on me.
We spend hours soaking in the lavish and opulent ambiance of Versailles, even dining inside and eating what surely is the most expensive meal I've ever partaken in.
Our bellies and minds stuffed, we head home.
This is the latest we've stayed out at night in France, though you wouldn't know it from the crowds that continue to fill the metro. And I thought New York was the city that never sleeps?
We bounce around from train to train, crisscrossing beneath Paris in a knot of sorts I'm sure. I haven't the slightest clue where I'm at, but take comfort in the history of the week thus far. I feel safe and content. In fact, when an impromptu band boards our train looking for money after a quick two song set, I simply chuckle. At this point, they're expected.
Unfortunately, that warmth of comfort soon evaporates.
We exit one metro to connect to another. Everything seems fine as we stride upstream with the throng of Parisians on their way home, on their way out, or somehwere in the middle. But it's amazing what one turn and one set of stairs can do for you. Suddenly, my ignorant outlook on Paris is transformed. I forget, much like I'm sure many do, that despite all of it's romance and allure, Paris is still one of the largest and most well-populated cities in the world. And this is 2012, and not the 1500's or 1920's. Shockingly, not everyone is a smitten romantic, world-renowned artist, or pioneering poet.
The elevated platform we wait on isn't charming in a run-down way, it's just run-down. Dark. Damp. Quiet. Almost too quiet.
Graffiti lines the hollowed walls, and if we had any chance of blending in before, it's not gone. There are only a few people around, and what I can only assume is poverty-stricken homes line up just in front of us. A few men amiably shuffle up the the weed-infested path to the left, asking for money. They don't exactly look like the band.
I've seen men like this before. This isn't something confined to Paris, this is life. This part of life is kept hidden, but it exists everywhere. Anyone that's ever been on the wrong EL Train in Chicago at the wrong time of night knows what I'm talking about.
My neck instantly perks up, totally and utter aware of our surroundings.
I now spot everyone. Two men exchange money in the corner, shooting me an angry glare as I make eye contact. Another man is throwing up over to the side. And a woman near us clutches her purse tighter. I can't wait for the metro.
Very rarely on these family trips do we encounter danger, and I'm not implying we were in some here, at least not of the overt nature. It could have been coincidences, but nonetheless, enough shady activity was occurring that it put me on alert, and being in a foreign country only intensified my paranoia.
Luckily, the train came and we rode home in silence.
On the way, I thought about the arc of the day, and how history seems to change, yet also repeats itself. Or maybe it always is as is.
We stepped into the gates of gold, only to be reminded later that with that gold, comes another equally extreme counterpoint. While others drink from solid gold chalices, others scrounge for bread crumbs. And here I was in the middle, on a vacation that others will never get to experience.
I felt guilty. I felt conflicted. I didn't understand.
Under different circumstances, might I not be one those men near the tracks? Could they really find a way out of such a predicament? Or are the cards stacked againt them going in? And if I was Louis, would I recognize the insanity of such a disparity in classes? Would a modern-day Louis see that?
I surely don't have any answers, and am not even sure of what's right and what's wrong. For today, all I know is, I am grateful.
Paris continues to cast a spell in ways I never imagined...