Part 10- An American Tourist in France: Of Gold & Poverty...

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...

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Part 9: An American Tourist in France: A Smudge on Life's Canvas.

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

Standing outside the glass pyramid of The Louvre, you realize very quickly that to not think of Dan Brown's trashy blockbuster novel The Da Vinci Code is an impossibility.

You don't want to, mostly because in doing so you become the very stereotype you loathe most. Yet I can't stop. I'm looking for the rose line. I'm hearing Ian McKellen's voice bellow out, a slightly scratchy register hiding the dignity he inherently possesses. Thinking of McKellen isn't so bad you decide. But then your mind wanders, and soon bad mullets and Tom Hanks are all you can concentrate on.

My feet take half steps with each passing moment, like the hands of a clock, and I'm closer to the interior of The Louvre. With each whisper of the ground's rubble in my wake, the thoughts of a mediocre Hollywood mystery movie start to vanish. The works inside this house deserve more, and constantly pondering the made up Illuminati only serves to insult the reality of what I'm about to see.

It takes all of twenty minutes, and soon we're inside. The crowds are manageable, mostly because the night sky is near. Going at this hour was a request of mine, as I wasn't about to miss Paris at night. Thankfully, my family relented, and an evening break from their repetitive nature is acquired.

There are several wings to The Louvre, and much has been said about the sheer size and scope of the massive yellow-tinged walls. It's all very true, and so choosing exactly what you want to see is paramount to happiness.

Like 75% of the people there, we head towards the Denon Wing, which holds the Mona Lisa. Art connoisseurs can lambast me for my traditional and predictable route; I don't care, because I'm not missing the sight of what could be the world's most famous piece of art.

I'm not an art snob, though I certainly appreciate the historical and emotional context of what a piece can mean. I'm actually excited to see the Mona Lisa, much more than I would have thought. At one point, I catch a damp sheen growing on my forehead. Anticipation.

We pass through several corridors, awestruck with the barrage of beauty. Interesting enough, in one such hallway, paintings are thrown together without much cohesion. It's as if the curator simply threw up their hands and just hung as much as possible, without any regard for flow. To be fair, it hardly matters. They're all wonderful.

We knife through the crowds, ignoring what I'm sure are notable pieces of art. There is only so much time, and the commotion generating from one such room can only mean one thing- Da Vinci.

The doorframe to the Lisa isn't very impressive, and wouldn't look out place in my living room.

What you are met with is a curious contrast in perception.

For starters, the room that holds the Mona Lisa isn't exactly something that implores you to stare at its contents. No one is gasping. I circle the area, wondering just where it is. The sea of people and cameras dictate where it MUST be, but I'm having trouble seeing it. Could this plain gymnasium-like room really be the ending point of the world's most famous painting?

My height helps and soon I discover in the back of the room, dead center, is the Mona Lisa.

My first impression is one of disappointment. Whereas the statue of David in Italy knocked me for a loop with its beauty, the Mona Lisa leaves me not feeling much of anything. It's small, no larger than the Monsters of the Midway posters I used to tack up in my childhood bedroom. It's pleasant, but not jaw-dropping. All in all, more people are shrugging their shoulders than anything else.

I have been let down.

Awash in confusion, I spend even more time examining the Mona Lisa. Maybe I just don't get it? I leave the room. Come back again. Still, nothing. I take pictures from every angle. Nothing.

Instead, what I'm impressed with is the adjacent picture. The one that dwarfs anything else I've seen on this day. The Wedding Feast at Cana, by Veronese.

It's huge, and I'm humbled by how long it must have taken to complete. I stand next to it, becoming just another figure in its presence. THIS is a painting worthy of acclaim and glory. I am in awe. Perhaps it's the dimensions which impress me, stuck in my American way of thinking bigger is better. I'm not sure.

Regardless, in this case I feel it with every inch of my emotional output.

I'm blown away, not by The Mona Lisa, but by its mirrored friend.

We exit the walls of historical significance, content at seeing another set of the world's masterpieces.

We float for the next few hours, high on all that we see. There are sculptures, drawings, paintings, and even restored rooms of famous French figures.

When it's done, we lazily step back onto the dirt paths of The Louvre. People are milling about, buzzed with the ground that holds our spirits up.

If you can't be excited by The Louvre, then you might want to reconsider your priorities, because this museum is truly magnificent.

Paris, despite other obstacles, is having its way with me.

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Part 8: An American Tourist in France: The Thinker Contemplates Culture.

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

Naturally, after exiting The Catacombs, everything looks brighter. It isn't just the suddenly crisp Parisian air, it becomes a metaphor for everything that invades our senses. For the first time since arriving in Paris, I feel less like an outsider and more so a guest. This might entirely have to do with my mindset, but it remains true nonetheless.

Despite the agonizing wait to enter The Catacombs, we still have much of the day at our leisure. We could get lost in the quiet, cobblestone roads surrounding us. We could soak in some local flavor, participating in various untourist-like activities. Perhaps even play some bocce ball with the older men that flock to the Eiffel Tower parks.

Instead, we get back on the bus.

We pop in the ear buds, we plop down on the hard plastic shells they call seats, and the waft of stereotypical French music continues its dance inside our heads.

We first stop by the Musee Rodin, home to the works of an absolutely incredible artist known the world over, Auguste Rodin. If you're not an art aficionado, no worries. You assuredly know his most famous masterpiece, The Thinker.

I almost err at mentioning this absurb footnote, but for context, The Thinker is featured in the movie Night at The Museum. Which I'm quite sure is where Rodin always imagined it would rightfully appear.


The Thinker, to be fair, isn't very large. When you've had your eyes barraged with enormous sculptures at every turn of the head for three days straight, suddenly The Thinker seems less impressive. In contrast, the sight of Michaelangelo's sculpture David (located in Italy) had me staring for hours on end, totally immersed in its grandeur. The Thinker does not.

So I do what every other tourist does at least a hundred times a day- I pose next to it like a clueless moron, imitating its classic pose.

But somehow, in not appreciating this piece of art the way others do, I feel content, mostly because I'm doing it with Nicole. And in that moment, love surrounds The Thinker, surely a topic that has caused great thought in every man. To me, two people in love, flitting around its presence, becomes a more fitting tribute to The Thinker.

We move on.

The rest of the day is met with little to no excitement. We have many a cultural landmark to visit tomorrow. Because of this, the afternoon becomes a welcomed respite from the collective stops of Paris tourist attractions.

For dinner, we dine once again near the Champs-Elysees. Parisians and foreigners alike abound, bussing with the lights of the city. We strike up an interesting conversation with our server for the night, a young man who can't be much younger than myself. As we always do, on account of respect, we attempt to speak in French at all times. The waiter, pleasant enough, knows a decent amount of English and so makes a decision to converse with us in our native language.

Over the course of two hours, we speak on many topics with this man, Jean.

The tone has an interesting blend of kindness and contempt, a mixture I didn't know could actually exist.

Mostly, we talk about the differences in French and American restaurants. Obviously, being that I've worked heavily in this industry, I'm fascinated with Jean's ideas of what American restaurants are like.

Jean talks about the art of food, the skill of a properly prepared dish, and the beauty of a truly talented chef. He goes on to explain how insulting it is to be asked to remove an ingredient, or worst of all, substitutions. He says to do so is akin to removing an organ from a body.

Jean is making a lot of sense, but I'm still on the fence with his theory.

When he discovers I'm a writer, he asks how I'd react if a reader asked me for a copy of book, only instead of what I wrote, they'd like a copy blacked out of all Star Wars references. Or taking it either further, "could you remove all of the dramatic parts and up the comedy?"

After this last prosecuting statement, I decide to never order anything adjusted ever again, in his country or any other.

However, Jean also has some foolish ideas of what working in an American restaurant is like, obviously never having been to one himself. When I tell Jean that I've worked in the same capacity as he, and that we aren't that much different despite our cultural upbringing. Jean scoffs at this, saying he works six days a week. He continues...

"In America, you do not have to run the food. You do not have to greet a table. You do not have to bus a table. Everything is done for you."

Yes, this is true of high-class establishments. But clearly, Jean is not familiar with all the thousands of Mom and Pop restaurants lining the highways of our country. I've worked at a place where I was the bartender, host, expo, and server... all at once. Literally, it was just me and a bus boy running the shift.

And unlike Jean, I had to bust my ass for my wages. If I didn't give good service, I didn't pay the phone bill. In Jean's case, much as he showcased at times, he felt no urge to actually take care of us. You know, to give service. To be clear, we weren't in a hurry. As SUZ had pointed out to us, the French like to enjoy their meal. They aren't in a rush, a trait I find admirable. But waiting over 25 minutes to be greeted in a slow restaraunt isn't "taking your time", it's being apathetic to a guest. And that's the nice way of putting it.

In the end, we parted as untrusting friends. He learned a lot, and so did I.

Onto the streets of the Champs-Elysee we went.

As we strolled both sides, thoughts of cultural generalizations and stereotypes swirled around my mind.

It was clear that after three days, I had some serious misconceptions about what Paris was. And in that same amount of time, I understood their own mistakes in judging us.

Generalizations exist for a reason, but they're certainly not the rules by which to engage someone. I don't act that way, and so when I found myself on the receiving end of a ridiculous stereotype, I became defensive. Almost angry.

I wanted to take Jean to the Midwest, where waiting tables is far from an easy existence. I wanted to show him the differences between thought and reality. Most of all, I wanted to show him that all Americans are not the same, much as I knew all Parisians were not alike.

Regardless, I was finding my France adventure to be educational.

Tomorrow would prove to be another insightful day, as The Louvre awaited our arrival...

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Part 7: An American Tourist in Paris: The Tunnels of Death.

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

My body aches, either a sign of the growing years or the lack of physical shape I possess. Perhaps both. Either way, our next day in Paris won’t be an easy one. It’s not as if the walking isn’t going to stop. We have much to see, and much to take in. And it starts with what will become the longest wait of the week.

Early on, while researching Paris, I asked several friends about their own experiences of this lighted city. During one such conversation, my eclectic friend ZZ passionately declared that I mustn’t exit the walls of Paris without first submerging myself below the streets that house it. More specifically, I needed to visit something called The Catacombs.

I’ve always had a bit of fascination when it comes to the macabre and the morbid. It’s an interesting dance I have with death and all it encompasses. On one hand, I’m absolutely terrified of what comes with that inevitable moment. But, there’s also another side of me that feels no discomfort upon surrounded by it.

This most assuredly has everything to do with my childhood, when death and the peculiar facets of business in death were around me in plentiful ways. For one, my uncle worked at a cemetery. If that wasn't enough, he also lived there. Literally. It wasn’t as weird as it sounds, though admittedly I’m a bit biased. Essentially, he was the foreman at a large Memorial Park in the suburbs of Chicago. Someone needed to live just beyond the various plots, as due to the nature of the situation, someone had to keep watch at all times. As I understand it, part of the deal included free rent.

Now, if you were a young man trying to start a family, certainly the advantage of a nice house with free rent would be far too appealing to turn down. So naturally, he lived there for several years while he built for his family's future. This meant we celebrated occasional Christmases at said house, which included playing whiffle ball in the backyard, all while the remains of past lives sat there, mere yards away from our home run marker. Young children, at the forefront of life, surrounded by death. The contrast was not lost on me.

In my later years, I would work summers at the cemetery. And on my other side of the family, my Grandmother worked at a local funeral home that we occasionally strolled into en route to picking her up after work.

Point being, I have quite a few experiences with deathly remains.

The Catacombs lie below the dirt-laden Parisian streets, underneath the sewage and savagery that Paris holds.

The line to enter this House of Death didn’t seem long, certainly no longer than the one awaiting us at Notre-Dame. Difference is, this line didn’t move. In fact, by the time we paid our fare and started descending the cold, hard stairs, morning had eclipsed into early afternoon. It was an exhausting test of patience, as I couldn’t understand why they were letting only a few people in at a time.

I’d understand soon enough.

The spiraling stairs from days ago returned again, a friend that stayed at the party a bit too long. I popped on my audio guide and prepared for what was sure to be an interesting excursion.

Everything seemed pleasant enough, and the stairs passed by quicker than they should have. But it was about at the bottom of the staircase, just at the foot of the Catacomb entrance, when an unfamiliar panic took hold of me. Because once the audio guide meticulously went through how much of the earth was indeed above us, I suddenly got a sense of paranoia. This was odd, and although it passed fairly quickly, I had never felt this way before. But something about the thought of being crushed amongst all of these bones terrified me. And yet, there was nothing I could do about it.

I entered the Catacombs.

It’s impossible to describe the quiet hum of death unless you’re familiar with it. There really is something in the air. I’ve been to The Sistine Chapel. I’ve been to Notre-Dame. I’ve been to The Louvre. I’ve been to The Vatican. But of all the places of tourism I’ve been to, the silence inside the Catacombs is unparalleled. No one speaks. Not a word. Not of body. Nothing.

I immediately remember to thank ZZ for warning me that the Catacomb caverns were cold. He’s right. They are. And they’re filled with the damp air of history. In the distance, the dripping of water can be heard. It would be startling if it wasn't so obvious. It’s like something out of a clichéd Halloween ghost story. The dripping is impossibly slow, and the plopping sound that echoes out tells you all you need to know about the size and shape of each drop. Wet. Thick. Murky.

It starts innocently enough, with a few beautiful sculptures by various artists. That someone would take the time to carve such intricate pieces in this place is beyond me, but I’m grateful they did. I’m reminded of how easily art is lost in this new digital world.

Slowly, we make our way through a maze of webbed paths. The ground is noticeably uneven, and I sense I’m some sort of actor in a distant period piece. I feel stark and vulnerable.

The darkness, the one that seemed impossible to navigate at first, now seems comforting. Your eyes really do adjust.

It is after a few moments of rummaging through these tunnels that the bones begin. Bones of the departed. Six million to be exact.

They’re stacked against one another, a symbol of their shared final resting place. Individuality isn’t an option here amongst the bones.

The history of the Catacombs is an interesting one, filled with less insight by the originators than you’d imagine. Paris had quite a deathly issue at hand in their past, as many of the city's cemeteries were being overrun with corpses. Paris still counted on well water for their daily deluge of usage, and you can imagine this caused quite a bit of problems once the bodies started deteriorating in the ground. Health issues abounded, and suddenly the notion of getting buried became one of wealth.

Eventually, a solution presented itself with the birth of The Catacombs, and many human remains deemed "regular" were transported there. The detailed history is a bit more fascinating, and I recommend you check it out HERE.

Regardless, it's amazing to me that The Catacombs have been a tourist attraction since the 1800's.

All in all, it takes about an hour to go through the entirety of the Catacombs’ public offerings (the tourist-approved section we see is only a portion of the whole). The audio guide drones on, and it’s hard to focus on the narrator’s words while looking at the never-ending piles of skulls. I do catch one story about a private party once held here, shrouded in secrecy and the kind of invite-only musings that we all secretly wish to be apart of. Dancing with the ghosts of Paris is beyond alluring for me, but I move on and make my way toward the exit.

We finally rise above the past and into the present with a few more steps. The sky seems brighter, but not necessarily better.

It takes an odd person to appreciate the beauty of what we just witnessed… and I certainly did.

What I instantly think is that there is much left in the day. And suddenly my body doesn’t hurt as much.

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Part 6. An American Tourist in Paris: Keepers of the City.

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

They sit there. Watching.

Faces contorted into flaps and folds which beg you to decipher their emotions.

Keepers of the city.

I love them instantaneously.

I'm sure others have come before, seeing nothing more than a few funny looking stone sculptures. But for some reason, this isn't what I see at all. No, I see everything within their gaze.

By factual nature, it was just a matter of moments ago when I collected myself and began the climb to their domain. Moments before that, the conflicting relationship I have with God filled my mind. A natural effect when standing in the middle of Notre-Dame Cathedral.

And even though this all occurred at half past the hour, and even though the clock hands rest firmly upon the hour now, it seems much longer. Perhaps another lifetime?

It doesn't matter. Right now, I am enthralled with the vision of the gargoyles. Their massive heads dwarf mine by comparison, a casual nod to my inferiority. They're glorious. They're beautiful. And they've disrupted the perpetual motion of everyday mundane events in my life to declare their presence.

I realize this may all sound a bit grandiose, but it's true.

Because dear friends and readers alike, this is what one feels like upon being ignited with inspiration. When you're creative by nature, you surf the waves of illumination in hopes that somewhere along the ride an idea resides.

Let me put it this way- the gargoyles have awakened me.

The beauty of these winged Gods is not lost on me, and I am forever grateful for our time together, time I wish wouldn't come to an end.

While I stand in awe of them, the gargoyles stare out at all that lies below.

I think of all the lives they've encountered. The dreams they've been a part of. The romance. The pain. All of it.

And in those moments, my mind races with clarity.

What I thought was just another excursion to the top of Paris is nothing of the sort. This was an invitation. A welcoming. The gargoyles laugh at my earlier endeavors. They dare me to do better. To try.

I think of Hugo. I think of his breathtaking presence as a writer. I think of it all...

And when I do, clarity sets it.

It's not just the skies that are clear.

It's me.

And I have the gargoyles to thank for it...

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Part 5. An American Tourist in France: The Ginger Wins.

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

Our bus takes us to many stops that day, and certainly of note is Les Invalides, which houses the remains of many historical French figures, none larger than their star attraction, the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon is one of the most important military men in the history of the world, a fact most people seem to forget in favor of the more cartoonish impression which circulates now. A quick dive into the waters of wikipedia remind me of his unmatched strategic intelligence.

His tomb is enormous, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Its burnt-orange curvature springs out almost immediately, and viewing it can be done from up high or at ground levels.

We spend a few moments there, mostly talking about where famous American historical figures are buried, and commence with our journey through the streets of Paris. We decide to finish the day with a visit to Notre-Dame Cathedral. Notre-Dame, one of the most famous landmarks in the world, should have me excited. Instead, it has me indifferent.

I have a conflicting opinion when it comes to religion, and Catholicism hasn't exactly been doing anything to quell those moral dilemmas burning inside me. To be clear, I am fascinated by religion and in particular Jesus Christ. I find the differences people have in faith to be endlessly fascinating. I cannot totally accept the words of the Bible, at least not in the way most traditional Christians do, and yet I cannot deny the allure those teachings have on me. Visiting the sacred grounds of religious institutions brings out odd emotions in me, so I'm not sure what to expect from Notre-Dame.

Our bus drops us off a few dozen feet away from the Cathedral's Square. The tacky souvenir shops of Paris engulf us almost immediately. For the record, I have yet to see a single person wearing a beret, and yet every store is selling them in all colors. I secretly wonder if Hollywood Boulevard should sell cowboy hats.

Thousands of people are buzzing about, and it's only a matter of time before the indelible chimes of Notre-Dame's bells ring out with forceful authority. We have arrived.

It doesn't take long for us to enter the Cathedral. The solemn air of God hits my face and immediate reverence overcomes me. And while I do not trust or believe in the modern-leaders of this church, I can't say the same for my inner dwellings when I stare at Christ on their cross. I have long felt that whether or not you think Christianity or any other belief in God is foolish, you still must respect who and what Jesus was on this earth. Same goes for many other alleged religious holy men...

I stare at the cross for a few moments, lost in my own shame at who I am as a man. I don't know a lot about the intricacies and nuances of Catholicism, but I certainly know guilt.

The hymn from the church choir starts up, a welcomed surprise. We've happened to walk right in as a service has began. A coincidence. Or is it?

Supposedly, Notre-Dame's treasures include the purported Crown of Thorns, though it's rarely shown in public. We view other past relics and the geek in me thinks about the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Silly, I know. But sorta awesome, right?

We lap the inside of the church and I'm taken by the scattered people who are near tears in silent prayer. Empathy washes over me, as the crystallization of how tough life can be is never lost on me. People are hurting out there. They always have been, and they always will. This undebatable fact will keep me up at night, wondering if there truly is a God, and what that means exactly.

We exit the Church and a decision is quickly made by me that I will not leave until I have ascended the stairs of Notre-Dame and looked out at what the gargoyles see. Ray looks at the line of tourists waiting to do the same. His eyes flicker with a sense of doubt, not wanting to waste any precious time.

I'm staying.

There's something waiting for me at the top there. I don't know what, only that it is there.

And so we step to the left of Notre-Dame and make our way to the end of a side street which will lead us to the entrance which will lead us to the first floor which will lead us to the gargoyles which will lead us to the Church bell which will lead us to the top which will lead us to beauty...

We don't know that now. For now, we only know our line.

It's been a long day, and an even longer swirl of religious feelings engulfing my mind, and so the quiet stillness of the afternoon is all that is heard.

In front of us are some college students. I'm not sure they actually go to college, but their age and maturity certainly suggest so. If pressed to estimate, I'd say sophomores. There are three of them, a boy and two girls. If anything, they're an artsy version of Three's Company.

We wait in the line for close to an hour, which gives us more than enough time to deduct the situation.

One girl, certainly not short on attitude, is visiting from New York. She's masking her identity crisis with bravado, an endearing quality because of year's past and the reminder of those days. She's cute, but dwarfed in physical comparison by her female counterpart, who happens to be French. The French girl wears bright lipstick and a shade too much blush on her cheeks. It somehow doesn't distract from her natural beauty. Despite these outward attempts at looking even more adult in an adult world, her body language suggest insecurity. This is her city, and her country, and she's the one fidgeting with her shirt and uncomfortably looking around.

At the center is a boy no more than 5'6". In a world obsessed with looks, this boy has some heartache in front of him. His bushy, mushroom-shaped head of hair does nothing to hide the acne scars on his face. His eyebrows are dark and rich, the kind of brows normally reserved for puppets named Burt. His complexion meanders from red to white in an array of nondescript shapes.

Most striking is the bright color of this boy's hair- red.

All in all, he's not necessarily what you'd picture a college girl going for.

But this boy is different. He's wickedly knowledgable about his surroundings, aiding not only the girls, but the older American gentleman in front of him. This boy is an American as well, but it's evident he's been living in Paris for some time. Fearless if nothing else, especially at that age. The brunette is his cousin. And the doe-eyed French girl with him is his girlfriend, a fact confirmed as they hold hands while he regaled her with historical facts.

Ray and I were transfixed by this matchup, and a slight smile creased across my face as we made our way to the head of the line.

I found great comfort that these two were together, as if love had conquered the superficial world we live in, if for only this one case.

I recollected my own younger years, when I was short on height and personality. There was one girl in high school, upon hearing my interest in her, who remarked that I should grow a foot, get a tan, new haircut, and some new clothes before she'd even consider it.

So is the way of the world I suppose...

We reached the steps. Slowly climbing into yet another twirling spiral of archaic stairs, I lose the imagery of the red-headed boy and his Parisian girlfriend, content at knowing Paris, and its ability for romanticism, is very much alive...

It was time to see what awaited me at the top...

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Part 4. An American Tourist in France: Blue Sky Rain

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

I don't think I've ever just sat and watched the sun rise. I suppose it's possible, but I don't remember. I know I've been awake while the sun was rising, too often for my own good. But to actually sit and watch it welcome the day? Not that I can recall.

But so it is, today, my second full day in France, that I decide to do just that. We went to bed fairly early last night, on account of our defeat at the hands of the previous day. Sleep didn't come easy, and after several hours of tossing my body around in some sort of odd human washing machine experiment, I decide to get up.

I'm alone as I make my way down to the man-made lake just to the east of our villa. There isn't much to it in the form of bells and whistles. A small wooden bridge here. A plot of sand there. A collection of ducks and swans float about. For the casual eye, it's fairly pedestrian. But on this morning, this day; it will become much more than that.

I take my seat on the visitor's bench and watch as the blue sky starts to ripple with activity. Thunder rumbles lightly in the background, a long and drawn out exhaling of turmoil taking place above. I wonder if it'll rain. I'd like it to, as moving to Los Angeles has taken from me that great treasure from the Midwest that I hold so dear: the thunderstorm.

I take in my thoughts for a while, recounting the path of my life and how utterly impossible it is to predict just how it'll all play out. I'm content.

The sky starts to get lighter, from a midnight blue to a what can only be described as a dark periwinkle. Watching this transformation is akin to seeing a brilliant painter continuously add water to a pool of paint. It gets lighter and lighter, until finally revealing itself to be something entirely different.

Then it happens. The slight hissing sound that surrounds you is unmistakable. Ever so slightly, it has begun to rain. Not enough for me to take cover, and yet not so light that I don't feel its precipitation. The lake becomes a virtual light show, popping with circles in a ballet of indiscernible pattern. It's soft enough that I can honestly say I've never seen a body of water from this angle. Strangely, it reminds me of a computer graphic. You can't follow where and when the blips will happen, only that they will.

It's a beautiful moment, and one that I don't take for granted.

It's so peaceful that I don't even think twice about whether or not I should dash off to my room and return with my camera in hopes of preserving the moment further. I opt to stay, for a moment like this can't be captured on camera. It's the right decision, for all the right reasons.

Because just as quickly as it came, it goes. Like a visitor just passing through town, we shake hands and depart in opposite directions. The sky gets lighter, and sunlight cracks through the canvas of sky.

I walk back to my room prepared for our second day in Paris, which in many ways is our first. We're rested and with full strength.

Because of that, a decision is made early on that today really will be a full-on 'tourist day'. We plan on hitting many of the largest and most popular attractions, all while trying to get a slice of Parisian culture somewhere in between. We also decide on purchasing one of those forty-stop double-decker bus passes you seen in popular cities like Hollywood.

You may think this is cheesy. Or lame.

You would be wrong.

Paris has an infinite amount of museums, cultural landmarks, and places of interest that it's impossible to see them all in a month, let alone a week. Combine that with trying to navigate the metro system of trains and it becomes obvious that these buses are the way to go. You get on and off at will, all while taking in the city from an open-air view. You also get to listen to an audio guide in your own language explain just what is what.

The bottom line is, they're wonderful if you really do want to hit a lot of tourist sites quickly.

In fact, the only negative I could say is that they obviously don't lend themselves to a deeper meaning of Paris and Parisians. Yes, you see the city, but you don't necessarily feel the city. In order to really get a sense of any city, you'd have to live there for at least a few months. It's impossible otherwise. And is there anything more pretentious than the girl or guy who claims to know the heartbeat of a city after only visiting for a few weeks? As I made clear early on, this blog is meant strictly as a recollection of the events that occurred for seven days while in Paris, not as an accord of the actual city. That would be ridiculous.

It comes down to this: we have a week so we're definitely seeing the tourist attractions.

The bus stays. And without question, the bus rules.

The first thing we do is head to Champs-Elysees. The Champs-Elysees has often been described as the most breathtaking avenue in the world, and it's hard to argue that point. It felt like a hybrid of Rodeo Drive and the driveway to something deeply historical that you couldn't quite put your figure on. Have you ever been lost in a city and found yourself on a street you don't know, only that you knew something major must be on it? It's kind of like that, only with more trees.

At the forefront of the Champs-Elysees is the Arc de Triomphe, one of the most famous monuments in the world. But before getting to that, we need to eat. So we do what anyone with a raging stomach and lack of patience will do- we plunked down at the closest cafe with no concern about what they did and didn't serve.

I bring this up because by doing so, we opened ourselves up to the journey. We didn't look at the menu, we just sat. We just said "five breakfasts" in French and the waiter went about fulfilling our order. We literally had no idea what we would be getting, and that became the mantra for the week. We laughed like you only seem do on vacation, all while awaiting our meal.

Two fried eggs. One piece of seemingly undercooked bacon. Some greens. A croissant. Coffee. And orange juice.

We all had the exact same plate in front of us. And we all had the exact same reaction upon taking our first bites- this was the greatest fried egg ever created in the history of the world. No joke. I have no idea what was in those fried eggs, but no ingredient could make me not eat that egg again. To be clear, I don't like eggs. And I certainly don't like fried eggs. At all.

But this breakfast might have been the single most satisfying breakfast of my entire life. We literally talked about it all week, and it almost won out at our annual awards ceremony for best meal of the trip. It was that good my friends.

The day was starting out vastly different from the opener, and I couldn't be happier.

Another important factor in day 2 for me was my choice of attire. According to SUZ, dressing down was looked down upon. The first day I had worn a tie and sweater, with nice jeans. I was concerned this was going to be a poor selection of clothes, as she had stated that jeans were not acceptable. But after that first day, I saw hundreds of Parisians in jeans, and nary a man in a suit or tie for that matter. Knowing the second day was going to be filled with bus stops and marathon visits, I opted for my casual attire. The geek in the black hat returned, and I felt much better about the day.

The Arc de Triomphe was more spectacular than I had imagined it would be. The bright palette is striking, and climbing to the top was well worth the wait. The panoramic views of Paris were undeniable in their splendor, and we couldn't imagine a more amazing view. (NOTE: We would be wrong again, as although this view was spectacular, it wasn't nearly as incredible as one we'd see later in the day...)

We hopped back on the bus, and this is where the romance of Paris took over me in modern-day fashion.

While riding on the bus, The Angel and I took a deep breath as we prepared for what was to be a 10 minute trip. We popped the audio into our ears and casually listened to the English narrator explain various monuments. The wind cooled our humid bodies and a sense of solace waved over us. A moment later, the whimsical French accordion lingered out from our headphones. It was the type of music Americans tend to associate with the French. Cliche to be sure, but all too inviting in the moment.

And somehow, in that moment... with the cheese of the music... the blur of the cafe-lined streets below us... surrounded by tourists and lime green speaker wires... I only thought of how much I was in love with The Angel. It was a moment I'll never forget. No, it wasn't the romantic postcards of France in the 40's. Instead, it was like being in a quirky movie, perhaps something by Wes Andersen, where the ludicrous of the moment doesn't take away from the reality.

I was in love. And I was in Paris with her.

We stayed on the bus for 45 minutes...

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Part 3. An American Tourist in France: My Nemesis, The Metro

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

The previous day knocked me and my body for a loop. Two flights, three taxi rides, and an unknown amount of rides on the metro contributed to a collapse of psyche. I felt like I was drunk, though I wasn't. At least not until I violated my self-imposed no drinking in Paris rule less than 24 hours after arrival. After visiting the Lizard King, the day cascaded into deeper irritation with each passing moment.

Our bodies were drained... our minds frazzled... and no amount of delicious French pastries could fix the lack of sound sleep we all carried. The dripping wet humidity of Paris in August didn't help, nor did the camel cardigan I was wearing.

To make matters worse, we took an ill-fated metro misstep on the way home and had to add an extra 2-3 metro connections to our route.

The metros, as we would learn, would become our enemy. Despite our error on this first night, The Angel would guide us faithfully through Paris would nary a mistake the rest of the week. This is no easy task, especially considering we had bus routes to take into consideration as well. She did it dutifully, and deserves overwhelming praise for doing such a fantastic job. I assure you, without her, things would have gotten rough.

Alas, the metros provided different obstacles we weren't prepared for. At first, I found the metros to be a welcomed addition to my life. I live in Los Angeles, where public transportation is essentially non-existent. Being able to hop aboard a train at whim was appreciated at first, but by week's end the colored-lines of the metros would be loathed.

First off, and there's no delicate way of putting this, the smell emanating from said trains is pungent at best, toxic at worst. Of course, bear in mind, this is August. We're on incredibly crowded trains with little to no ventilation. People are sweating. And then there's that idiot wearing the camel cardigan.

Point is, it's not pleasant. And just to be emphatically clear, I am not saying that this odor is indicative of The French. To do so would be to engage in what is sure to be a grossly exaggerated stereotype that I find ridiculous. I'm quite confident the subways of New York smell no different. In fact, I'm confident any amount of well-groomed individuals thrown into a crowded, humid, sweaty subway car would collectively smell much like what I took in that first day (and the subsequent days thereafter).

But it would be disingenuous to suggest it wasn't an issue the week we were there. At times, it was downright suffocating.

Another issue with the metros is the wall to wall graffiti covering the various tunnels. To say it's unsightly would be an understatement. Many times you stared in disbelief at what you witnessed. I wondered exactly how someone could find the time and means to reach certain spots, but they most assuredly did. The quilted collections of covers seemed to push any available blank walls out of reach, bathed in foreign signs that resembled the streets of East Los Angeles.

This amount of graffiti was shocking to say the least. But in thinking about it more, I realized my assumptions about what Paris would be were completely predicated on black and white postcards you pick up in your local independent bookstore. Essentially, I was an idiot. Of course Paris had graffiti and gangs. It's a major city; expecting anything less would have been foolish. Did I somehow expect to see artwork lining the tunnels of Paris? Of course not, but the first vision of such dirt was jarring to say the least.

But before our day unravelled into one of exhaustion, we did manage to spend an hour or so at the Eiffel Tower. Various packs of tourists and Parisians alike milled and mingled in what can only be described as one large picnic. It reminded me of lazy summers spent at Grant Park in Chicago, and only served to provide me with more evidence to the theory that we are all so very much alike, despite whatever outward differences we may see. The older men playing bocce ball might as well have been the blue-collar dudes of Chicago flinging iron horseshoes at a stake in the ground.

For a moment, I felt like just another person in the park, rather than the American tourist of slightly above-average height that I so obviously was.

When we finally did reach our bed that first night, I was spent. We had only scratched the surface of what Paris had to offer, and my head was already reeling from everything I had taken in. My energy remained positive and full of anticipation, but it now came tempered with the reality that although we were in the magical city of Paris, it was still just that- a large city with a lot of people moving through each other's lives at an incessant rate.

We went to bed early, and as the sounds of Tom and Jerry hummed through the room (a consequence of the lack of English-speaking options), I resided myself to rebounding in the morning.

Day 2 was going to be ours, and I was going to attack it differently.

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Part 2. An American Tourist in France: Meeting the Lizard King.

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

Despite the fact that our entire family is jet-lagged and slightly loopy, we decide to travel into Paris on our first day. Before doing so, we decide to name the woman who provided me with all of the helpful hints about Paris. We do this because I don't actually know her name. After a lengthy debate, The Angel's Father deems her "Suz", and we're on our way.

I decide to wear a black tie and camel cardigan ensemble on our first venture into Paris. I opt for jeans, despite the warnings given by Suz. I am immediately insecure upon doing so, terrified that the Parisians are going to shame my wardrobe choice as lazy and predictable. I try to alleviate my concerns by reminding myself that they are at the very least, expensive jeans, and I am wearing a tie after all.

I ask The Angel to snap my picture, as the indelible image of an American tourist in France for the first time is only possible once, and I surely want to document this moment.

We take a taxi to the nearest Metro stop, which as luck would have it, is at Euro Disney. Several jokes are made about this, and there even begins a slight campaign to visit said park later in the week. Ray is convinced that Euro Disney has been plagued with problems since its opening. This isn't entirely true, nor is it false. But whatever the case was, it's now said to be one of the most visited tourist sites in the world. In fact, Forbes ranked it as high as #10 in 2009; some information sources rank it even higher. Point is, Mickey Mouse has taken over everything, and I continue to be amazed at the long reach of those goofy mouse ears.

We exit our taxi and head to the metro. I remember to politely thank our driver, something that I noticed, along with the constant bonjour greetings, is paying immediate dividends. No clearer was this evident than in the airport baggage claim area where we were met by our driver, Michel. Amongst dozens of drivers and visitors trying to connect up, we spotted Michel with our hotel's letterhead waving in the crowd. Ray instantly tried to obtain a confirmation that Michel was in fact our driver, rather than exchange pleasantries. In the chaotic madness, I remembered Suz and her notes. I stopped, politely said "bonjour" in the midst of the confusion, and Michel paused to look me deep in the eyes and repeat bonjour. This may seem like a silly thing, but I assure you it wasn't, and the moment was not lost on me. There is no question Michel understood the significance of my gesture, knowing I was doing my best to follow their custom. We may not have been able to speak to each other, but that didn't deter our ability to understand the common language of respect. I took that moment with Michel everywhere I went that week, and arriving at the Metro for the first time was no different.

We descended the stairs where two trains sat docked in unison. Awaiting us, half leaning out the car, half hanging from the inside, was an affable fellow with a warm smile and kind demeanor. He motioned to us with calls of "Paris, Paris", then pointed to the electronic sign blipping above him which indeed confirmed that this train was headed for Paris. We all thought about how considerate it was, and merrily entered the train. Our initial thought was that the stereotype of Parisians being unfriendly couldn't be more wrong, and this fine sir was no better example of that.

The train started moving, and Paris became just out of the distance from mind's eye. Thirty minutes and we'd be there.

The train was mostly empty, probably due to how early it was, and the fact that it was a Sunday. I was anxious, and probably on account of that, I thought next to nothing when our affable fellow returned and handed me a methodically typed out, vanilla colored piece of paper. Perfectly cut, and made with a heavy cardstock, I took the paper with no thoughts whatsoever about the reasoning behind this exchange. There, written in perfect English, was a note asking for money due to the proclamation of homelessness. Call me cynical, but our fellow's asymmetrical tight haircut and modern H & M clothing seemed to suggest otherwise. His politeness earlier on now revealed a motive, and I remarked that Suz was right again. The ComicSans font used on his note was symbolic indeed. We declined, and he stepped off the train at the next stop, bound to re-ride the same route for most of the morning.

It didn't affect me in any negative manner though, as we had already planned on hitting Pere-Lachaise, a top destination requested by me. A cemetery steeped in historical and artistic prominence, it houses the remains of a host of legendary figures: Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, and Frederic Chopin. But make no mistake, despite these worthy stars, I was the cliché amongst a horde of clichés; for I was there to pay my respects to The Lizard King himself: Jim Morrison.

The Doors have a funny hold on me, which is pretty much what The Doors do to anyone willing to let them in. They wrap their unique blend of voodoo mysticism around your head so tightly that you wanna break things and tear the whole city down. And after doing that, you listen to their softer tracks and slowly drift back down to a calmer place.

Discovering The Doors was a musical experience alone to me in the Larson world of musical attachments. My brother never claimed any Morrison-led territory, and my Father once famously remarked that "they have a few good songs." No Dad, they have dozens of great, not good, songs. They also remain their own, as no band's sound even remotely resembles The Doors.

Least to say, I was a fan. Since cracking the code to a fevered adoration of The Doors sometime after college, I've poured over several biographies about the band and its enigmatic leader, Jim Morrison. I'm fascinated with his death, and all the details that exist on his final days. The conspiracy theories abound, and I stand by the notion that no singer's untimely demise and subsequent faked death rumors have more plausibility than that of Morrison's. I'm not saying he did fake his death; I'm only saying his death actually has some serious holes in the story, unlike the vast conspiracies that exist for Tupac, Elvis, and others.

In many ways, it doesn't matter, as the legend of Morrison lives on. When I was at my most reckless, The Doors were a soundtrack surrounding me. I made it out alive, and thankfully can appreciate the music on a whole other level today. Regardless, I'm here to pay my respects to Jimbo for that time and this.

Walking into Pere-Lachaise was quick and easy, and its sudden isolated surprise takes a minute to grasp. You'd never know it, but beyond the bustling streets of Paris lies one of the most beautiful cemeteries I've ever laid eyes on. And believe it or not, having worked at a cemetery years ago, I've seen quite a few. The only comparable setting would be something out of New Orleans, only these crypts have been around for centuries. Their facade is stained with old greens and grays, a casualty of time.

It's quiet as we make our way up the uneven cobblestone paths that work within each other like some crazy mangled tree vine of unending possibilities. Morrison belongs here, and somewhere his spirit sings at the gloomy and fitting final resting place of his soul.

We have no map, and somehow that strikes me as just. Much like his music, I want to find Jim on my own, convinced this is the way it should be. The melodramatic poet in me assumes his grave will somehow call to me, and for once I don't feel foolish for saying something like that. Morrison has a way of doing that to you...

After what seems like forever (and is), we topple one hill only to be met with another. The crowds are small within the cemetery, and I surmise that what people exist here must be off breaking bread with Jim somewhere else inside. The Angel is confused, having long given up on 'the call from Jim', she's been trying to navigate us through a makeshift map we pulled from one of those See Paris! tourism books. She's positive we passed Jim by, but I find that theory to be nothing short of an impossibility.

We stand at a crossroads, unsure of how to proceed as the sunlight of the day dwindles over Paris clouds.

I look around, then decide to tell everyone to relax for a minute. They're tired, and I'm nothing but committed. I briskly run up one hill in search of something I can't put my finger on, only knowing that it's there.

After a moment, I see my sign. It's nothing more than a barricade of sorts, but this barricade represents an obtrusion in an otherwise brilliantly structured palace of macabre art. It doesn't belong there, which can only mean one thing.

Jim is here.

I hop through several surrounding graves to get to the front of this metal cage sticking out, and sure enough, there it is.

Before I can take it in, I just as quickly run back to our group and tell them to follow me.

Within minutes, we are all staring at the grave of James Douglas Morrison.

The geek cliché has met The Lizard King at last.

A dozen or so admirers flutter about, some more emotional than others. It's quiet, almost serene. There are no fanatical crazies on this day, save for the ones inside our minds. Ray will remark later that he's disappointed that there wasn't music piping in anywhere, as if Jim's tomb should be some plastic moment of Dinsey-esque magic. Perhaps a fastpass lane? Complete with a Doors-themed gift shop?

We leave after a few moments, and I wave Jim goodbye. You can call him a drunk. You can call him a waste of talent. And you can say he had only a few good songs. What you can't call him is unoriginal. You can't call him meaningless. And you can't say he wasn't an artist.

Not every musical legend compels people to make treks across continents, but Jim is one of them, as he continues to attract millions each year, forever touched by what he did with his short time.

The day and trip have just begun, and Jim has placed his music into my head yet again.

It's going to be a strange trip indeed...

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Part 1. An American Tourist in France: Touching Down

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...

I've been anticipating this trip for over two decades, having succumbed to the romanticism of Paris at an early age.

I took French for four years, and despite the fact that I couldn't even properly put together a sentence by the time I finished, I'm still very much in love with what I think Paris is. Any good melodramatic man or woman is, and that certainly includes The Angel. The difference is, she's been there once before, so she knows what to expect.

I don't.

I can only hope it lives up to the expectations in my head, because anything less will be a disaster of sorts, as you know how these things go. I don't want Paris to be The Phantom Menace of travelling, so I'm doing my best to temper my excitement, though part of me is wondering if they'll have a parade awaiting my arrival: Bonjour Jacobs High School French Club President of 1995!

Yes, I was the French Club President in high school. I even wore a fake mustache and showcased my spotty french to grade schoolers in what is no doubt the last puppet show I'll ever take part in. Truth be told, the ascension to French Club President remains as the shining example in my life where I reached Ferris Bueller-like levels of mischievous brilliance. My French teachers had warned me that senior year of French was serious stuff, and my dependence on extra credit to get me by in previous years would not be tolerated. I would have to... you know... actually know what I was saying. This was obviously an impossibility, something even my gangly teenage mind comprehended. So I figured out the one way they couldn't fail me- you guessed it, French Club President.

I won in a runaway campaign that largely rested on the preposterous notion that I, the guy who knew next to no French, could be the President. Ah, the sweet taste of an early look at a hipster driven democracy. Even my teachers couldn't fail the French Club President, and extra credit won out again in an epic C- bid.

Somewhere they must be proud I had made it to France, a concession for passing me years ago.

After lengthy flights which did nothing to aid my already ailing back and knee, I am about to land in France. Just outside Paris to be exact. I am with The Angel, her sister, and her parents. This is my fifth trip with the in-laws, and a casual routine has now developed between us. Despite the fact that I am constantly wondering if I'm acting like an ass, I generally can be myself around them at this point. Not to be trite, but I feel like I'm with Mom and Dad now. And without them, I might never have seen my dream of visiting Paris come true. I am without question, extremely grateful for the opportunity they are giving me, and I silently hope they know just how grateful I am. Mostly I wonder this when I'm potentially being an ass. At any rate, here we are.

The first thing I am struck by is the level of greenery surrounding us as we touch down at Charles De Gaulle. This is nothing like coming into LAX or O'Hare, which suffocates you with industry and concrete. Here there are fields of green and nary a traffic jam on the roads leading to it. It's beautiful. Inviting.

My eyes light up from what awaits me.

Just before our plane taxis into a stop, I read over the notes given to me by an avid visitor of France one last time. A considerate gesture to be sure, and one that I take seriously. My goal, whenever travelling, is to learn as much about local etiquette as possible before arriving. I was fairly ashamed of some of the behavior I witnessed in Italy years ago by American tourists, and it has haunted me since. The constant chorus of "but that's not how it is in America" was heard far too often for my ears. Our family has thankfully never been like that, and we always walk into a setting with total respect. We are guests, and therefore it is my opinion that we must adhere to their way of life.

Yes, we'll take pictures and no doubt stand out, but damn if we're not going to do that in humble fashion.

It's about respect, something my Father instilled in me long ago, and something I take as a sign of intelligence.

So these notes given to me serve as a guide to a pleasant and appreciative visit. And because the woman who gave them to me lived in France for three years, I assume them to be nothing but complete fact. She also visits there twice a year to this day, so it's safe to say she knows what she is talking about. Among the things written, several stand out, and become important to our story...

1. Be Quiet on the Metros. Paris is connected by a swath of underground trains which criss-cross in every direction and provide you with complete access to Paris. But riding on them is to be met with a polite and quiet disposition. I'm loud in general, and so abiding by this rule will mean complete silence.

2. Bonjour. My guide can't stress this enough. It's simple. When entering any public establishment, before uttering a word, stop and say bonjour to those in charge. Do this with meaning. Even before she had told me this, I thought of how wonderful that is. So many times I go into a grocery store, and before even getting acknowledgement, ask a question. Hey dude, do you know where I can find mashed potatoes? Saying hello seems incredibly easy and appropriate, and I immediately like this tradition.

3. Beggars. My guide informs me that beggars, gypsies, and street musicians are to be avoided at all costs. She claims that their real intent is to see where your wallet is, thus providing a direct line to pickpocketing. She emphatically states to never give money, or face the potential repercussions.

4. Restaurants. Americans tend to rush through a meal. I can say this generalization has complete merit, having spent many years waiting tables. You'd be amazed how many people come into a nice restaurant and ask if they can "get in and out in 20 minutes?" My guide told me to relax and realize that you'll rarely see a waiter sweating in quick movement. Things are more relaxed, and the savoring of food is expected. She also tells me that splitting of entrees, sharing, and modifications are not done in France. You get what the menu says, period.

5. Dress Attire. She tells me that people dress up in France, and walking into a restaurant with jeans, tank tops, or athletic apparel will be met with scorn, and possibly lead to complete dismissal.

These are the five rules that stand out to me, and I prepare myself one last time to be mindful of them. They'll come up throughout our journey, and I think you'll find my experiences interesting in comparison to what I had heard.

For now though, I am here.

I am in France. I am terrified, excited, and ready to begin the journey....

An Idea To Further Equality Between Men & Women

Dear Women of the World-

As men, we love you. We love everything about you. And although most of us aren't willing to admit it publicly, we know you're better than us. You're smarter, more sensible, and willing to grow as a person at a much quicker rate than we are.

We're idiots. We know we're idiots. Some of us even try to work on our idiocy, only to have withdrawal symptoms creep in around the three-month period. We'll be going about life in a responsible fashion, having you think we've finally turned the corner. But then it'll happen without warning, the urge to act out like a stupid monkey let loose from a caged in environment. We'll probably have a few too many drinks. Perhaps eat something we'd never normally consider. It'll most certainly be fried. Whatever the case, we'll indulge our innate buffoonery instincts and howl at the moon.

Just last year, after a pleasant evening filled with equal parts Pinot Noir and adult-orientated conversation with our favorite couple The Nightwings, Baron Nightwing and I busted out some old school WWF wrestling moves in a frenzied impromptu matchup. There were Ric Flair chops, Shawn Michaels superkicks, and consistent views of our sweaty, slightly pregnant bellies.

Sad as that was, there will no doubt be a rematch at some point.

It's just in our DNA to be idiots.

Unfortunately, some men not only act like idiots, they are idiots. Especially when it comes to equality between men and women. For whatever reason, these neanderthals can't seem to comprehend how much you are clearly ahead of us in so many ways. I've worked for women. I've stood up for women. And with the exception of my refusal to play coed softball, I have very much been a man who recognizes the absolute power and intelligence all of you women possess. In fact, I sometimes look at my fellow man and shake my head in disbelief that this is the lot of choices you girls have in finding a mate. I mean, WOW. The classy collection of male clowns roaming this earthly plane is astounding to me. When I think about how The Angel looks the other way at my Star Wars devotion, I realize it's more a matter of the lesser of two evils than it is she thinks my Chewbacca impression is bad ass. Finding a decent dude must make you feel like Indiana Jones trying to track down the Holy Grail, especially in Los Angeles.

Bottom line- you women rule and deserve to be treated as more than equals in every facet of life.

I preface this as a way of preparing you for the possible backlash I may receive for the proposal I'm about to lay out.

Buying an engagement ring can be one of the most stressful actions a man ever commences. I realize a lot of you gals know exactly what type of ring you want. Clarity. Cut. Band size. Color. Style. Whether or not diamonds are on the sides or not. Carat size. Etc. First off, let me speak for many dudes of the world in telling you WE HAVE VIRTUALLY NO IDEA WHAT THAT STUFF MEANS. Quite frankly, I didn't even know those various choices existed until I bought my own.

We're dudes. We like to walk into a store, point like a jungle cat marking his prey, and grunt in acceptance at the transaction about to take place. Just give us a damn price so we can drown our sorrows in a Orange Dreamsicle at the local T.G.I. Fridays.

I know I'm kind of pulling the curtain back on The Wizard, but you ladies have no idea how much we talk about the ring. And I don't necessarily mean in emotional terms. I heard from no less than three married friends who made some sort of snide comment in regards to me purchasing a ring, comments about "enjoy dropping that savings account buddy."

Now, for me, and I say this with complete conviction... I was excited to drop my savings account on my bride to be. I knew that it meant I had graduated from idiot to lesser-idiot, as I was willing to devote my life to what I believe is the most wonderful woman on the planet. I would lose an arm just to be with The Angel, so monetary matters meant nothing to me.

But that doesn't mean they weren't discussed with fellow dudes. Three of my fellow friends got engaged this past year, and they all had lengthy conversations about the ring with me, with each other, with themselves. We're afraid to tell you ladies this, as we're concerned we'll look shallow and insensitive. And so it is, in back alleys and back corners of suburbia, we talk about it to each other.

You need to understand, talking about the money we are about to spend and how it stresses us out is really just subtext for the larger issue at hand. When we lament the fact that platinum bands cost exponentially more than white gold bands, we're really freaking out over the future, not the ring. What I mean is, we still have doubts we can be a good man. We have doubts we can provide a future, a family, or just the right amount of love that you so surely deserve.

We also realize we need to alter our idiot instincts even more.

And so ladies, this is where my proposal comes in.

We spend months agonizing over the ring and making sure it's just right. You're an angel, and we want to assure you that we're capable of delving into ring specifics with the same vigor that we assess Derek Jeter's fly ball to ground ball ratio statistics. We're here for you. And so we spend days with diamond and ring specialists, all just to make you happy and show you that you're the one for us. And moreover, we're the one for you.

And when we get down on our knee... after we've called your Father and convinced him we're not that big of a moron... after we've sweated every last detail of the ring and subsequent proposal... after you (hopefully) say yes... after all that, we hope you'll remember that WE ARE one of the needles in the haystack. By committing to us, you've entrusted your future on a combined unity and belief that our love is true.

We're not that big of an idiot after all.

So then, after we've gone through this arduous process, how could you possibly show your love and devotion to us?


You can get us a giant flat screen TV!

OH YEAH BOYS, it's time we start a new tradition! If you're male and you're reading this, crank up the Guns n Roses and celebrate this momentous movement!

That's right ladies, I think it's time to show the good men of the world that they deserve a little love for their awesomeness! That's right, I think ladies of the world should show their bad-ass equality and also give their new groom to be a sweet-ass gift that showcases your ability to look past our occasional bouts of kid-like excitement!

Don't want to get a flat-screen TV? Okay, I got some other ideas...

How about this little bad boy here, as you damn well know as we get older, Poker games will be taking place on random Tuesdays...

Yes, it's outlandishly stupid to spend that much money on something like this, but would you look at those damn cup holders???

Have a competitive junkie in your house? One of these insanely overpriced and unneeded attractions is just the thing! Because let's face it, your communion is going to need something to settle the score on fights and arguments over little things like who gets to control the remote... why not settle it on the ice... WABAM!

Is your husband-to-be a geek? Well, lemme tell you ladies, nothing says I love you like a totally inexcusable savings account depletion that this bad boy will cost you... but come on, it doubles as a couples dinner table!!!!! Romance is nothing if not blinking ghosts circling your chicken teriyaki bowl.

Ladies, what I'm saying is, we think we deserve a token of affection too. Now, I know a lot of you will say something along the lines of this...

"Yeah dude. You give us the ring. But we give you our lives by saying yes."

Totally valid point. Except that we're doing the same. By not acknowledging our lifelong commitment, you diminish us. Basically, that argument (as beautiful as it is), is invalid on those terms.

We're even willing to discuss this gift with you! Remember, we're going to be together for eternity, so we might as well go down to the local Best Buy and plunk down some serious money on a surround sound system that will make our elderly neighbors contemplate calling the cops when we play something like Transformers. Ladies, what I'm saying is, we're both going to appreciate whatever said gift is bought.

You're telling me you don't want to watch True Blood on a giant HD screen? Come on, think of the upsides!

And for those of you wondering why my own personal lady doesn't leave me after reading this? It's because we did get our own little gift that me the dude wanted. We just bought a Canon 7D HD camera for my creative endeavors.

She's one with the movement!

I believe this idea is going to sweep the country. It has to. It's time for more equality ladies.


What do you say ladies????

NOTE: Author has now turned down the hair metal he had blasting, transitioning into something soft like Dave Matthews, and checking the pillows on the couch for comfort in case he'll be sleeping there for a few nights.

The Importance of a Utensil Tray to Women of the World

and Why Dudes Need To Know This. To my fellow dudes of the world-

If you find yourself on the precipice of moving in with that special someone, then there is one bit of advice I’d like to give you regarding the one rule you must know. More than understanding personal space. More than shared bathroom time. You must learn this, the rule that overshadows all others. Here it is…

Everything in your living space has to be cute.

Now, before I go any further, I’d like to take this opportunity to emphatically state that in no way do I mean to infer that all women (or even most women) like things to be cute in the ways in which the word cute is used by its literal definition. I know many women that deplore the word cute, so let me just say that I’m using cute as my word to encompass all positive things when it comes to décor. I’m using it in place of style. Class. A ‘woman’s touch’. Essentially, I’m saying that most men (such as me) are challenged when it comes to making various rooms seem elegant and pleasant. My fiancé, The Angel, is a wedding planner. Therefore, she needs to possess a certain amount of taste when it comes to decorating. Cute is definitely not how I’d describe it. I suppose I could have used the word nice instead of cute, but it wouldn’t have the same effect. So again to be clear, what I’m saying… is that immature, onetime male buffoons (like myself), need to learn one rule before moving in with a lady. And that is this…

Everything has to be cute.

Now, the varying degrees to what is considered cute by your significant other have much to do with their own personal taste. Don’t try to figure this out, as it will be an exhausting exercise in futility. All I can tell you is that the style of items you never thought about before will slowly rise to the surface in a manner that will certainly make you question your identity.

Case in point: the silverware divider you place inside one of your narrow kitchen drawers. I’m sorry- a quick search on Google has informed me it’s called a utensil tray. Basically, I’m talking about that colorless plastic contraption you put in a drawer to separate your forks, spoons, and butter knives.

I have never thought about this particular kitchen accessory. I’m fairly certain most men haven’t either. We’re dudes. We toss the cheapest one we find into our Wal-Mart cart without spending more than 6 seconds thinking over the options. Even then, we’re only really considering whether the $2.49 investment in such a device would be better spent upgrading our beer from Bud Light to Amstel. If the utensil tray movement were in our hands, we’d say the hell with the whole thing and throw our entire collection of mismatched cutlery into said drawer without the slightest bit of organization. At least then we’d feel like we were accomplishing something by rummaging through what would surely become a monstrosity of tangled forks.

But when moving in with a woman, all sense of ambivalence towards these things is quickly replaced with the need to get something cute. I know this, because just a few years ago I moved in with The Angel.

I remember standing in the middle of my now abandoned apartment, just days away from walking out of it for the last time. I’d be walking into a new life, complete with The Angel by my side. In doing so, I realized we would no longer need duplicates of items we’d now be sharing. Out went the giant 1989 plastic Chicago Cub cups that featured former rookie of the year Jerome Walton, replaced by tall drinking glasses that had actual weight to them. This all seemed quite rational to me. One bed. One set of dishes. One copy of U2’s Joshua Tree. One life.

The Angel and I started going through my apartment, discarding anything that didn’t seem up to standards. That meant pretty much everything.

A few cabinets later and we came upon the utensil tray. Discolored. Off-white. Unknown food particle stuck to the side. Perhaps peanut butter.

I held up the utensil tray to The Angel with indifference.

“Might as well keep this, huh?”

The Angel meekly nodded in agreement, and we carried on our duties.

An hour later, The Angel and I were at the most sought out destination when it comes time for couples to move in with one another- Target. It was shiny. It was bright. It was gender-neutral in color scheme. Target. A place where even dudes feel okay.

Hopped up on bad Pinot Noir and Cherry Garcia Ice Cream, we ransacked Target in a new apartment shopping splurge that left us giddy for the future. No aisle was spared, because at Target, everything seems reasonable for the low price of $2.50. Before you know it, you have three hundred bucks worth of trinkets you may or may never use. (“Of course I needed that spice rack.”)

And this is where I learned that Everything. Must. Be. Cute.

We wheeled our cart around the kitchen supply aisle in search of the perfect self-dispensing soap scrub brush. Instead, we were hit smack in the face with what seemed like a dozen different utensil tray holders. I paused, looking at The Angel.

“They’re only a couple of bucks. This black rubber one is kinda cool. Do you just wanna get a new one?”

Now dear reader, whatever words I’m about to use will pale in comparison to the reaction The Angel gave, for there are no words to adequately describe it. The Angel let out a deep gasp, as if she had been holding in a secret of such epic proportions that it threatened the entire human race.

Because when The Angel breathlessly said- “Oh God yes!”… She said it in a way that might as well have been saying she was secretly a shape-shifting alien hiding out on earth.

It wasn’t just the words though. There were actions. Dramatic actions. Genuine actions of magnitude. Her hands fell to her knees in the way athletes do after running a grueling marathon. Her face flushed with happiness. I think there was some shaking involved.

Clearly, the utensil tray was a bigger deal than I or any other dude had realized. I laughed at The Angel, not only because I found it hilarious that she was so relieved, but even more so because I couldn’t comprehend why she hadn’t uttered a word of objection when I originally asked her about my (obviously) pathetic utensil tray back at my apartment.

The Angel started laughing, realizing how insane our moment at Target was. I truly felt like she was in love with me before our Target shopping spree started, but now that I had recommended the new utensil tray? I was pretty sure I’d finally get to cash in my long-lost dream of having her wear a Princess Leia gold bikini.

Now, as a dude, I can only say that this makes absolutely no sense to me. I understand the need to have matching throw pillows. I get the need for candles, bamboo-flair, and a proper set of wine glasses.

But a utensil tray?

Let me make sure we all understand, NO ONE sees the utensil tray but those who use it. In this case, me and The Angel. That’s it. It’s not as if our favorite couple, The Nightwings, are going to stumble upon it and say… “Wow, that is a bad-ass utensil tray.”

Or conversely, if we were using the older one, I don’t think they’d say “Honey, let’s get the F out of here, their utensil tray holder is so… vintage. It’s disgusting. We can’t possibly be friends with these people.”

My point is… dudes of the world… just know that upon moving in with a woman, everything must be cute

Or nice. Or classy. Or with a ‘woman’s touch’. Or generally just respectable..