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...