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.
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...