A word of warning about this blog post, it is not in the same vein of most of my previous posts in which I tried to express the nature of my adventure with as little words as possible and a few pictures. This is more of a rambling affair and I won’t feel bad if you just scroll through, look at the pictures and read the second to last paragraph.
I like Paris. It’s my favorite international city. In my opinion it’s the city that has the most in common with Washington DC, which I consider to be my home. After all, I’ve lived there a total of 10 years, between 1999 when I moved there and 2012 when I left this time. That’s longer then I’ve lived anywhere else. Both cities are built to impress. Powerful monuments, beautiful museums, a large intersecting river, and both cities have something else. A feeling that while the city was built for politics, for business, for tourism, maybe the people who actually live there don’t really care about those things all that much. Or maybe that’s just me. They both have extreme beauty and grittiness that mesh together in a way that I like.
I woke up early at my campsite in Fontainebleau, ate the remains of the ham and the baguettes that I had left over, said goodbye to my new friends and powered my tiny rented Peugeot north towards Paris. I decided to try and stand-by the 11:30am flight the following day, which gave me roughly 24hrs in Paris. I also decided that I was going to travel light and not get a room, why waste the money when I didn’t plan on spending much time in it? So when I dumped my rental car I also dropped off everything in luggage storage except for my little green daypack and jumped onto the metro and into the city of lights. I’ve been in Paris once before, for three or four days in 2008 with a pretty girl I was dating at the time, and we did most of the tourist sites. The Louvre, the top of the Eiffel, Monmarte, Nortre Dame, etc, but my favorite site was the Musée d’Orsay, so I decided to make that my first stop this time around.
This is one of my all-time favorite museums, it’s housed in a former train station and the architecture is amazing. I’ve always had a fondness for impressionism and that’s the Orsays main focus. The last time I was there was the first time I really noticed Rousseau (who is actually naïve art I suppose) and now he’s one of my favorite painters. This time around I found myself really liking Signacs bold colours and strong brush strokes. Then of course they have all sorts of Monets, Van Goghs etc. I’ve had a couple people swear I look like Vincent Van Gogh, so when I passed his self-portrait I lingered around grinning to see if anybody else thought so. Apparently not. The Orsay doesn’t allow photos and for once I decided to follow instruction.
After the Orsay I wandered over to the Musee d’Armee, which I had never been to before and looked at some nice artillery. I decided not to go in and see Napoleons tomb and I’m not sure why except that in the recent past I’d seen a lot of temples, ruins, tombs and the like and I didn’t feel like being somber at the moment. So instead I headed over to the Grand Palais (see pic above), which I had missed the first time around as well. We actually did try to go to this, as I’m drawn to glass buildings like a moth to the flame, but I think I remember it being temporarily closed. The first exhibit I visited was called “Animal Beauty” and was exactly what it sounds like. Art focused on Animals. Being that I like art and I love animals I thought this would be right up my alley but unfortunately with the exception of a room dedicated to cats, including “Lion and Serpent” which I really, really like (and saw in the Louvre back in 08), I found the exhibit to be underwhelming and somewhat short. The main chamber of the Grand Palais had a contemporary, conceptual exhibit by an artist named Daniel Buren and I thought it was good use of the space. Basically he took transparent circular pieces of glass or plastic in different colours and made an artificial canopy. The real star of the show however was the buildings regular glass ceiling. I love this type of architecture, it’s the reason why the Smithsonian American Art Museum is one of my favorites.
After the Grand Palais I did the touristiest thing I could imagine, which was to get coffee and crepes at a café with a view of the Eiffel Tower. There’s a reason some things become standards. I went up the Tower the last time I was here and while it was great, I didn’t feel the need to fight the lines this time around. Instead I laid in the grass, read my book, people-watched and looked at the tower. Afterwards I walked up to the Champs-Élysées, did a little souvenir shopping and drifted. I kept seeing signs for a movie called “Moonrise Kingdom” by Wes Anderson, one of my favorite directors (Royal Tennenbaums may be my favorite movie and Darjeeling Limited and Life Aquatic were both great). I looked up the movie and unbelievably though it doesn’t open in the States (or anywhere else) till the end of May it was being shown at Cannes that very day, and because of that was also opening France wide that evening. I figured this was fate and found a nice theatre right on the Champs, within view of the Arc De Triomphe, that was showing the movie at 11pm.
I got some good pasta (yes I know I’m in France but they do pasta well and I had a craving) and sat myself down in the cinema near the door to my theatre. Something odd happened at that point. I had my headphones on listening to some music and was reading my book (Lunar Park by Brett Easton Ellis- Not bad, I liked the start but after a while it seemed like he was trying too hard to be Stephan King and not as talented at it) when I felt eyes on me. I looked up and saw that a very pretty girl had sat right next to me. She gave me a big smile and I froze. Ordinarily if a pretty girl smiles at me that’s all I need, I’ll try right off the bat to start up a conversation with her. On this particular evening however I was way, way off my game. I had a huge beard, crazy hair, I was pretty sure I smelled bad as I hadn’t washed the clothes I was wearing in at least two weeks with a lot of wear on them. My pants still had visible chalk prints from when I was wearing them climbing the day before. End result, I gave her an odd grimace/smile and looked back down at my book. I instantly regretted it, but now I was in an awkward position, to speak with her I would need to take my headphones off, and lurch into conversation in a way that seemed natural. My mind raced with things I could say that might pull this off but by the time I had settled on “Hi, have you heard anything about this movie” (I’m a romantic genius right?) she was already standing and apparently going to use the restroom before the movie started. No big deal, chalk that one up to circumstances right? Not quite over. A line queued to get into the theatre and I got on near the front. Because of my inability to read the word “balcony” in French I went in the wrong door and found myself on the upper level. I’ve never liked being far off the screen, I’m usually begging whoever I’m with to move closer to the front, I figure if I’m going to pay $10 to see a flick I want to see it BIG. So I turn around to leave and as I’m walking out the pretty French (I’m assuming) chick walks in and pauses. It may have been my imagination but it kind of looked like she was surprised that I was leaving. Had she followed me in? Instantly I was back in mental paralysis. I still had my headphones on, do I take them off, turn around, follow her and try to strike up conversation? Sit next to her? That seemed too stalkerish so I instead I stalked out the doors and down to the tenth row of the main seating area. When I got into my seat I started kicking myself. I generally don’t mind making a fool of myself, but what I do mind is missed opportunities. I always drives me crazy when you don’t find out what could have been. I started an inner dialogue. Asking myself “what if you really hit it off with her?” “She looked young” my inner voice argued. “The last girl I dated was 24” I argued back. Plus she was wearing boots. I love boots. “She probably didn’t speak good English and you’d have nothing in common” he replied. “She’s here watching an English language movie (with French subtitles) made by one of your favorite directors” I countered. Plus she had long straight hair. I love long, straight hair.
This went on for a while. I’d like to say that I found a way to walk back up to the balcony or that I waited around after the movie to try and speak with her, but I didn’t. After the movie I walked right up the Champs to the Arc and then hopped on the metro (thinking I would go early to the airport, more on that soon). Realistically I was planning on leaving the next morning, and the smile could have been pure politeness and the balcony coincidence but regardless I hate regrets and that was a minor one. I just plan on using it like the others, to try and change my actions in the future. And I thought it might make a minorly funny story.
Going on with the narrative in what is now the longest and most rambling blog post I’ve (or possibly anybody’s) ever written, I’m now on the metro heading towards the airport. The last train to CDG leaves my connecting station at 2:36am and I timed it perfectly, I was there about five minutes early. Of course that train never came. Which meant it was time for a new plan. C’est la vie. No big deal, I had actually been thinking of just wandering the city all night anyways and then heading to the airport in the morning, and now the decision was made for me.
I could go on for quite a while detailing what happened after that but I’ll spare you. Short story: I went to a couple cafes, a couple bars, walked up and down the Seine and around the Louvre, talked to a few interesting Parisians, visited an all-night kebab place and then when the metro opened back up at 5:30am I hopped on and headed to the airport where 5 hours later I was the last stand-by passenger to make it successfully on my flight and I was on my way back The United States of America after being gone a little over two months.
Overall, the extremely short Paris leg of the trip was quite good.
Ps. Moonrise Kingdom was a nice movie. It’s no Tennenbaums but the dialogue was intelligent, the acting was solid, there were some snappy jokes and it was extremely cute but not in a cloying way.