You cannot even begin to scratch the surface of Paris over the course of two days, but as that was the only time we had, a double-decker bus tour gave us the Coles Notes version. My father also appreciated it as it meant less walking on cobblestones and other uneven surfaces that were causing him severe hip pain. Our first stop was Notre-Dame Cathedral. I'm not sure why I'm so drawn this to place but there's something about it that makes me feel at peace. Perhaps it's the way the light reflects prismatic through the stained glass windows. Perhaps it's the creepy gargoyles. A service was underway when we entered. All was quiet. Before our trip, I visited the Notre Dame website and submitted a prayer request for my father. Part of me knows this is ultimately meaningless but my non-skeptical self was willing to try anything if even the most minute exertion of positive energy could somehow make him better.
After the walk-through, I took my father around back past lush pink cherry blossoms in full bloom to Pont de l'Archeveche, the most famous of Paris' many "love lock" bridges. Normally a rite of passage for couples young and old (of whom I question how many are still together), I instead wanted to use the opportunity to place two intertwined locks with mine and my father's name on it - a way to commemorate our adventure and leave a piece of ourselves forever in this great city:
Some consider this vandalism, a blight on the city's architecture. I suppose it ultimately is. Defacement can be interesting though. Artistic even.
Onward we visited the Conciergerie, once a former palace and then a revolution-era prison. It is known as the last residence of King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette before they were brought to the guillotine. It's interesting to me how France, in most instances, avoids mention of the darker aspects of its past; times that have changed the course of history and continue to influence social and political movements today. For example: how many people walking by it know the significance of Place de la Concorde? Or realize that the cobblestones they walk on here were once part of the Bastille? In contrast, England (their biggest rival) has made an economy out of morbid tourism. The London Dungeons even contain a ride, whizzing tourists past decaying fake corpses and plasticized vomit, all to "educate" people on the history of the Black Plague. The Conciergerie just contained replica prison cells, authentic personal items from Marie Antoinette's quarters, and a registry of everyone executed during the Revolution. I'm happy to report that no Clague was listed.
Art, culture, history…Paris has all of these in spades. And her citizens know it. There is a pride of place here that is often mistaken for arrogance. People know they are on a world stage and don't squander the opportunity to take the lead. Naturally beautiful and alluring Parisian women dress as if on their way to a photoshoot with Vogue, confidently walking the streets like a runway even when wearing second-hand thrift items (such as one twenty-something I sat next to on a subway to Montmarte that had the most original, compelling style I have ever laid eyes on). And then there are French men...
I'm not sure if French men are naturally more amorous than others or if it's some deep-felt urge to conquer over something like Napoleon, but Paris is definitely the city for single ladies. You will get hit on every day. Oftentimes with lines that would merit a sharp slap across the face in North America:
"Excuse me, do you have a cigarette?"
"No, I don't smoke."
"Where are you from?"
"May I make myself comfortable?" (points to adjacent empty seat in a room full of empty seats)
"I'm busy right now."
"I would still like to get comfortable."
In comparison, the last guy that asked me out in Saskatoon spent 20 minutes extolling the financial benefits of still living at home with his parents. And he didn't have a sexy accent. Clearly I need to move to France.