I used to call myself the only Francophile in the world that had never actually been to France. I studied the language for years, eventually minoring in it in college. I learned about the culture, made the dishes, studied the artwork of the Louvre until I felt as if I were, in fact, in France. But alas, I wasn’t…until last summer, when I finally travelled to Paris, “The City of Light”, my personal Mecca. Before leaving, I arranged my travel health insurance, converted my money into Traveler’s Checks, and made multiple copies of my passport and itinerary, and I was off!
Upon landing on French soil, I was tempted to drop to my knees and kiss the ground, but I refrained. Instead, I sought out a taxi and made my way to where I would be staying. Because money was an issue, I chose to stay in St. Christopher’s Paris Hostel. Despite the horror movies I had seen, I found this to be an amazing place to stay. The rooms were bright and vibrant, and there was easy access to le Métro, which is hands-down the best way to travel through Paris. Additionally, there was Internet access, which is always a bonus.
One of the first places I visited was Jim Morrison’s grave. Having been raised by parents who blasted The Doors on the weekends while cleaning house, I would have felt as if I were betraying my roots, had I not made this visit a priority. The grave has been defaced many times over the years, but Morrison’s father eventually laid a flat stone over it with the Greek inscription ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟΝ ΔΑΙΜΟΝΑ ΕΑΥΤΟΥ; translated literally, this means, “according to his own demon,” but most interpret it to mean, “true to his own spirit.” I left the requisite rose and vowed to return some day.
On my third day there, it was rainy—not conducive to traipsing through Paris—so I opted to go underground. The Paris catacombs have been around since Roman times, but were repurposed in the eighteenth century to accommodate six million bodies. As I descended down the spiral staircase, I didn’t know what to expect. Having grown up watching “Indiana Jones” movies, I thought there would be torches on the walls, but it was dark. No, make that pitch black. If it weren’t for the light on my miner’s helmet and my flashlight, I wouldn’t have been able to see my hand in front of my face. My favorite room was the Mushroom Room, where there was graffiti-style artwork on the walls, including several remarkably good renditions of masterpieces. When I emerged back into the gray Paris day, it seemed fresh and vibrant in comparison to the somber surroundings of the catacombs.
My fourth day dawned sunny and warm, and I visited Notre Dame. Even though I had studied Art History and knew what to expect, nothing compared to actually being there, looking up at the Rose Window, seeing the way the sunlight sifted through the colored glass and dust motes. Afterwards, I made my way to Berthillon, where I ordered une glace. As an American, I thought the portion was too small, but I soon learned that it was just the right amount. Another Parisian win!
On my fifth and (sadly) final day, I determined to knock out two items on my list. First, I headed to the Marché aux Puces de Vanves, a quaint French flea market that had an awesome assortment of clothing and knickknacks. It is here that I bought most of my souvenirs, as they seemed more authentic than the trite Louvre paperweights or inevitable Eiffel Tower snowglobes. After this, I headed to Le Reflet Medicis; located next to Le Champo, a well-known Parisian theater. This venue is known for its film noir revivals and independent cinema from around the world. I was fortunate to catch an English film there, but I would have been just as satisfied to watch a French film. Afterwards, I made my way across La Rue Champollion to Le Reflet and enjoyed a glass of wine and some French conversation before heading back to my hostel.
Unfortunately, I had to leave the following morning. Because my time was so limited, I made an effort to not go to all of the regular tourist spots, such as the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre. I actually walked past the Louvre on my way to the catacombs, but I was glad to not have to stand in the line I saw forming. Maybe my next visit will be a little more “traditional” (if there is such a thing), but I doubt it. In fact, I’m already starting to look for places to visit that are even more off the beaten track, in order to really gain an understanding of this wondrous country, city and culture. There will be plenty of time for snowglobes and paperweights later.