December 18, 2011

The City of Lights

How many people can answer the question «So what did you do last weekend?» with: "I went shopping in Paris!"

Well... I can!!! Yes, Paris was incredible and beautiful. But I definitely left with a different impression than I did the last two times that I’ve been there. Paris just seemed less magical and romantic to me this time. It didn’t feel like the city where artists, lovers, and adventurers come to discover the world and themselves. The streets didn’t feel like they were dusted with some undiscovered mystery. It sort of all just felt like a tourist trap; a Disneyland; a city meant to be gazed out through a camera lens. A city filled with Asians on tourist buses.

I know that sounds really bad, but it is still a beautiful city– just different. It’s extremely crowded (I know I went during one of the busiest weekend of the year, but still). The stores are outrageously expensive so I didn’t buy a lot of things when we shopped. It started out sunny, but then later it rained and the skies turned gray. The first time that I went to Paris was at night when everything was illuminated so it really felt like a magical city. This time everything seemed a little less surreal with raindrops in my eyes, gray skies above my head, and frantic shoppers suffocating the limited space on the streets. I don’t know if Paris could be a city that I would want to live in. Maybe for a short time, but I don’t know if a permanent residence would be possible for me. There are so many other cities in the world, but I always thought of Paris as the dream city to live in. People call it the heart of culture, of light, of France. But who are these people that said that? Was it the lonely painter on the side of the Seine? Or the dreamer writing stories in a local café? Or the poet seeking inspiration? Or the child with the Eiffel Tower glimmering in their eyes?

As for the rest of the people that might have said that, they must have been rich.

One can’t realistically live in Paris without a lot of money. Sure one can play the artist game for awhile, but eventually one needs food and clothes and fun. If you have money, Paris can be extraordinary. But if you don’t, it might just be a lot of traffic, tourists, and cold skies. I was disappointed in that aspect of losing my perspective towards Paris as the magical city I once thought it was. But you know, it was still an amazing day. It was one of those days I won’t forget here. You can’t forget Paris, even with the tourist overload. It’s still Paris. Yeah, that word has a lot of class. Buying a shirt in Lille has way less significance than buying the same shirt in Paris. So... that’s why I bought the same shirt that I saw in Lille, in Paris :D

First stop: Galeries Lafayette :D I was surprised at how much freedom we got. Benoît (our Rotary president) told us to meet up in two hours, stay in pairs, and then just let us go.... Wild! No, not really. We broke off into groups. I stuck with Rachel (American) and Miwako (the Japanese student). It was fun, but not very successful as far as shopping goes. Everything was outrageously expensive. Outrageous! There was an enormous Christmas tree underneath an absolutely breathtaking dome that we awed and goggled at for awhile. And then we amused ourselves by looking at all the stuff that we couldn’t possibly afford. A simple sweater with five buttons? 200 euros please. A ridiculous feather boa made of crow feathers? 3, 500 euros? Like I said, Paris is a city for people with money. If you want to be stylish, that is.

The window displays were cool in the Galeries Lafayette with strange little dolls that danced around jumbo sized present boxes, but it honestly didn’t feel like the holiday season. I really thought of all places, Paris would be a really magical place around Christmas time. But... it was sunny (for awhile) and cold and felt like it could have been in the middle of October or March. I really think it’s the Christmas music that gets me in the spirit. Christmas is in exactly one week and it really really really doesn’t seem like it. Not at all. I love this season usually, but it just doesn’t feel like the apple cider/jolly music/generous/puffy coats/Starbucks frappuccino kind of season. Where did Christmas go?

We went into Zara later (one of my favorite French stores!) and I bought a nice cardigan. Then we met back up with the others later and had lunch. When they mentioned lunch in Paris, I don’t why, but I pictured escargot in a restaurant like the one in the movie "Ratatouille". Silly me. We went to a cafeteria styled restaurant that had plastic trays and already-made-self-serve food. We didn’t have to pay for it so it was really nice of Benoît and all... but still. I had a Croque Madame with fries. So fatty and greasy, but filling. Not exactly fine French cuisine, but hey– it was a free meal on our part.

Then after lunch we took the metro down to the Champs Elysées where they had their first ever Marché de Noël (Christmas market). Again, Benoît let us run free for two hours with the destination point at the Arc de Triomphe. We went into the Disney store and almost got trampled by the plushie crazed tourists. Hmm.... and I saw Starbucks! (!!!) I have so many great memories in that place. I miss it. I didn’t get anything there though because of the lovely one million person line. Then I bought some presents in Yves Roches. I personally think it’s quite classy to buy someone a present from Paris, but hey that’s just my opinion. I think a big part about visiting Paris is afterwards being able to say that you were in Paris. It’s the reputation and the name that people awe at. When you’re actually there for a lil’ visit you spend all your time taking pictures to prove to everyone that you were there. Not to mention that you spend all your money buying souvenirs (I <3 Paris) or clothes that you could probably buy much cheaper in a different, less classy city.

Okay– Paris is amazing. Don't get me wrong, I love it. But it’s not a family city. It’s an old city for the young. Or the very very old who still sit in cafés beneath the Eiffel Tower with their berets, drinking wine, and talking about the times before the Internet and when eating frogs was normal... Ah, vive la France. But I could totally go for another shopping weekend there. I need more time to explore and discover the city. One day just isn't enough.

After our second burst of shopping, we went to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. (!!!) It was really really cool. I actually didn’t even know that you could go up to the top before we did it. I also never thought of how you had to get over to walk around it because if you know anything about traffic, the traffic around the Arc de Triomphe is horrific. If there’s an accident, it's charged at both cars because there's no way to show proof. It’s like a wild race between cars that two competing five year olds are controlling. Unfortunately it started to get stormy and rainy at this point of the day. Allison (my American friend) and I were late when we arrived and when we stopped before the traffic circle we looked at each other and thought: «Uhh.... Do we run?» Silly us. There was an underground passage-tunnel thing that goes under the traffic circle and right up to the Arc. Yeah, if that didn’t exist the tourist population in Paris would dramatically decrease. Because they would all be Crêpes à la Triomphe. <--- Sorry, I thought that was funny.

I have to admit that one of the best moments of the day was at the top of the Arc. It wasn’t the amazing view of the city, it wasn’t taking a million pictures, it wasn’t watching the city lights of Paris turn on when it grew dark, it wasn’t watching the Eiffel Tower light up. It wasn’t freaking out in the cold. It was when Megan (American), Miwako, and I took pictures with a huge, random Japanese tourist group. We were the last left of our group to leave, but right before we did a Japanese dude asked us to take the picture of the Japanese people. Then they asked us to be in their picture. As you can imagine, we all did the ridiculous peace sign. Asian people are the main supporters of superficial peace. But still, it was hilarious, random, and a wonderful moment between foreign strangers on top of a Paris monument. Love life.

So then we all ran through the rain, piled into the metro, got on the bus, played some of those road trip games, then chatted until we reached our dinner destination. At... wait for it........ at a gas station! Ha :O But it was a classy gas station. I had some ham and potatoes.

So voilà. Paris :D It was really fun, beautiful, and... yet, not so Christmas-y. Like I said, I don’t have that warm, winter-season feeling. Not even after seeing the pretty lights. But oh well. I went to Paris!

Here are the pictures:
Beautiful Christmas tree at the Champs Elysées
I love Zara!
Miwako and Rachel :)

Lunchtime. Left to right: Kirana (Indonesian), Aayushi (Indian), me (American), and Miwako (Japanese).

Check out that traffic! Oh, and that one arc thing ;)

On top of the Arc de Triomphe
Pretty lights of Paris: Champs Elysées

Left to right: Miwako, me, Kirana, and Kelly :)

With all the Japanese tourists that we didn't know :D


There is always so much to talk about and catch up on. I have so many feelings and thoughts that constantly race past my mind, but I’ve been quite busy and tired so they often swirl around in my head until they’re all but just faint memories. And then I try to write them all down again. :P Hope to write to you again soon. Bisous.