Five Days in Paris

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by Chelsea Coon

Francois Morellet exhibition at the Pompidou, June 2011

THE LOUVRE

is magnificent, as is Paris itself.  One night, over glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon at a night cafe facing the west side of the Louvre, we made it a goal to live there someday…

by Chelsea Coon

 



The Louvre is magnificent, as is Paris itself.  One night, over glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon at a night cafe facing the west side of the Louvre, we made it a goal to live there someday…

 

My boyfriend and I arrived in Paris from Beauvis at 11pm on a Thursday night. We had boarded a cheap Ryanair flight from Rome Ciampino Airport, around a half hour outside of Rome, Italy. When we got to the airport we passed through security, which we found to be much less threatening and less violating than airport security in the States. Maybe because in the States we were felt up over what seemed like every part of our bodies, and in Europe, we simply walked through a metal detector and put our bags on a belt at a security checkpoint to be x-rayed.

Francois Morellet exhibition at the Pompidou, June 2011

The line to the airplane was already long by the time we got there, two hours before departure. I thought I was being neurotic about our arrival and waiting time at the airport, but apparently everyone there understands that Ryanair functions first come first serve, given the cheap prices they charge, and the demand for seats.

Several people cut us in line when the boarding call was announced, but we  were able to assert ourselves somewhere in the middle of the mass of angry passengers   It was an absolute free for all.

After the boarding passes were checked, passengers lined up outside the airport in the lot where the plane was parked, waiting for the security guards to open the gates to the aircraft. Once the gates were removed, people ran, pushed, shoved, and cut to get to the aircraft first. Exhausted, the only way we could deal with such a ridiculous scene was to laugh and promise each other that we would never do this again. Fast classical music played over the intercom system on the airplane, which made the situation seem even more surreal, and I laughed so hard I began to cry. The round trip cost $180 USD. And they skimp on everything. It’s not even a real airport—you have to take a bus for 15 euro out to a runway twenty minutes away. And we had to hold our bowels—otherwise we would have lost our seats, which afforded us six inches between our ass and our knees. It was awesome!

 

A friendly man was at the hostel desk, wearing a plaid short sleeve button-down shirt, the top four buttons consciously open for what could only be to show his point of pride, his chest hair, to everyone.


Pompidou top floor view of Paris, June 2011

I clutched the armrests with a tense panic as the aircraft descended and approached the landing strip at Paris Beauvais Tille Airport. My boyfriend laughed and asked what I expected to happen, that at that point of the flight we should be fine—but I have always found landings to be the most unpleasant and anxiety-provoking part of a flight. I replied that I hoped so, but the plane landed too fast onto the damp runway and the tires began to expel large clouds of black smoke as it juked back and forth.

A pack of women about eight rows up had been really loud the whole flight.  I think they were wasted based on their screams and hysterical laughter, but when the plane landed and full on black clouds of smoke sprung up on both sides of the plane, all you could hear was fuck fuck fuck! I looked at my boyfriend, horrified, and other passengers started to scream, and all the while my heart felt as though it were going to break through my ribcage. But then everyone stood up in silence and left the aircraft.

We walked from the bus station at Porte Maillot (the Paris Metro) through a street that looked like The Night Café (originally: Le Café du nuit) by Vincent Van Gogh, only not as saturated, not as lemon yellow, but similar and dulled. The streets lead to the Arc de Triomphe, the French national monument which pays tribute to those who died in the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution. Heavy clouds of cigarette smoke hung over seated crowds of people leisurely enjoying cocktails outside of the night cafes. I met the eyes of a few, seeing only content faces.

We didn’t reserve a hostel in order to keep the trip spontaneous. Half  an hour later we learned that every hotel and hostel had no vacancy for the next week because of an air show. We then embarked on an outrageously expensive calling frenzy until we were able to find a hostel across town with one room available for the night—it was one in the morning.

 

I saw more smiling and felt more kindness then I thought was even possible for a city.

 

We saw the Eiffel Tower and the River Seine during the taxi ride across Paris. I had always seen pictures of Paris when I was a child, but the pictures were much different than the real thing. The photographs transformed into a reality, and I was there. We thanked the driver when we arrived at the hostel and paid him a steep fair of 30 euro for the late night ride across the city. Accidentally, we gave him too much money, which he returned to us without a second guess. We were shocked, and thanked him. The cab took off down the narrow street and disappeared from view, only the sound of its engine lingering behind.

We stood in front of the hostel, which contained over five hundred beds, and lit up two cigarettes. The streets were deserted, and we had no idea what part of Paris we were in. We looked at each other as if we were looking for answers, but we both knew nothing, and we were on this journey together. With a final drag of our cigarettes, we placed the butts under our exhausted feet and proceeded into the large, fluorescently lit lobby of the largest hostel either of us had seen.

View between exhibitions at the Pompidou, June 2011

A friendly man was at the desk, wearing a plaid short sleeve button-down shirt, the top four buttons consciously open for what could only be to show his point of pride, his chest hair, to everyone. We checked into our room for the night, small and cramped but sanitary. The beds were more petite than a twin in the States. We looked at the tissue paper thin blankets with thicker, wool blankets on the end. I could only think of all the germs that they must have been infested with from previous travelers like ourselves. Thinking of the blankets’ use during the summer seasons was especially disconcerting, and we spent most nights without the shield of a protective blanket. For the next five days, we walked around exploring the streets of the city and its cafes, trying to gather enough of a picture to  imagine what it would be like to live in such a beautiful city.

Neither of us know French, but we made the effort with small exchanges which seemed to be endearing to those we came in contact with. Sometimes they could tell right away we were American and would speak to us in English, though a few times I was spoken to in German. We were always helped with directions when we were lost, and when we accidently gave too many euro to pay for our espresso or dinner, the people kindly gave us back the right amount of change. We walked around alone every night and never had a problem with people on the streets.

I absolutely needed to see the Centre Georges Pompidou, which houses the Musee National d’Arte Moderne. It was pouring rain that day, and we waited a good half hour for a taxi before we made our trip there.

Street view with tourists near Arc de Triomphe, June 2011

On the ride over, we reached a bridge that was completely covered in locks of all different shapes and sizes. I was so amazed by the sight of it that it took me a second to notice that we were driving to the right of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Moments later we arrived at the Centre Georges Pompidou, and the sun had come back out. We spent over six hours in the museum, and if time had permitted, we could have spent the entire year there. The most breathtaking to both of us was the Francois Morellet exhibition.  Morellet is a contemporary artist whose use of light and line for installation is astonishing.

We stayed in a hostel by the Louvre our final night and spent our last day walking around it, but we didn’t go inside. It was decided that we were going to explore Paris to see what Paris is like, and we wanted to make our own discoveries.  The thought of the army of glass, barriers and people in front of the Mona Lisa turned us off, and so  we agreed to return during an off season some months or years later and make our trip into the Louvre.  The building itself is magnificent, as is Paris itself.  One night, over glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon at a night cafe facing the west side of the Louvre, we made it a goal to live there someday.

Paris has a charm unlike any I have experienced elsewhere. The lifestyle is as romantic as the television shows and movies make it seem. People seem much happier there, maybe because they are actually enjoying themselves by taking the time to really live a quality life. I saw more smiling and felt more kindness then I thought was even possible for a city. Paris is dream-like; it makes you feel as if you are falsely existing in that world, as though you will wake up soon enough, back to the reality of your everyday life.

 

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