Quoting our favorite figure of the 21st century, “excuse my French but I’m in Fraaaance.” In a reality outside of Kanye’s ego bubble, Paris is the city that has charmed the literary and arts community of this world’s creative inheritance. The Pittsburgh-born muse Gertrude Stein stated, “America is my country, and Paris is my hometown”. Charmingly put. And F. Scott Fitzgerald, of the Great American literary boom aptly noted that “the best of America drifts to Paris. The American in Paris is the best American. It is more fun for an intelligent person to live in an intelligent country. France has the only two things toward which we drift as we grow older—intelligence and good manners.”
The Centre Pompidou was planted around the corner from our charming ideally located Air BnB apartment and one of the first attractions we saw when emerging from the Paris metro system. It is named after the past French president Georges Pompidou, a building modeled in the style of high-tech architecture and designed by a world-class team of architects led by the Italian Renzo Piano. It is a highly industrial square building embraced by piping and tubes, colored in primaries. It offers free admission the first Sunday of every month, a respite from the 13 euro price tag for avid fans of contemporary art. The top floor is currently showcasing an exhibition by Henri Matisse, the painter and master of mobiles. The free exhibit included the contemporary art in the Musee National d’Art Moderne with over 60,000 pieces and a cinema. It offered all mediums including film, furniture, painting, metalwork, and abstractions, which is exactly my pace. I revel in the weird. My personal favorites, however, included pieces by Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, and Fernand Leger. Outside the museum, the nearby streets are lined by informal pieces with a more socially motivated theme, tagged by infamous names in the graffiti world: Space Invaders, Zevs, Zoo Project, and numerous smaller tags adorn the French apartments.
The first night after arriving well into the night, we left to stroll the manicured walkways along the green Seine. We crossed over the lock bridge, a place for lovers. And ran towards the Eiffel Tower once it neared the hour mark when it becomes a ball of light. I didn’t think that I would be as taken with this figurehead, or with this city, as I was the first day. The most magnificent view of the Tower can be seen from the Trocadero stop on the yellow line. The Tower rises before you gloriously, and by night, it splits the sky.
Paris by day is crowded. Don’t get me wrong, it still reigns as the loveliest of cities, a magnificent vision wrought in iron and pastels. But, Paris by night is my beautiful dark twisted fantasy. Paris by night is what has me by the throat.
The social pace varies magnificently from what I have learned to tolerate in my northern Spanish regional base. In my short time in France, I have taken note that the French do not exude as much blatant xenophobia as the Spanish. I did not encounter much of the stereotype that has been presented of the French, as snobby frog-eaters with little dogs wearing vests. (I did not see any frog legs, which I was actually excited to try). I diiiid witness a man stealing bites of the baguette in his hand while biking in perfectly pleated pants and a pipe to the side of his pleasant smirk. People were often excited to speak to us and practice English, and eager to help when we looked lost. “Je suis perdu” (ZHUH swee pehr-DUU’) was one of the only phrases I learned and used often… I have decided that the Parisiennes are the most aesthetically pleasing city dwellers in the world—not only are all races perfectly represented, there is little evidence of segregation. The number of absolutely stunning biracial couples melted my heart into a warm sloppy mess. The gardens outside the schools were occupied by schoolchildren grouped naturally in ways that merit the covers of brochures. They smiled in the sunlight, completely evenly mixed in terms of race and social standing. Parisiennes are completely blaise-chic, carrying themselves with effortless style inspired by Paris’ bohemian past. A foundation of writers, poets, artists, and musicians, is the valuable inheritance of the streets. We also encountered unfortunate inflated prices due to France’s comparative financial stability in the Eurozone, which translated to a 15 euro milkshake on Champs d’Elysee. Run for your life.. The minimum wage in Paris is 9.19 euro/hour, one of the highest in Europe and twice as much as that in Spain.
As far as the French food, I fell hard for the macaroons (pistachio and raspberry). I also had the luck to sample meringue, various pastries, and Amorino gelato. The gluttonous façade of this post masks the fact that French portions are generally a quarter of what has become the norm in our supersize nation. Creperies and pastisseries sit on every quarter block of the city. (So do doner kebabs, but these are not for the faint of heart.) I lived off of .80/baguettes and blocks of brie for the majority of the trip.
The Louvre Museum and Palace, marked by the glass pyramids and framed by the lovely Jardin du Tuilleries, captured the majority of my first day in Paris. There is free admission with student visa or on the first Sunday of every month. I considered dropping everything in my life to set up a cot among the Pugets in the Richelieu wing of the Louvre. The extensive bronze and marble collection had me swooning. The most striking pieces of the Louvre’s 35,000 piece collection included Canova’s Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss and Puget’s Perseus and Andromenda. The building itself is a masterpiece, let alone its awe inspiring collections of paintings from across Europe. It was overwhelming and exhausting to try to take it all in during the 4 ½ hours we spent in its depths. I had a desperate case of museum legs by the time we reached the third wing that houses the Mona Lisa. Outside the museum, the trimmed and pruned Jardin du Tuilleries made for lunchtime lounging with endless public seating and green spaces.