As I sat on the train from Versailles, my excitement could barely be contained. Behind me a little boy sat with his mother, and the two conversed in a language perhaps more beautiful than Italian. Suddenly, the Eiffel Tower came into view, and the little boy immediately responded with a squeal, a gesture of excitement and discovery. Although I did not scream or vocally express my enthusiasm upon seeing the iconic Parisian tower, a smile immediately swept across my face. I felt exactly like the little boy behind me: innocent and naïve and overwhelmed by the beauty of the French capital.
Last week I spent three days in Paris, the City of Love and Light. Among the list of destinations on my spring break itinerary, Paris was the city I most looked forward, especially when considering its highlights: Mona Lisa, Arc d’Triomphe, and the Champs d’Elysée. With no knowledge of the French language other than the basics like bonjour, oiu, and mercier, the barrier was a definite hindrance to my exploration. And yet, like a sponge in water, I wanted to absorb as much as I possibly could during my short stay in the city, thereby I was not going to let even the communication wall keep me from falling in love with Paris. Much to my surprise, the contrast of the language with English and Italian was one of the most interesting and exciting things about my time in France, and it was there that I came to the conclusion that in my next life, I will speak French.
In French, even the simplest words and phrases sound so elegant and sexy. Regardless of whether a voice in the metro announces the approach of an oncoming train or someone is giving directions, the French language enhances the integrity and eloquence of the dialogue so that even the most minute details appear important. Unfortunately for me, my study of Italian has negatively impacted my ability to speak and read French. On many occasions in Paris, I looked at signs on the streets or words on a menu board and tried to vocally express them. What resulted was the product of my Italian intuition, which led me to pronounce each letter in the word and therefore butchering its meaning. Whereas the Italian language is one that can be read (so long as one understands the basic pronunciations of the alphabet), French has all these rules about pronunciation. Though Americans often stick out like a sore thumb in foreign cities, it is especially easy to identity the native from the non-native speakers because the latter’s accents botch the language.
In spite of the fact that I could not communicate in the city, I fell head over heels. While I certainly did not dress nearly as well, I felt like Carrie Bradshaw during her rendezvous in Paris with her French “lover.” The apartments with crowded terraces, the passing cars on the busy highways, the people walking along the streets bundled in their winter coats; everything was so simple, yet simultaneously so different. Everything was French and thus incredibly new and distinctive. Magical is the best word I can use to describe my sixty plus hours in Paris.
During those fleeting hours, I explored the top sites on the to-see list when traveling to the capital of France.On my first full day, I visited the immaculate palace of Versailles, the project of French king Louis XIV. As evident by the extraordinary structure and richness of the palace, Louis was a man who knew what he wanted and went for it. Undeterred by the high costs and the resulting need to increase the taxes of the French bourgeoisie, the king created a home laced with gold and marble, teeming with high chandeliers, a hall of mirrors, and frescoes honoring the Gods of Roman mythology. Later family members further enhanced the real estate value with the addition of stables, fountains, and a pink marble apartment for the queen that resembled Barbie’s dream home. Although his later descendants, including Louis XVI and wife Marie Antoniette, were killed in connection with their extravagant lifestyle, Louis XIV thoroughly enjoyed his life of grandeur and opulence.
Although I am spending the semester studying in Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, notably, is not the home to one of the period’s most famous paintings: Mona Lisa. To see it, I headed to the brilliant architectural wonder that is the Louvre and walked through the Egyptian, Medieval, and Grecian corridors of the museum in search of the world’s most iconic portrait. While she is smaller than one might expect of typical Renaissance paintings, Mona Lisa is nonetheless a remarkable sight. Her smile is captivating and her eyes mysterious as they follow viewers from every angle. I saw so much in the Louvre, including the Venus de Milo and the Wedding at Cana, but because the Mona Lisa’s presence is so enthralling, it is difficult for me to recall what else I viewed.
A trip to Paris would not be complete without a visit to the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower. Although a beautiful church inside and outside, the attraction of Notre Dame is elevated by the mystery of Victor Hugo’s famous hunchback; one can even climb to the towers of the cathedral and admire the gothic gargoyles and hear the ringing of the iconic bells at the turn of the hour. Even more, the towers offer expansive views overlooking the city. Unlike the repetitious brown roofs that dominate the Tuscan landscape, the view of Paris highlights its role as both a modern and an antique city. Skyscrapers glitter in the sunlight; the clothing on laundry lines flutter in the wind; and hurch spires and palatial domes distort the patterns of the skyline. All the while, the Eiffel Tower dominates the scene.
The Eiffel Tower to the French is what the Statue of Liberty is to Americans. It is a symbol of hope, triumph, and inspiration. From the ground, it is an architectural marvel with its brown iron supports and its striking shape. From the more than six hundred stairs above, the tower lends itself as a platform to the city. Just like the view from the towers of Notre Dame, the skyline of Paris is illuminated and magical. Never had I felt so blessed and so fortunate than the moment I stood overlooking the Parisian city side with the sun setting in the distance.
Although I only spent two full days in Paris, it is a destination whose charm is already luring me back for visit.