Part three of a four-part series on my experiences and observations in the City of Light.
Paris: The City
Paris, like most big cities, is beautiful yet dirty. Being a city girl myself, that’s never bothered me. My other favorite city, New York, is also beautiful and dirty. I always look past the ugly to appreciate the beauty within – the spirit of the city.
I had to make a difficult admission before leaving for our trip: I would be the dreaded “T” word (tourist). In past travels we have flown through Paris, but we had never before spent time in the city. As first-timers, I accepted the fact that we would be tourists and that is that. We would just have to visit the big sights with the throngs of other tourists – cameras and iPhones in hand.
Riding the train into the city from the airport, one thing we noticed was a lot of graffiti on the buildings – “Just like any other city,” I told Jayson. See, I can be realistic about my perfect Paris. In fact, it was an interesting juxtaposition of these incredibly old, beautiful, historic buildings with their inspiring architecture, and the modern, edgy graffiti adding another layer of art via vandalism.
When we walked out of the metro station into the sunlight and took in our first official views of Paris, we were almost immediately approached by a homeless man. Our luggage and ridiculously googly smiles as we snapped pictures within seconds of stepping on the sidewalk must have screamed “we are tourists!”
Mr. Homeless Man held a simple “gold” wedding band and asked us if we had dropped it. We said no and were immediately looking around to find the poor guy who may have lost his wedding ring, both hands still on our luggage (we may be tourists, but we’re not fools). So the man says to me, in broken English, “It’s too small for my fingers; why don’t you keep it?” We go back and forth and I finally accept it, thinking I’ll just give it to our jeweler to melt down when we get back home. We barely take two steps when Mr. Homeless Man returns to ask for a Euro for something to eat. Hmmm, sorry, we haven’t exchanged any money yet and have nothing to give. More back and forth and he finally asks for the ring back! We think nothing of it and happily move along to find our hotel.
A couple of days later, we’re walking along the Seine by the Eiffel Tower, enjoying an outdoor photographic installation. A smiling man in his late 20s or early 30s stops us to ask – wait for it – if we dropped a gold wedding band. Immediately I think “SCAM.” I mouth it to Jayson. Mr. Smiley tells us the ring is too small for his fingers but would fit on my slim fingers. Sure thing there, buddy. At this point Jayson wants the ring, so he takes it and, sure enough, the guy starts to walks away but comes right back, asking for money. Jayson gives him a Euro and happily puts his new memento in his pocket.
Later in the week we’re walking in the 5th and notice a gypsy woman eyeing tourists. My SCAM radar pops up and we start to follow her. Predictably, she pulls a wedding band out of thin air and starts walking toward us. I turn around and yell “SCAM! LIAR!” right in her face before Jayson yanks me away. I don’t even care about being that loud American, because I’ve had enough, but as we walk away I pray that she doesn’t put a hex on us.
Paris being Paris, there were tourists everywhere we went. It wasn’t so bad at the outdoor attractions (Eiffel, Jardin du Luxembourg), but the indoor ones got crowded fast. The Louvre was insanely busy, especially around the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. People were NOT nice, pushing and shoving to get their pictures. Everyone says Parisians are rude, but I found them to be helpful and patient. It was the tourists who were rude. When we were at the top of the Eiffel (in a very confined space, mind you), a group of tourists suddenly came upon us and literally jostled us out of their way. I was incredulous at their brashness but they truly didn’t seem to care. RUDE.
Despite the pushy tourists, scams and graffiti, the city of Paris is truly lovely. There is so much history in those beautiful buildings and cobblestone streets! I especially loved the intricate balconies and detailed doors and windows. Yes, everyone smokes and there are cigarette butts everywhere, but there is beauty at every turn – whether in the monuments, gardens, or the Seine River. There is art and culture, a relaxed pace, a rich past – a joie de vivre, even. And, inevitably for such a romantic city, many, many wedding rings.
OK, I’m getting off my shoebox now.