These first couple days in Paris have been so full. Full of catching up with old friends, full of running around sorting out administrative details, full of wearily dragging myself around this beautiful city as my body refuses to adjust to the time difference. So full and still so wonderful. Here are some glimpses at the last couple days.
Paris taught me to love cities.
In my soul, I am not a city person. I grew up in the country, went to college in a little town in nowhere Michigan, and then flew to Paris with no idea about city living. It is the city that taught me about navigating public transportation, delighting in small living spaces, and making the entire metropolitan area a place I could call my own. It is the city that set my standard for cities, which is why London and New York, while boasting many wonderful things, couldn’t compete. Too big. Too tall. Too functional. Too unlike my imagined version of themselves.
But now, another city has become home and educated me in additional ways of city living. For the first time, my return to this city has another city that stands as a silent comparison in daily life. I revel in the Paris metro wait of a minute or two, versus DC’s lovely yet highly inefficient routine waits of 12-15 minutes. I delight in the aged buildings from all centuries that crowd together versus DC’s carefully planned and orchestrated flow. And yet, I also see things that I didn’t notice before, things like the trash and metro smell that are absent from DC’s relatively pristine conditions.
I’ll be honest, I felt a little disheartened at some of the things I now notice. That, combined with some administrative annoyances and my exhaustion (seriously body, it isn’t that big of a time difference – what is the deal???) had me in dire need of a Paris moment yesterday, one of those magic moments that floods me with irrepressible love for this city.
Ask and ye shall receive.
I spent a good bit of yesterday afternoon reading at a café in Saint-Germaine, nobly trying to continue through the reading list for my PhD exams. Afterwards, I just set off, ambling back to where I am staying, wandering across the Ile de la cité and down the Rue de Rivoli, turning into the colonnades and courtyards of the Louvre. It started raining and as I ducked into the courtyard, I heard it, that beautifully mournful swelling sound that a cello makes, echoing off the aged stone walls of the Louvre. I slipped into the colonnade and listened to the man playing.
And then I promptly burst into tears. Not the little kind, but the bordering on the ugly-cry, snot from your nose kind. After a couple songs, the cellist looked up and saw me blubbering and as there was no one else passing through, he just laid aside his instrument and came to give me a big hug, while I just continued crying and stammering things about “the beauty” and “the music” and “the gift to humanity” into his shoulder. After a rather convoluted talk that involved Saussurian linguistics (“Between sign and signifier, there is interpretation and that is where the music takes us!”), he went back to playing and I went back to crying calmly in a corner, before finally walking home as the rain lifted and the feeblest little sunset peeked through the clouds.
And I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect moment to remind me why I love this city, this beautiful, exhausting, mysterious, dirty, and perfect city.