Our last evening in the city for this go round was spent as such… A final tour courtesy of JM and his favorite auto.
For the days following Bastille Day we were largely on our own in Paris, every woman for herself. This was to accommodate our different tastes and objectives for Paris and was a good thing, if for no other reason than to travel en masse necessarily brings with it the complications of group work, but I also noted that there were moments throughout my days when I considered how the trials and tribulations of a group dynamic can easily be offset by the joy of having someone to share amazing moments with. I do not think that Paris lost anything for me as I traversed the city wide-eyed with my own version of disbelief about being there, but I must say, I can recall with pristine clarity the moments I looked around for a compadre for no other reason than to exclaim: Can you believe this? Truth be told, by the middle of the first day, I was just borrowing other people and their groups with which to share my awe, I mean after all, we were all there together, crowded, sweaty, agape, amazed, dusty, sprinkled upon, craning our necks, making space… whatever. Travelers are a unique tribe, and everyone I met was completely willing to reply – I know, right? AHmazing.
Having never been to Paris (unlike all three of my fellow travelers) I was committed to seeing some of the things they all could do without. And I understand, I mean the Louvre can be overwhelming at best, and positively maddening at worst, but I was not going to miss it. And I know that I will return every time I go back to Paris, because: AHmazing.
The only things I did not see that I know I will on my return include the Luxembourg Gardens and the Bastille.
High points from these couple of days included the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile and le Musée d’Orsay. Although, the Louvre and strolling the Champs-Élysées and floating along the Seine and sidewalk cafes and riverside picnics and the Centre Pompidou did not suck.
And at the end of each day we reconvened in Clamart to share our stories, each of us infinitely pleased with our days and thrilled to hear about the others’ from parfumeries to cafes and cocktails to crowds and beau artes to vistas and gardens, from missteps to rendezvous, we had it all.
And with our own Frenchie to thank for our bon chance.
We would depart by train for Nimês on 18 July and take ourselves to Provence for some time in the country. But first one last evening in Clamart.
As it happens, I began this post one week before the bombings that took place in Paris this past November. And further (as it happens) I was consumed with sadness, frustration, and degrees of separation as I followed the stories that emerged following the attacks. I did what so many did and looked at maps and wondered, “Had I been there?” “Did I see that place?” And of course, I also recoiled and braced myself for the inevitable onslaught of hatred and vitriol that would certainly rise from the dust… the Islamaphobia, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bile. And of course, this was all around keeping the internet buzzing for days. But it did not come from Paris. What came from Paris spoke to exactly what makes Paris what it is: Parisians were not filled with fear and hate. They were not screaming about the danger and immoral nature of all people of a certain creed, ethnicity, or faith. They remained, as ever, precisely what purveyors of terror loathe: compassionate, brave, loving. Of course they were hurting and mourning but they did not let that change who they were fundamentally – at heart. For this reason, Paris won. And Paris will continue to be victorious. We (especially in my own hate-riddled nation) should all take a lesson from Paris.
And this is the spirit of Paris that I experienced and adored for my brief shining days in the City of Light this summer.
Ah, yes… Paris. Back to the city of love & light to celebrate Bastille Day! We had the good fortune to be able to stay in JM’s place in the 15th Arr. for the fete. Although he fills the space with Airbnb when he is not there, he was willing to let us squat, with one condition, one of his renters wanted to stay an extra night, which meant he would be there with us. Who were we to complain? We were in a gorgeous flat practically under the Tour Eiffel.
When we arrived, it was clear that Leon had just woken up, ah! to be a young college student on the loose in Europe again. He was sweet, if overwhelmed, as four women with what seemed like an over abundance of stuff for our brief stay (But hey! Preparation!) rolled in. As we came in Leon asked me if I was American. As I had begun to do over the previous week, I immediately apologized as I said yes (it is easy to do when one receives a regular amount of criticism for which they are immediately forgiven, “because you’re American”). Leon laughed and said, “No! I love Americans!”
Now this was a nice turn of events. Leon is a grad student in Warsaw (and one helluva smart cookie, I might add) and he had a bunch of questions about the States. He especially wanted to know about California (because who wouldn’t, says this California girl) and surfing. I told him that I had gone to school in San Diego. He looked at me with total surprise, “Really? I am going there on a doctoral exchange next year!” [Hi Leon!]
I mean, really, what are the odds? I guess they are greater than I would imagine because this sort of thing seems to keep happening, but really, this seemed so intentionally, randomly perfect: a Polish student just staying one more night because Paris, and in the house we were staying in because, Paris, and so on and so forth, because: Paris.
For Bastille Day we would stroll the city and make a picnic (here again, the dilemma of the picnic) and there was a concert in in the park at the Tour Eiffel and then of course, fireworks. The city was buzzing. And Paris has a very unique buzz (because, say it with me: Paris). It is hard to articulate… and now I find myself these weeks later still committed to writing about this summer, and the details get fuzzier, but the sensations remain palpable. The city was touched with the kind of afternoon light that remains in the northern latitudes during summer. It was warm in that way of urban places, a little sticky but not humid like we had all come to known in our years in SE Asia, a little gritty, and full up with people in various stages of their day. There was a general sense that everyone in doing their own things was also generally moving in concert with everyone else. Streets were being closed and people rerouted and everyone just seemed to be moving along, changing course when nice young French officers of the law said to do so. Maybe it was all the wine….
We had brought sandwiches (which I made, so, yum) and wine. Interestingly, we could not bring the wine bottle into to park, which explained this odd phenomenon we had been witnessing, which was people buying and then dumping out myriad bottles of water. Ahh… the wine receptacle! We followed suit. I bought a standard water bottle and drank some and dumped the rest. Then we poured the wine into the bottle. We were confused, had we purchased a lilliputian bottle of wine? Why did it seem like there was so little? Was the water bottle so big? Our volume-based comprehension hilariously off, we shrugged at our little tiny amount of wine in our giant water bottle and headed in. On seeing our teeny weenie wine stash the officers stopped us – mon dieu! “No caps on bottles!” They demanded.
Okay then, we carried on with our open sloshy bottle of wine. In hindsight, that a full bottle, plastic or otherwise, was their biggest concern seems quaint and of a time gone by.
When we arrived for the concert, seating was unavailable, as I had predicted and Frenchie had pooh-poohed. We finally just plopped down on the ground next to a lovely group of older tourists, a very jovial and friendly group of South Americans in front of us, and two sweet young Vietnamese students to our left. We made conversation, ate sandwiches, drank wine, helped people mop up spilled wine, talked about tattoos with the older folks behind us, and took in the fete. It was a basic international delight.
We planned on only taking in some of the show, and to walk back to meet Nic for the fireworks. A plan easier to conceptualize than to actualize. The throngs of people were so dense at times it seemed like we were all part of one gigantic freakish humanoid organism. We had previously deduced that getting across the river (to a better view) would be impossible with the street closures and such, so we would stay in the 15th and made our way. And really, being in central Paris for Bastille Day was not going to suck anywhere that we found ourselves. (Although, after much time to talk about it on the latter part of our journey and even more since we have all been back, I know that Frenchie was still, ever consumed with ensuring that her ill-prepared compadre [*raises hand*] and her actually ill compadre [Nic] were having a the perfect Paris experience. If only I could have better communicated at the time that for us – and I take the liberty to speak for Nic here – anything and everything was perfect.)
We slowly made our way back to the flat and found to our chagrin (more to hers I am sure) that Nic was still under the weather. No bother, we scooped her up and headed for a vantage point for the fireworks.
As did everyone else in greater Paris at that moment.
Despite of being in a kind of funny spot near the metro station on the Boulevard de Grenelle, the entire spectacle was just that: spectacular spectacular!
And there it was. The city of light.
When I heard that the Tour Eiffel had gone dark to mourn the victims of the November 13 attack, I could not imagine what it would look like, such a contrast to the Paris I had seen aglow with light. We should all be so lucky to say je suis Paris.
For the week of Bastille Day 2015 I found myself in and around gay Paris. We were primarily based in Clamart, although we would spend the night of Bastille Day itself in a sweet apartment in the 15th arrondissement.
In hindsight, weeks -no, months- out from the trip, it seems so simple, but at the time there were issues around planning, and coordinating and compromising. There are always such issues to consider when you are functioning in a group, but there were certain elements that I think made the adjustments a bit more challenging this summer: time apart, expectations, varied personalities. At the end of the day, we were four people in Paris, with everything we could possibly need or want, but in the moment, making decisions seemed really hard. The players here were three people who know each other well from living as friends and neighbors for years on an island in the South China Sea, and two siblings – one acting as a host and one as a fellow traveler.
Our first full day in Paris had us first meeting at a flea market on the north side of the city. Porte de Clignancourt is a well-known shopping area, known more commonly as Marché aux Puces. This is one of the largest antique markets in the world, which is impressive and also should make it totally apparent that I would have no idea whatsoever what we were doing here. I do not like flea markets or antiques, and I surely was not interested in adding to my neat and tidy >10 kilos of luggage for the next month with second-hand furniture. However, having not involved myself in planning, I felt like it was my responsibility to toe the line with those who had made their preferences clear. Plus there were some great photo ops. Sadly, I seem to have deleted the photo of the gigantic €500 wooden penis.
From the market, where in spite of my anti attitude towards shopping at that juncture I bought a scarf as I had lost my favorite one on the train to London, we headed to the Sacre Couer. Again, I felt like I was just bumbling along with my friends and felt myself wondering for much of the morning when they had made the plans they had, feeling simultaneously left out and relieved to not have the responsibility of possible people pleasing problems by making potentially unpopular choices. I wandered along with the group under grey skies towards what would be one of my favorite views of Paris.
It started to rain as we made our way up the steps, and I was bent on getting to the top, a choice I pushed for. I think everyone was glad they did it in the end.
Following our climb to the top of the Sacre Couer we headed to Place du Tertre. Now it was sporadically sprinkling adding a sort of appropriate melancholy to this former artists’ district that was now an overflowing tourist attraction. We sat for drinks after looking at the art and my first few dozen looks at le chat noir du Montmarte. I noticed that Parisians love dogs – seriously there are so many dogs, but they seem to really prefer cats as a motif.
From here we endeavored to navigate down Rue Lepic towards Pigalle and the Moulin Rouge, because tourists. And frankly, I was shameless. I actually considered how I might react if Ewan McGregor came flying towards me in song.
Again, I found myself wondering, how did they plan all this and where had I been? And again, I was happy someone else had done the work to make it happen. The walk was really lovely – neighborhoods and areas that I thought were eminently livable. Except for the whole being-in-France part. But all joking aside, were I able to reside Paris, and it could abide the coming of another Americane, the 18th arrondissement would be for me.
We did some food shopping and made our way back to the hotel where Nic and her sister had been staying; a side drama that had been developing was that luggage had been lost and so there was understandably much ado about this – I would have been pretty buggered myself, especially on learning that the missing bag had reappeared some twelve hours before I was notified… but overall, there was much relief on learning that the bag had returned. As we deliberated next steps I finally spoke up. Looking at all the luggage that was now in our possession, and a good six hours on our feet I was heartily in favor of taking a taxi home rather than navigating the metro – or busses (Frenchie loves busses – definitely more on this later). I stood firm on my position and felt relieved to see that it would happen.
Back at Clamart we fixed a meal and had some wine and I think felt pretty satisfied all around with our day. To sleep we went, well, everyone except me. I had taken to using the late nights to send photos home so as to maintain memory on my iPhone – a strategy that worked well through most of the trip, and I could post photos then too without it being an issue in mixed company… I have always taken a pretty good amount of shit about my use of social media from these friends so I was being sensitive to that. [I do feel that they eventually saw the benefit of my strategy, and I even got them in on the Summer-of-Selfie™. #validation]
All in all as the day had shown, it is clear I did not do the preparatory work I would normally have done for a trip (which many people would already consider pretty lightweight) because I was relying (unfairly) on Frenchie to sort out France because, she’s French. Coupled with trying not to hurt feelings when people said/suggested things that others thought completely ridiculous, we eventually sat around a lovely table in the courtyard of our host’s home and talked in circles while having our morning coffee on our second full day as a group. There was far too much “I’m fine with whatever” from my side – because let’s face it, that is a lie. And there was frustration with collective indecision from Frenchie, our de facto hostess, who while French has not lived in France for more than two decades and is not from Paris. JM seemed to find the whole thing amusing, Nic wanted to make sure everything was perfect for everyone because she is ever the caretaker for us all – which must be tiring, and I fear not outwardly appreciated enough by any of us. [As an aside, I know that for all the years I lived in HK I felt so much better knowing that with my mom was on the other side of the world, I always had someone I could call on who would ably be there for me if ever I needed her, even though I was not her own… and if I never said it aloud Nic, I am saying it now.]
The thing is, a week is simply not enough time in Paris. A fact Frenchie had made clear months earlier. Add to this that there would be a day trip to Versailles, it was Bastille Day, and we were planning on heading to the South of France in what suddenly felt like no time at all.
Frenchie suggested we focus on les classiques for our time in Paris. But even this was not consistently understood. As the only one in the group who had never been to Paris, I wanted different things, and I think I like museums more than most people… Again, as I sit here and reflect back on it, it seems so silly that there was any issue about accommodating people as we are all seasoned travelers and can manage whatever we want in most places. I think the issue was trying to please others got in the way – for (almost) everyone, and perhaps we should have been a bit more selfish.
Back at the table in Clamart, the conversation seemed adrift, but eventually some decisions were made. And as one might imagine, in the end most needs were met. And although I am still childish enough to pout about people/things that do not meet my expectations, I am proud to say I am adult enough not to put them all out here on the internet.
And really, all of this is just a big reminder about group travel – it is a unique endeavor.
Our decision for this day, July 13, 2015 was that we would go to Versailles.
And so we went.