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Monday, November 21, 2011

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH PARIS



With only 24 short hours to be in Paris, I was happy to continue the long distance love affair this past weekend. I was able to go through Paris on my way back from Copenhagen for the same exact price and jumped at the chance. And although 24 hours is oh so short a time to be in the beautiful city of lights, I tried to make the most of it.

My adventure began by meeting up with my friend, Stephanie, a cousin in the home-stay family that I lived with 12 1/2 years ago (wow...has it been that long???!!!) We had a nice dinner while sitting outside by Rue Mouffetard, in the 5th arrondissement. Ahhhh, Rue Mouffetard. With your cobblestone quaintness and wafting perfumes of fondue and crepes, I'm a sucker for you every time. (I'm sorry to report to all you Midd Paris Kids that our favorite Crepe guy at the very top of the Mouffe is no longer there! I mean, really, it's only been a dozen years...what nerve!)



We then walked by Paris III, where I used to study in College, and down to Place d'Italie. We jumped on the metro and headed over to...le Tour Eiffel, bien sur! Oh, and she is just as belle as she has ever been. (am I allowed to give a blatant phallic symbol a new female identity?) We crossed the Seine and climbed the stairs up to the Trocadero and just waited for midnight. And anyone who has ever loved and experienced Paris in the last decade knows the magic that can come alive at midnight. The Eiffel Tower, already lit up like a Christmas tree, begins to sparkle and explode with light, like fire crackers or fire works, for a good 5 minutes. And in that moment, there's nothing more beautiful in the world then standing next to 100 other mystified onlookers, all standing in a reverent hushed silence, as they breathe in the amazing light show.




After sharing in the joy that is a Parisian crepe and spending 4 wonderful hours catching up on every detail of life, Stephanie and I finally said adieu. I then headed towards the street that never sleeps: the Champs Elysee. Oh, Champs Elysee, Oh Champs Elysee, au soleil, sous la pluie, a midi, ou a minuit, il y a tout ce que vous voulez, aux Champs Elysee. I just couldn't help singing the song to myself over and over again as I strolled down the Champs, alive with people (including families pushing babies in strollers) at 1am in the morning. With the Arc de Triomphe standing proudly to the West, the grand, lit-up ferris wheel near the place de Concord to the East, and the trees lining the boulevard dangling crystal discs that catch and reflect the colors and lights of the street, the Champs sparkled and pulsed with electric energy. I walked and walked, soaking in the people of all ages and backgrounds, dressed to the nine's and heading in all directions. Finally, when the ferris wheel lights in the approaching distance turned off, I knew that it was a sign for me to head home. I jumped on the metro and got off near l'Opera, just a few blocks from the apartment in the chic 2nd arrondissment neighborhood where I stayed. Slowly coming down from my Paris high, I finally drifted to sleep around 3am, with visions of nutella crepes dancing in my head.



The next morning, being the over achiever who thinks that she can do it all that I am, I rushed up to one of my favorite neighborhoods, Montmartre, before my 11am brunch with my home-stay sisters. It was a gorgeous, sunny Sunday morning, with Parisians happily strolling the streets of this hilly neighborhood, picking up their baguettes and pain au chocolats from the local Boulanger/Patisserie, oranges and apples from the neighborhood epicerie and well chosen cheeses from the fromagerie. I popped into a Boulanger and ordered a simple croissant and tempting pain au chocolat for breakfast #1. And then, with horrible American manners, and due to my very short time window to see my favorite city view, I ate these delicious treasures as I walked towards the Sacre Coeur Cathedral. (My home-stay family would be horrified! No respectable Parisian would ever eat while walking...croissants and pain au chocolats are to be savored at outside cafe tables with a friend and a small cup of strong, perfect coffee.)



As I weaved in and out of the small neighborhood streets, lines overhead with dangling pieces of sun drying laundry and each apartment window box full of brightly colored flowers, I saw the Cathedral peaking through in the distance. I've always had a special affinity for the Sacre Coeur (though, I guess in truth, just about everyone who sees it does.) I slowly began the climb up the grassy area below the great Montmartre temple, stopping along the way to take a picture of a beloved sign: "La pelouse repose...the grass is sleeping." (This one's for you, Jen!) As I made it to the top, I turned to catch my breath, from both the steep climb and gorgeous view of the city. And there it was, Paris laid out in early morning light...the Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle, where I and my beloved home-stay mother, Martine (may she rest in peace), home-stay sister, Natalie, and fellow Midd friends all witnessed an amazing orchestra concert 13 years ago, as we reveled in the murals and majesty of our surroundings. The Pont Alexandre, where I met friends for countless late-night strolls along the Seine when I was a student, discussing the meaning of life and where Senior year and beyond would take us. The Louvre, which has always been as beautiful on the outside as the famous works within it, and which was always a sign to me during my year abroad that I was getting close to home, in the 8th arrondissment.





Unfortunately, I had no time to explore the terribly touristy and yet somehow still charming streets of Montmartre, or to even go inside the Sacre Coeur itself. So, I just waved to the city, nodded appreciatively to the great church, and headed down the winding, narrow streets towards the Chateau Rouge metro stop. 30 minutes later, I was meeting my French home-stay sisters, Natalie and Marianne, by the fountain in the middle of my favorite garden: le Luxembourg. Not surprisingly, I was quite late, but they forgave me right away and after taking a few commemorative photos, we headed off for a proper French meal. This took us back to Place de la Contrescarpe, at the top of Rue Mouffetard, for an outside brunch by the lovely square's fountain.


It was so wonderful to catch up with these two women...hear their stories of their young children and families, where jobs and travel and overall life have taken them the last several years. We reminisced about Natalie's amazing, simple wedding 6 1/2 years ago, in the Alps. I remember picking flowers in the mountain fields that morning for Natalie's bouquet, with Martine and Marianne, and being in true awe of my surroundings. I remember seeing Martine for the very last time a few days later, on Bastille Day...seeing her face light up with joy as we sat on a gorgeous Paris rooftop only a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower, watching fireworks explode. She was so beautiful that night...so happy. That is the way I always like to remember her.

After lunch, Natalie and Marianne appeased my desire to walk through the Latin Quarter and head to my last major conquest of the trip: the Notre Dame, Seine and Louvre. We stopped along the way at one of the best frommageries in the city, we sampled a few delicious morsels and I finally chose and had vacuum sealed a beautiful Camembert and additional assortment of wonderfully odorous French cheeses for Mark. As we came to Place St. Michel, we looked up at the great Notre-Dame. After years of preservation and cleanings, the old Dame now gleams like new...quite a lovely surprise. We crossed the road and followed the crowds inside, enjoying a few quiet moments in that sacred space, while listening to the morning mass choir.




Next, we headed west on the Seine, enjoying the warmth and brightness of the day and sharing story upon story. We arrived at our final destination and took in the great Louvre palace. Even Marianne and Natalie admitted that it never ceases to amaze them, after all these years, how beautiful this space is. We lingered a moment, took pictures and just enjoyed the surroundings. Yet, my flight back to America was calling, and we had to jump on a bus to make it back in time to pick up my belongings. Marianne and I bid adieu and Natalie accompanied me to the airport, for another wonderful hour of sharing and tearful goodbye. As I sat in my windowseat on the plane, and looked out at the great city below me, disappearing in the distance, I said a special prayer. God, please bless these women and their families until next we meet. Please pave the way for Mark and family members to share in this magic with me one day. And please bless this amazing city and country, until we are reunited again.



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