Once upon a time, I claimed that Paris is not the immediately romantic place that everyone says it is. That the Parisians are human beings, smokers and workers and thieves, kind and cruel, loving and hate-filled. But I also said that you need to make your own romance, and it makes me happy that every time I visit I see so many people doing just that. Is there not something really special about holding hands walking along the Seine? I think there is. Being there alone was a strange experience for all that.
My first day back in Paris, I walked. A lot. I walked from lunchtime until well into the evening, and saw just about every monument and building that attracts the attention of tourists in the city. I visited the Eiffel Tower and got hassled by pushy salesmen with worthless trinkets, watched couples vandalising precious architecture by attaching padlocks to it and had my heart warmed by a little girl telling off her Dad for using the flash on his DSLR – “Don’t use flash!” she complained, “it kills the photo!”. Damn straight, little girl – you will be spared when the glorious revolution comes.
One of the things I found myself doing quite a bit on my lengthy walk around Paris was offering to take photos of couples struggling in vain to take selfies together in front of Paris landmarks. After a while, I started to feel like a very mild superhero. I know it sounds silly, but it felt good to help people out. Everyone deserves a photo of themselves with someone they love in Paris, and I hope that I contributed a tiny bit to some special memories like the ones that are so dear to me.
In a particularly jarring change of tone from the touchy-feely romance I just finished describing, one of my stops along the way was Paul McCarthy’s “Chocolate Factory” exhibition at the Monnaie de Paris. McCarthy attained no small amount of notoriety for his ‘Tree’ in Place Vendome earlier this year, the discussion of which in the media was extremely amusing. This, like many things here in Europe, was free for me, and I’m glad about that. I can’t profess to have liked the exhibition, which has been described as “nightmarish”: room after room filled with giant chocolate sex toys with a sound and light show of the artist reading his criticisms out loud. Combine that with the smell of melting chocolate and – for me at least – it was a recipe for nausea. It’s certainly provocative, I’ll give it that.
Last time I was in Paris, I quickly learnt that it’s nearly futile to plan more than one thing a day – lines form quickly in the afternoons, with expected wait times sometimes exceeding three hours. Sheesh, what a way to waste a day. It also pays to get up early. It was with this idea in mind that I sat in the Jardin des Plantes in front of the Natural History Museum, watching firemen jogging around the park and talking to Alex on the phone. Oh yeah – turns out the 4G is very good in Paris. Called home without a hitch. That was really nice.
The Natural History Museum in Paris is actually four museums, distributed around the Jardin. One was closed for renovation, so I picked the two that I wanted to visit most – the Grand Gallery of Evolution and the Museum of Palaeontology. Even before it opened, the line for the Grand Gallery was impressively long, but I got in near the start – and for free, again.
What can one really say about an attraction like this? The collection is spectacularly complete and housed in a building nearly as impressive. I quite enjoyed the profusion of information that was available there, as well, about how evolution works and how it shaped the way the world is today over the last few hundreds of millions of years.
The Palaeontology Museum was also thoroughly enjoyable – good grief, I’ve never seen so many bones in one place before. Animals of all shapes and sizes, all the way from huge dinosaurs down to tiny shelled sea creatures. Naturally, the dinosaur part was my favourite, although I did also like the sections about early ancestors of human beings – Evolution really is king, when it comes to Natural History.
On my last day in Paris before returning home, I met up with a Japanese friend I had made here in France on my last visit in 2012. It’s funny how being two foreigners can bring you closer together, although we spent the entire day speaking French. Experiences like this really emphasise the value of learning a foreign language – it’s one thing to be able to communicate with native speakers, but there’s another whole realm of people who share that language as a second, or third (or fourth, or fifth). Particularly valuable in this case given that I don’t speak a word of Japanese. We walked, had lunch, had coffee in a pretty sidestreet and just caught up and got to know each other a bit better. Before then, we’d really only met a few times – and shared a class or two. After, it felt like we’d been friends for ages. It was a great day.
As I often am, I was glad to be going home once I got on the train. The idea of being in your own bed gets intoxicating after a while, and I missed my housemates a bit, too. Still, I’m always sad to leave Paris, and this marked the end of my vacation and my return to work – such as it is. I had a good time.