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Nothing like a good, excessively alliterative blog title to get you going in the morning! (Also: consonance, for those who would point it out.)
After escaping my first experience with Parisian con-men, I quickly made my way up the stairs—at least two hundred if not many more—and feasted my eyes on the stunning church–egg-shell white with half-egg shaped spires. As I turned around I saw all of Paris, and much of France, stretched out gloriously before me in the morning haze. Already I had the feeling that I might never live in the States again if I could help it.
I entered the church and found myself literally breathless as my eyes absorbed the beauty of the mammoth construction. As I remembered to inhale, I examined the meticulously painted walls and the carved columns and ceiling.
I settled into a pew and read a few passages from the Bible in front of me. Then I looked up to where I saw four giant angles watching over the service. They hang, immense from the four corners of the nave. They are giants, yet they hover so delicately over the congregation that they create a sensation of warmth and protection. It’s almost enough to turn an atheist devout.
I left and descended once more into the streets of Paris, the tiny, worn stones where pedestrians mingle with cars and three card monte is played with abandon as the scent of bread and roasted chicken and fish and chocolate and gasoline and urine mix with the sounds of hawkers shouting and knives cutting and bags crinkling and French being mumbled between couples. The curbs are lined, thick, with cigarette butts. There are a surprising number of Chinese and Japanese restaurants. There are no mimes.
Hungry, I kept my eyes peeled for a small, local-looking patisserie to enjoy my breakfast from. I found one on a side street and entered, crucial French phrases locked in my mind, unused. I felt butterflies as if I were to go on stage before an audience of thousands. “Bonjour! Je voudrais un quiche.” She asked me something that sounded like the word for ham, so I just nodded vigorously and waited to see what the register said. I dropped my Euros into the shopkeeper’s hand and bid her, “Au revoir!” I set off in search of the grand Parisian landmarks, my spirits lifted considerably by the successful exchange.
After a bit of aimless walking I found myself unexpectedly before the Louvre. It was late in the day so I decided to put off the museum for another time and continued my walk south. I crossed a bridge to the south bank in search of Notre Dame whose bell towers I could just glimpse from where I was.
Halfway across the bridge my eyes fell on the top half of the Eiffel Tower, rising up out of Paris, over the building tops, proud. I stopped, dead in my tracks, a mind-bending flood of emotion sweeping over me. I truly am in Europe. This is the grand tradition I have always dreamed of. My chest tightened as my attention focused—the sound of the Seine beneath my feet, the pedestrians around me, the Tower in the distance. So incredibly real, so painfully surreal.