… but the three days Eva and I spent walking and subway-ing through Paris last weekend mostly told me that it is a big city, an old city with a variegated population and good food. But I did not become enamored of the city. I can say that our two weeks last year in Bretagne, near the sea, was very enjoyable and satisfying. As I continue to discover, any big city does not reflect the entire nation in which it resides, nor does a state in the case of any of the United States. Anchorage is not Alaska. Dallas is not Texas. Los Angeles is its own world. And Kabul is not Afghanistan, as I discovered in the summer of 2005. Paris is very much like other big cities I have lived in and visited: San Francisco (my birth city), Brooklyn/Manhattan, Chicago.
I found the Eiffel Tower interesting but not charming. It is an engineering marvel, to be sure, but it is a monument entirely to itself.
The two churches we visited (Sacré-Coeur and Notre Dame) were awesome in their anachronistic grandeur and reeked of soulfulness and history, but seemed to be used, sad to say, mostly as tourist attractions.
The Metro was quite useful and efficient; we traveled all parts of it during most of the hours of the day.
I enjoyed a great deal the ancient cemetery of Paris, about which I will quote a description:
“The Père La Chaise cemetery is located on top of a hill in the Eastern part of Paris. The famous Parisian dead city’s name comes from Louis XIV’s religious adviser Père La Chaise. With 100 000 tombs for 44 hectares, it is the biggest Parisian cemetery. This place became famous thanks to its woods, narrow paths, shady places and atmosphere of peace, more than for buried celebrities. Pere Lachaise owns its proper streets and history. Starting from 1820 the rich people took possession of the cemetery. Their desire to show their wealth and strength was rendered and written on their tombs. On the 28th of May 1871 the cemetery became a place of tragedy when the last peace protectors of Paris were shot against the “mur des Fédérés”. As any city, the dead city has its own uptown where Oscar Wilde, Proust, Heloïse, Abélard, La Fontaine, Molière, Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison decided to rest within the peaceful alleys, the birds, and the statues.”
We could not possibly visit all the tombs, graves and memorials, but we did visit a number of artists, composers and authors. The graves most popular and with fresh flowers, among those that we visited, were of Frederic Chopin, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde. I also visited Georges Bizet, Georges Enesco and Luigi Cherubini, among others.
The Picasso Museum was quite good, but as with all museums it is hard to relax with such crowds surrounding and jostling you. One can get only a surface impression of the artist and how he expresses his visions of the universe.
The food was uniformly good to excellent at moderate prices for a big city.
We visited the San Francisco Book Company, a secondhand shop. I chatted with the owner who had had similar shops, beginning in San Francisco and in other US cities, but has settled here. I bought “Freedom or Death” by Nikos Kazantzakis for 7 euros.
Our inexpensive hotel room in the 13th Arrondissement was just big enough to hold two small beds, a dresser and two small night tables, along with a toilet and shower. Just enough.
The Post-election riots were (and still are at this writing?) in the 11th Arrondissement, near the Cemetery. Sunday was the day of voting, but I did not see where people voted, despite the 85% turnout.
There is more to tell, especially if one has read sufficiently about the French Revolution and the years surrounding it, to the present. I highly recommend “Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution” by Ruth Scurr. There are a great many public monuments to heroes and ideals, most of which I find oppressive. I much prefer to watch the colorful people from all over the world that comprise this international capital. It is notable, I think, that one of the great department stores has signs both in English and French.
So, did we enjoy ourselves? Yes. It is necessary to see Paris.