Day 18 - Paris, France: On the nature of being a tourist
I spent the early morning in the second Disney Park (Walt Disney Studios) to make sure that I got a chance to eat Ratatouille in Chez Remy while I was there. If the pictures earlier don’t do it justice, the experience was spectacular, as if I was being transplanted inside of the restaurant in Ratatouille. It’s one of the movies that has framed my expectations for Parisian life.
Yet, I realize (and always have) that this is just a construction, as most representations of France in popular media. This creates the imperative to experience places with your own senses, and to form opinions and impressions that are entirely yours.
I was very lucky to have been put in touch with another friend in Paris, who offered to show me around briefly during the evening. Having an opportunity to learn from a local, especially when you have limited time to experience any particular place, is a rarity to be celebrated.
Asked to meet near the exit of the Blanche station (there was only one exit) I made my way via metro fairly easily. When I walked out of the metro station, I was in for a huge surprise. On the corner nearest to me was was appeared to be a nude bar, on the other, the Moulin Rouge, on directly in the park outside the station were hundreds of people praying and taking pictures. It was a strange juxtaposition, and certainly a far cry from my other experiences thus far in Paris.
With some time to spare, I bought a crepe from a street vendor and proceeded to walk over to the Starbucks on the opposite side of the intersection. My new friend met me there, and we proceeded to walk through the area in search of a new bar that she had heard about. The bar, which was closed when we arrived, provided an opportunity to walk through a significant portion of Paris in search of a place with open seating outside for a drink.
We proceeded through Montmartre, stopping by the terrace to familiarize myself with where we were by learning what some of the buildings were in the distance. I could see the Notre Dame cathedral, and the modern art museum (a blue and red roofed monstrosity from a distance), and a gathering of trees obscuring the view of the Eiffel Tower from the vista.
At this time of night, Montmartre is packed with people, complete with the crowd of resellers hoping to capitalize on tourists by selling beer or trinkets. At this point I’m starting to silence the continuous shouting of “One Euro! One Euro!” as I pass through places like this. My guide, we shall call her S, makes the point that although tourist spots may have a slightly repugnant reputation, there is a reason that they became tourist spots at all. I agree, and I feel as though they are like whirlpools in our collective unconscious. As people gather, the sites continue to grow as small changes or additions are made to the surrounding areas and their meaning is altered or renewed or lost entirely. In a way, that makes them fascinating in their own right.
Passing through Montmartre and starting to realize the changes in the streets and buildings from rigidly geometric uniformity to cobblestone brooks, we found a small place with an open seat. I tried a drink there that was flavored of anise, and you had to put both ice and water into the glass before drinking (I very nearly had a rude surprise).
Walking back to the metro, we passed by the cafe from Amelie (so I snuck in for a photograph!). Therefore I started and ended the day with an experience reminiscent of films that informed my views of France, and in between really got a chance to learn what it was like to begin taking my first steps towards experiencing Paris as a local.
As with M and H from the night prior, I have been extraordinary lucky to learn from someone knowledgeable and passionate about the history and culture of their own city. May she forever continue to have that passion for the world around her, as it is a rare gift and will lead her to a much richer life than most.