Sunday, December 14, 2008

The City of Lights

How am I supposed to capture my experience in the beautiful Paris within these swift scratchings on a page? The entire time I was there, moment bled into moment, memory into memory. I do have distinct recollections of the specific monuments and buildings that I visited, but when I attempt to pierce the dreamy fog of my experience, I find it difficult to separate one museum from another. This is not because I didn't treasure every painting that and sculpture that I could, but there was just too much art to take in at once!

Even now, I can still dwell in awe upon the The Raft of the Medusa, gaze in rapture at Psyche and Cupid, or even stand in amazement before Nike of Samothrace. So many pieces of art struck me and enthralled me that I cannot begin to ever remember them all.

However, the beginning is always a good place to start. My friend Laura and I had the opportunity to leave Harlaxton on November 12th, a Wednesday afternoon. So, we caught a train to Nottingham and then made it to East Midlands Airport. From there, we flew into Paris. When we first arrived, I realized that Paris was going to be the first place I really had to work hard to navigate. But, after some work, we made it to our hostel, this first one being where we spent two of our four nights.

The next morning, we took off and begun our exploration of Paris at a place that I had always wanted to visit: the Eiffel Tower. The line was not too long, so we got up to the third and uppermost level of the tower pretty quickly. I still cannot decide what I liked more, the tower or the view. Looking around, I saw Notre Dame Cathedral for the first time far off in the distance, caught a glimpse of the Arc d' Triumph, and even spied the Louvre. It is just an absolutely gorgeous city, one easily dominated by this iconographic tower, an engineering marvel.

From there, we went straight to the Arc d' Triumph. There was a small, pleasant museum inside of it, but nothing extravagant. I had always envisioned seeing this monument, a dream which was not disappointed. The friezes that decorate the outside of this arch are magnificent. Once again, I found myself wistfully wishing that my own country was so dominated by historical markers while I gazed over this city from the top of this wonderful piece of architecture.

After that, we made it to the Louvre, which was the first French palace that I ever approached, but definitely not the last one. After all, the number of French palaces is almost without number. With so many large buildings that can have no other possible purpose, it is no wonder that so many museums are housed in Paris. I remained in the Louvre until it closed, and I focused mainly on sculptures this first time. I saw a lot of Greek sculpture, the Venus de Milo, Nike of Samothrace, wandered through every piece of sculpture I could find, and found myself transfixed before Cupid and Psyche. Something about this piece of artwork simply captivated me. I also did make it to a group of paintings, which included the Mona Lisa (which I found less impressive than the world does), The Raft of Medusa, and Liberty Guiding the People, just to mention a few.

That evening, Laura and I had a mix-up when we tried to regroup, so I continued on the Orsay Museum, which is full of works by pre-impressionists and impressionists. I can still see a painting by Ingres before my mind, which is simply the first of many artists that flitted across my vision that night. I still remember my surprise at seeing two rather large paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec, my joyful relaxation at seeing more works by Degas, an eager fascination with a Van Gogh, my peaceful enjoyment of Monet's light study of Rouen Cathedral. I wish I could vividly remember each and every painting, but I cannot. Memory is like a sieve.

I made it back to the hostel that evening, and the next morning we had to continue on to our next hostel. So, we made it to Gare Lyon and started wandering around. At one point, I asked a Frenchman for directions in English, he made it clear that he did not understand English, but asked if I knew Spanish. Thus, an American got directions from a Frenchman through Spanish. It was quite entertaining. We eventually got where we were going, and then hopped back onto the Paris tube and went to the very heart of the city—the Île de la Cité upon which Notre Dame Cathedral stands.

It was so utterly... majestic, so uniquely impressive. I've seen cathedral after cathedral, church after church ever since I've been here, but the uniqueness of each one never ceases to surprise. I loved the chance to explore the cathedral and then to go up into the two main towers. However, seeing the inside of the bell tower was fabulous, the largest bell being the pinnacle of the journey, which Quasimodo would have rung only on special occasions. ;)

After that, Laura and I grabbed a quick lunch before we went back to the Louvre. I blazed through as much of that museum as possible, knowing that I wouldn't be able to make it back there for some time. To finish it off, I added some more prints and postcards to my collection. We then tried to go back to the Orsay Museum, but had my knowledge of museum hours proved themselves inaccurate. After that, I went back to the Louvre again, discovered that I had displaced my museum pass, and so just grabbed some dinner before grabbing the tube back home.

However, the third and final day proved to be a ridiculously busy day. We started off with some time well spent at the Orsay Museum, and this time I added to my already large number of prints and postcards. Instead of tackling the whole museum again, I stopped by The Spring by Ingres, Manet's Olympia, and The Fifer, also by Manet. After that, I went up and just resolved into quiet contemplation of the impressionist gallery.

From there, we went to the Orangerie Museum, which had eight absolutely magnificent waterlily paintings by Monet, as well as another set of impressionist paintings—and there's a series by Renoir that catches my focus every single time. I can't help but find any of these particular paintings captivating when I lay eyes on them. After that, we went to the Rodin Museum and I got to see the original Gates of Hell as well as all of the pieces of sculpture that it inspired him to create. It was absolutely spectacular. I loved it.

A quick saunter over to Napoleon's Tomb was the next on the agenda, which had the misfortune of taking a while. It was in an area behind a cathedral, one which I actually found unremarkable for a cathedral. After that, it was back on to the tube. Laura then went back to our hostel and I continued on to the Eiffel Tower again and walked up to the second of three stories because it was cheaper, even if my feet were rather upset by the end of it.

After that, I ended my last free time in Paris with a night river tour of the Seine. My time at Eiffel Tower and upon the river truly revealed with this magnificent place is called the City of Lights! It was absolutely gorgeous. It was so enjoyable to simply sit back and listen to the history of the place, even if I cannot remember a word of it now.

The rest of my time was spent stopping by the Gare du Nord to grab some train tickets back to London, and since the best prices were for the earliest train in the morning, we took it and arrived safely back in Grantham.

Despite how much time I spent there, I need at least another week there to see everything I want to in the time that I would like to. So much to see and so little time.

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Asking for time to decipher the signs...

What is there to know? I'm just another guy trying to figure out what it means to truly love, to truly live, to embrace life to the fullest. If I ever get some answers, I'll let you know. "So live on, / Breathing in every sigh / Hurt and joy / Truly living life to its fullness / Leaving no dream unturned / Or unfulfilled / Live on / Life awaits" -excerpt from "Nostalgia" by me.