After fifteen hours airborne over two flights–give or take a few minutes–I am back home in California. (although I’ve spent most of the last ten years in Korea, it’s still impossible to call home anywhere but the place where my family is). I am glad to be back; I am glad to have gone to London, glad to have gone to Paris; bottom line, I’m just glad.
Paris was definitely intense. It was quite different from my time in London. My time in London was defined by the series of experiences that I had, the different places that I went to and the separate things that I did. So it is rather easy to list the highlights (Buckhingham Palace State Rooms, Wimbledon Tour, services at the Westminster Abbey.).
In contrast, my Paris experience seems to have been intertwined and overlapping, all adding to a single tapestry of an experience. Paris proved not to be dividable, either by time or by events; in a way, it was a state of mind that I found myself in the whole time that I was there. It wasn’t a matter of me doing this and that in Paris; rather, I was Paris, and Paris was me. It is as simple–and complicated–as that.
I suppose I’m sounding rather abstract, perhaps ludicrously metaphysical. And I don’t want to idealize Paris to the point of self-serving lyricalism. There is no denying that in many ways, Paris was a challenge. But I do believe that it was one that I came to meet. I was supposed to go, of that much I am sure.
Here are some things from Paris that I will remember:
* WALKING * Walking, walking, walking. Anywhere and everywhere. Across, left to right, right to left, and up, up, up (the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Trimophe, Notre Dame). Always onward.
* HUNGER * All that walking led to great hunger, as can be expected. Unfortunately, the price of food in Paris is Eiffel-high, and I treated myself to one full meal per day, munching on small sandwiches, paninis, pastries and plain bread the rest of the day. As a result, I was paradoxically very hungry and absolutely sick of bread-based food items at the same time. Also, with water also being astonishingly expensive, I drank gallons of a vitamin fruit juice that the local supermarket was fortunately selling at a heavy discount.
* THE METRO * In both London and Paris, mastering the Underground/Metro systems was half the battle towards feeling comfortable moving about the city. In Paris, I had no problems towards getting a hold of the Navigo card with a no-limit, one-week pass. Go to one of the larger Metro stations early in the week (preferably Monday), find the photo booth, take a passport-sized photo, bring the photo to the Informations monsieur at the station, tell him, “Un Navigo decouverte, si-vous-plait, avec un semaine.” Don’t feel bad about starting transactions with pidgin French; you’ll get used to it surprisingly quickly.
* TORI AMOS * A dream come true. I shudder to think at how dorky I acted when I met her before the show (I’ll keep the details to myself), but the concert itself was amazing. I’m not just kissing Tori’s ass; I saw her in Los Angeles a few years back–when I was attending graduate school–and while she was good then, she didn’t blow me away. This time, she did. And then some.
* JOINING THE PARISIAN PAPARAZZI * Yes, for a few minutes, there I was with my Samsung digital camera with the rest of the media mob clicking away at the glamorous glitterati. Here’s what happened. There I was, having spent several hours walking through the Louvre Museum–amazing and a must, yes, but rather stuffy and stern, in both its atmosphere and art, and I ended up enjoying the Musee D’Orsay far more–and after exiting, I sat down on some steps to rest. I soon noticed that there was a big white tent set up to the side of the museum exit, and there was a sizable crowd of people mulling about, clearly waiting for something.
Soon a car pulled up, much of the crowd rushed towards it suddenly wielding cameras; I stood up to see what was going on; and from the car comes a pretty woman in a blue dress that I catch a glimpse of before she was surrounded by the frenzied mob. The woman looked awfully familiar, and the thought suddenly dawned on me, ‘Hey, that’s the girl from that Slumdog movie.’ Yes, it was the actress from Slumdog Millionaire, a movie which I had seen with my family and really enjoyed, and I managed to take a picture of her myself as she walked into the big white tent with the paparazzi following at every step.
A few minutes later, the exact same thing happened, this time with the French icon Catherine Deneuve. I recognized her right away, having seen her in a movie called “Indochine.” This was getting interesting. I looked around, noticed all the reed-thin people dressed in black, holding cards with the letters YSL on them, and I finally put two and two together: it was Fashion Week in Paris (I had seen posters about it earlier), and the stars were clearly showing up for a fashion show by Yves St. Laurent (even I–whose style is more Goodwill than Gucci–knew that YSL was a big old brand, though I’m still not sure if Yves is a monsieur or a madame).
In the next 15 minutes or so, I joined the Parisian paparazzi as they chased after the following stars: the girl who plays bitchy Blair on “Gossip Girl,” Michelle Yeoh, Gong Li (she was the one I was REALLY excited to see; she’s an awesome actress), the Japanese girl who went all nude in “Babel,” and singer Katy Perry. They pretty much all looked just like they do on TV and film.
* THE MUSEE D’ORSAY * I don’t know much about art, but I do know what I like. And apparently, what I like is Impressionism over Classicism, Cubism, or any other -isms, since the Musee D’Orsay featured easily the best collection of art that I’ve ever seen. In fact, it had what are probably my three favorite paintings of all time: the one by Millet with the couple praying on the field, the one by Renoir with all the people at some kind of picnic party, and my absolute favorite, the Van Gogh one with dark blue night sky and the yellow stars and the old couple walking together at the bottom (don’t know the title, but it’s NOT the “Starry Night” one). Absolutely beautiful.
There was a lot more, but I’ll leave it here for now. I think the greatest thing that will last in me is the fact that I found myself in a foreign land with a foreign culture with a foreign language, and yes, I definitely felt fear, but I was able to overcome that fear and find layers of myself in the process. Since coming back, I feel deepened, discovered even, more myself than maybe I have ever been. It definitely has to do with confidence, but it’s not the showy kind; it’s not about strutting; I just feel… I feel like I’ve met and talked to myself and found me to be an okay guy. And having done that is going to help me on this road that lies ahead of me now. Merci, Paris.