Things I need to finish writing.
Where was I—
So I got my galette. My first French meal. It was a brown square, beautiful, crispy on the edges from the butter she put on there at the end, the jambon visible in the middle.
I started eating it the way I was supposed to, slowly, tasting, savoring, the knife in my left hand and the fork in my right, enjoying the meal, this is a delicacy.
That galette tasted like something, chéri(e). I wish I had written about this yesterday, wish I could remember better—it tasted like food is supposed to taste, I think, somehow deeper and less cheapened that food I’ve had before, like the Haussmanisation or the mountains instead of processed chicken and minimalism. The edges of the crepe were crunchy and rich, the inside of the melted cheese and creamy potatoes and jambon was so so very good and rich, the sign said jambon cru du Savoyard, and I hoped it wasn’t raw, but thought of the French man who had ordered two galettes du jour before me and thought that he wouldn’t die, so I wouldn’t either, and so I chewed my ham and kept eating.
I slowed down near the end, still feeling a bit sick from that croissant, maybe, or just getting full because it was so rich, but I needed to finish, of course.
I watched the French family to the left of me to see how and when they would pay. I’ve been using that technique throughout these past two days—how do you do anything? You watch the other people to see how they are doing it, and then you copy them. Crossing the street, using their knife and fork, paying for their meal.
I waited for a while and drank some water when I finished and discreetly poured the rest of the carafe into my water bottle (which is how I sneakily stayed hydrated throughout the day in a country without drinking fountains). Then I got up and stood by the register and the man with the accent I could hardly understand asked, “Vous êtes espagnole?” Because my quiet demeanor and obvious lack of comfort with the situation and my miscomprehension of the language certainly marked me as not française, but I spoke it well enough that they wouldn’t expect me to be an American. Just as all the people in the French House told me.
“Non, en fait, je suis américaine,” j’ai dit. “Et ici c’est la première restaurant où j’ai mangé à Paris, donc merci, c’était délicieux."
And they smiled and said bienvenue, bienvenue, bienvenue à Paris, à notre ville, and I smiled and thanked them and said au revoir and left, feeling pretty good about myself at that first French restaurant, at the fact that they thought I was espagnole, that I had eaten, that I didn’t have to worry for a while longer about food.
Because, once I had gotten out the door that morning, that was the thing I was worried about the most—the food. Dealing with the food. Figuring out where to eat. What to eat. Whether or not I could find food gluten-free. Whether I would fall apart from being so hungry. How do you even order in cafés? I decided I would deal with it as I needed it, one thing at a time, don’t worry about it until you have to. And then I found that wonderful little crêpe shop about 2pm, just as I was getting hungry, just flashed by out of the corner of my eye, and I immediately felt comfortable with it in a way that the other stores hadn’t given me, and so I went in.
So I was feeling pretty good about myself. But then I took a moment too long at the next branching crossroad on that narrow street to cross the rue, and a strange short little man slowed and approached me, slowly, “Pardon mademoiselle, est-ce que vous avez de l’argent pour la nourriture…?” quietly, kindly...
“Non, désolée,” I said, and kept walking wishing he hadn’t spoken to me, to which his demeanor immediately changed—“Sale pute,” he said angrily, to which I automatically expelled a sound of offense and frustration, and I hope he heard it, and I hope it made him realize that I knew what he was saying, and that I was offended.
So that was an interesting contrast, from espagnole to sale pute, but I kept going up that narrow rue, up to Père Lachaise.
I had been originally planning on going there, but in my panic of that morning I kind of decided against it, and so I hadn’t properly prepared to find the graves of all the famous people I wanted to see. Mais ça va, wouldn’t it? Couldn’t I just…kind of find them? I knew it might be hard…Père Lachaise is the city within the city…but it seemed possible...
So I was just walking up the rue, when I noticed to my left on the other side the opening to a park, a park that looked pleasant and lovely, and I just decided to go in.
Guess what I noticed when I went in? A little sign, purple fingerprints, “Mairie de Paris—WIFI EST LA”.
Paris Wifi! The park had free wifi!!
(Also, the Mairie of Paris is my new best friend. So many friendly signs. So many wonderful services. The Mairie of Paris made life comforting and okay for a scared American.)
So I was able to contact my mom, look up the graves I wanted to see, and get ready to go to Père Lachaise. And then I was sitting there in that park, and I realized that God had been guiding me that day, I will go before thy face, and I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do. It seems like small things in writing, and it really is, but it was exactly what I needed—the suddenness and certainty and comfort of finding that crepe place and going into that park randomly that solved my problems with two things I was very worried about—God was guiding me. That was how I could figure out my day here—follow what made me comfortable, trust in God.
I started thinking about another thing at this little park, a little place of grass stairs and a fountain and trees and a lot of people on benches and in the grass, more people than what seemed sustainable for a park this size, what I’ve been thinking about in every park, for some reason.
My design professor Bryan Howell told me to apply for internships in Paris in his email to me. Which shook me up a lot. That wasn’t the plan, that was never the plan. Design and French are two things that remain separate. I can’t leave my friends in Utah and my friend that is Utah and throw off the track of my design program by moving to Paris! In that park, I thought—can I even move to Paris? The stairs and that fountain are the closest thing to a mountain here that I’ve seen. The park is as shallow and as light brown as the rest. It’s like a paper thin stamp on the surface of the city. Don’t I need my mountains that are green and wild and deep? Don’t I need what nature can bring me?
I thought about that in that park, I thought about moving to Paris. But I realized later in the day, when the evening light made everything pale and beautiful and I walked down the Boulevard Saint-Michel past the Jardin de Luxembourg and looked at all the Haussmanisation and the way it held me close and cropped out the sky that it…seemed to fill the place of my mountains. That this architecture is somehow just as rich and varied and deep.
I love Paris, I love Paris. I’m so happy with the way I spent my first two days—walking down the back streets, the narrow Rue de la Roquette, understanding it the way it really is instead of the way the tourists see it. Mais quand même, when I came out near the Place de la Bastille after visiting Père Lachaise, I asked myself if I could really stay here seven weeks, because I felt I could understand it after a day.
But then I’ve been thinking again and again about what Howell said, about an internship, about moving here...
I realize that a semester-long internship isn’t about moving here...
But I also feel like that when I leave, I will want nothing else but to come back.
(I’m so terrified I won’t be able to like Utah after living here!)
(And after I have come to fall in love with that outdoor culture and those mountains!)
It’s just that I realized something today, while I was in the Jardin du Luxembourg, sitting quietly and watching, watching the people sitting quietly and watching, watching them not need to talk, not need to make noise, not need to do anything, just simply to contemplate and exist.
I feel like my mind is made for the culture here, chéri(e). That’s all. I feel like this is it. I feel like I’m comfortable. I feel like I fit in.
(Are more Europeans the contemplative type? Are more of them INFPs…?)
Am I denying my true self by not staying here? Would I flourish here? Would I be happier for not leaving? Would this fix everything that's wrong with me?
I’ve been here for two days, chéri(e)! How can you think about this stuff now!
(Am I supposed to be here? I thought I was supposed to be in Utah!)
(Would I be denying myself if I were to stay in Utah instead of live here? Would I be making life cheap, and a lie, dry up and turn brown?)
(But I love Utah so much, chéri(e)! I do! I do!)
And that is what I have been thinking about in parks.
But I am getting ahead of myself again—I always do—
(I’m just trying to write down every thought I’ve had these past two days!)
Okay. Père Lachaise. Père Lachaise. I got to Père Lachaise.
I had taken screenshots of all the famous peoples graves whose names I recognized, written down their plot locations in pen in my new sketchbook I hadn’t yet really used, and I got to the cemetery and took a picture of the blue map by the entrance and went into the city within the city.
And it was, chéri(e), it was amazing. It was a city within a city. They had their houses and their plots and their rues. The street was slanted and lined with tombs. It was amazing.
I wandered around the cemetery for a long long time. I slowly found all the tombs that needed to be found—Chopin, Géricault, Molière, La Fontaine, David (!!! le plus important de tous), Oscar Wilde (whose tomb I had to go way back to, but I knew I couldn’t miss), Balzac for Dad. (But I just checked, and I think the Balzac picture didn’t take…)
But more important—so many strange and wonderful tombs of people that no one will ever remember. These people used to be important, once! They were the center of a universe for somebody. They were loved, hated, respected, adored. Now they are old bones, cracked tomb, covered in moss or covered in flowers by ancestors that somehow still remember. (I read that people bring flowers on the day of the death or on All Saints Day—what about those people that still have flowers that have been dead for hundreds of years? C’est la famille? Quelle respect de la famille.)
It’s funny, because the ones that tried to build the grandest tombs and highest towers, like the pharaohs and the pyramids to remember them by after they are dead, self-aggrandizing, are not the ones we care about at all. We care about the tiny grave of Chopin that is awful to find, the half-effaced carving of the name of Jacques-Louis David, Molière and La Fontaine next to each other like brothers. We care about what these people did—we do not care about the tombs or their money.
And yet, when I stood in front of that grave of Jacques-Louis David, painter that I worship, painter that I adore, I looked at the tomb and it was just like…there it is. There’s the tomb of Jacques-Louis David. And I wanted to feel something. And yet I felt nothing.
Do you know when I did feel something? When I went to that wall in the back, the wall des Communards, where those people who were trying their best to make something beautiful out of Paris that they stood there and died.
I went to that back corner and sat on the stairs, looked at the plaque, looked at the tree. “Aux Morts de la Commune, 21-28 mai 1871.” I walked up and touched the wall and imagined the ground red with blood, thought that people died here under my feet, read the messages scrawled by modern-day communists (“We are still here, working for a better future.”), I sat on the stairs and drew the place in my new sketchbook, and I wished that the stones could talk.
I saw many strange and wonderful statues at Père Lachaise. Tombs new, old, broken, in every condition. Some were installed last year, some were just a pile of stones. I walked between the headstones on the brown dusty paths, watched the greenery of the plants, looked at cobwebs, peered into tombs felt no fear, wished I could be here at night, thought of Phantom of the Opera, wished that I could take better pictures. Concession à perpétuité.
I’ve only just now finished writing about Père Lachaise. I need to speed up. I need to hurry.
I walked back down Rue de la Roquette, stopped by the park, talked to my mom via wifi. I took pictures of the street art. I got back to la Place de la Bastille.
I was trying to get down to the Rue Saint-Antoine et la Rue de Rivoli, so I could walk to through Ile de la France and get back home, but I couldn’t because there were people everywhere, and they were blocking things. And then I saw a rainbow flag, and realized I had stumbled across a pride parade.
Look, everyone has an opinion on this right now. I’ve been trying to figure it out. Why halt ye between two opinions? I don’t know. I'm working on it. But I was in the mode of existing, so I just chilled and watched the parade in a nonjudgmental manner without feeling one way or the other.
It was very interesting, to say the least. It wasn’t so much of a pride parade as an “all love it good” parade. A big red and white truck drove by so so very slowly blasting music about love, and young people watched serenely from the windows. As it passed, people cheered and fell into line and started to follow it.
Oh, a side note that I forgot—my crappy iPod battery died in Père Lachaise while a French lady was taking a picture of me in front of the grave of Molière. But luckily, I also brought my old one with a better battery but a broken screen. Which was excellent! It was my saving grace! Because without Google Maps…I honestly wouldn’t be able to do anything.
The pride parade was great and all, but I just wanted to get to Ile de France. And it took a heck of a lot of maneuvering and figuring out where to go to avoid the streets blocked off by the parade.
I was just walking when I came across another park, Place des Vosges. Another flat, shallow park, with people in it everywhere, everywhere, sitting on all the benches and spread out evenly across the grass. Touristes, français—how do these people even choose which park to frequent?
It was kinda cool, though—it was in the center of a courtyard of a beautiful building that used to house royalty, according to the helpful “Histoire de Paris” sign that has been giving me information all this time.
I think that my favorite thing is when I just stumble across a place that doesn’t have any expectations. Then it can just ben cool for being cool. That happened at the Jardin de Luxembourg today.
I noticed that a lot of people were in the park because they were eating—you can’t eat standing up or on the go in France. They were eating gelato from a place down the street. I was kinda hungry, but didn’t feel like dealing with the whole “I don’t know how to order in a café” problem yet, so I decided to get gelato.
I stood in line for forever and watched the adorable, adorable couple in front of me—with his round sunglasses and her short hair and soft gray dress with the slit in the back, listening to them talk about everything like the wonderful cultured Europeans they are, and then got a gelato cone shaped like a flower with “l’Inimitable" (chocolate + hazelnut), cherry, strawberry, and vanilla that I ate in the Place des Vosges and loved as it was melting and even ate a little of the cone, because apparently not being gluten-free won’t kill me. I got ice cream on my hand and had to wash it off with a green water fountain near to the ground that I wasn’t sure produced potable water until I saw another guy using it to wash his mouth and face.
I went down Rue de Rivoli eventually…noticed the shops getting more high-end and touristy...
I eventually came out at the bridge to Ile de la Cité. I saw the incredible Hotel de Ville—another thing I didn’t previously recognize—and was just so amazed by this place, this city and its senseless beauty!
I sat on the bridge on the Seine—on the Seine—and looked at the railing and the bridges and the medieval buildings in the distance, and I thought that this is where Paris began, where it was all founded, and then I thought, Why not, so I sat there and pulled out my sketchbook and I drew the view.
I was drawing when I heard a voice say, “All great artists are left-handed.”
“Thank you,” I said automatically, and looked up to see a strange beige guy on a bike, talking to me in an American accent.
He was…interesting. He was kinda weird. He said he was a photographer, living in Paris for the last 35 years, “accidentally married a French woman”, talked to me about art and Da Vinci, said not to cast pearls before swine, asked me questions about what I was doing in Paris that I probably shouldn’t have answered, told me to come and visit, fanned out his business cards and had me pick one. Said his name was Mark, “but my friends call me Mako.” Then he finally rode away and I was happy because it was kinda weird.
(How did he know to speak to me in English, that I was an American?)
(My drawing wasn’t even that good.)
Then I walked onto Ile de France, passed the guy on his bike again, (“I’m looking for my friend who plays the saxophone, but he’s not here.”), saw Notre Dame, thought, “There it is, Notre Dame,” took a selfie with Notre Dame, saw a statue of Charlemagne, smiled because Charlemagne is bae, took a selfie with Charlemagne, stopped by the side of the road to watch a hip hop dance show with four guys who were pretty talented and pretty funny. Noticed how most people didn’t have their cell phones, weren’t filming. Put away my camera, tried to just enjoy the experience.
So then I kept walking, amazed as always that everything is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.
I stopped by the Pantheon, just to see, and was disappointed that the dome was covered by a stupid construction thing with people’s faces on it. But oh, the buildings around it were amazing—Mairie du Vieme Arrondissement, Chapelle de Sainte-Geneviève—I went inside of that one on a whim, because the best things from that day have been like that—
And I had that feeling again, that strange feeling where I got inside a building and looked up to see that Romanesque rib vault that keeps the roof up and lets the light in that I had learned about so carefully in my art history class, at the staircases intricately and unnecessarily carved from stone, at the wicker chairs and the worshippers in them and wondered what it would be like to worship in a cathedral, looked at the angels and asked them why the stones have to be silent, looked at that Romanesque-Gothic rib vault, and wondered why I felt nothing.
Is it because I’ve seen it before, learned about it before, even just at that cathedral in Salt Lake and in my art history class? Will I be able to see anything else as as wonderful as I want it to be?
I don’t know. But I got to the back of that church, into a little area that said “Area reserved for prayer,” and even though I’m not Catholic I knew that I needed to talk to God, so I sat there on that wicker chair and looked at the carving of the lamb on the alter and the signs on the wall that announced the burials of Jean Racine and Blaise Pascal and talked to God.
I left through the back entrance, into the light turning told from the setting sun.
I was hungry by now. I walked down the road a bit. I saw a little black café that made me feel comfortable, the first that had made me feel comfortable.
I walked inside. I saw the waiter who looked like Loki, in his black shirt and burgundy apron. “Bonjour, c'est la première fois que je suis dans un café, alors…qu’est-ce qu’il faut faire."
He looked at me and smiled at me gently, asked if I wanted to eat inside our outside, asked if I wanted a menu in French or English, and I sat outside with my menu in French and ordered a la salade comptoir with turkey, avocado, grapefruit, and I sketched people while I was waiting for my food and ate slowly and the salad was amazing and flavorful and delicious, and it tasted like food was supposed to taste all along.
(Even a certain depth to the flavor of the lettuce…)
(Has food tasted like this all along, only I haven’t been paying attention?)
I bought a chocolat aussi, because I wanted to be a good Frenchman who orders a drink and stays after dinner. (Plus, I didn’t know how to pay.) I drank my chocolate which was mostly unsweetened and entirely amazing, with a little pink sugar puff, and I sketched people around me and hoped my waiter was proud of me for not being completely incompetent at a French café.
I tried to watch the people around me to figure out how to pay, but they just seemed to be leaving without doing it. So I eventually went inside to ask, and my waiter (whose name was apparently Alexsi) just pulled an electronic thing off his belt and popped it in the computer and my order was magically there, and I’m pretty sure that waiters in French cafés are actually magic.
And so, success. I had ordered in a café, I could do anything.
I walked home on the Boulevard de Saint-Michel, past light-colored buildings, past Heather Hackney’s Paris doors, in awe at the senselessly beautiful buildings, in awe at the splendor of the quality of light after the sun had set, I took seven million photos, all of them were wonderful.
It was almost 22h, but it was not cold, it was not dark, I had walked 20 miles, my feet were killing me. But I was in Paris, ça va, ça va, ça va aller.