Note: This will hopefully be updated with photos soon.
when you go to a new place, write things down before the newness falls out of it. / dr. c. riley nelson
and I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do. / 1 nephi 4:6
I am in Paris.
Today was a day. So many things...
Last night the shuttle finally arrived as I wrote the words that it wouldn’t. The van wasn’t marked as they said it would be, ça va, ça va, because a rushed and hurried man who I thought might have been Arabic but wasn’t said “Rue Cabanis? You go Rue Cabanis?” and I got inside the front seat and looked at all the silent faces staring behind me back into the night.
We started on the road. The highway was—a highway. It was a road at night. It looked like the highways in Colorado.
We drove past new industrial buildings. White rectangles dividing up the road. And then…we got in the city.
People have told me Paris closes at night. That the shops are all closed. And they were, mostly—but the streets were alive with a strange, gritty, underground nightlife.
On m’a dit that Paris is dirty. And they were, up by the 20e arrondissement or wherever we were. I watched white plastic bags skitter across the street in nervous starts like the people ducking across the road under the red-lighted sky.
(Naomi said that the clubs have a renouvelé at 3am. I thought that I never never want to be out at 3am.)
The shops were all closed, bien sûr, and I think that night in Paris belongs to another group of people, because all their codes and names were scrawled out on the corrugated black fronts closing off their shops by day. I thought about the Arabs, I watched the people cross the roads, we swerved and the driver was angry and we honked—“Dégagé, dégagé”—and I was afraid.
On m’a dit that Paris closes at night. So I was surprised (but also not surprised) to see the kebab stores open, the petits épicieries/alimentaires with their fruit outside the door, people sitting and being served food at late-night bars and restaurants in droves…it was after midnight, chéri(e). I watched people duck across the roads and I wondered what they were doing under that red-orange light.
“Paris the dreary,” Mark Twain said. “Paris the dismal. Paris the cold."
The past is the present in Paris. We drove across l’Ile de la Cité—I did not even know one could drive across l’Ile de la Cité, just like it were any other boulevard—and I saw the Tour Eiffel, I saw the pyramid, I saw the Louvre.
“Paris by night!” our funny driver said. “People want to see…Paris by night!"
Around this time, we established that I could speak French. He talked to me. “If you speak French, I have to be careful with my slang while I’m driving!” he said. (And yes, I noticed what he had been saying.) “One more mile to Rue Cabanis,” he said, “No, we are speaking French now! 1.6 kilometers jusqu’au Rue Cabanis!” he said. And he appreciated me. And I appreciated him.
We stopped to drop off another couple at their hotel. It was down a tiny stone alley. There were people and bikes and petits voitures everywhere. We are in Paris.
We came at last to Rue Cabanis. And I said "Merci monsieur, merci. Bonne soirée.” And I went into the hotel that looked too high-design, was trying to hard to be fancy. It was orange and white.
I talked well to the girl behind the desk. I paid with my card, I got my key card, I came upstairs, put all my stuff down in 206, this little back corner room shoved as far away as possible from everything, I brushed my teeth at last at last, I collapsed into bed and woke up 5h52 later.
I looked out the window. I live in Paris! I said. I looked at the courtyard and smiled. It was special somehow. Because I live in Paris.
I got up and took a shower and tried to soak some moisture back into my poor frizzled hair. I got dressed, put on my favorite white button-up shirt and that floral skirt Heidi made me...
I went down to breakfast, hungry but nervous as heck about the breakfast options and about eating wheat...
There was a weird little café thing that all the French people were eating at. I observed for a while and I last able to speak up, and I asked whether this billet is for right there, but it wasn’t, so I had to go next door...
Where it was a cafeteria-type thing, where everything was just closing, where I was lost and l confused, where the cafeteria ladies rushed around and gave me things—tray, napkin, orange juice, chocolate and apricot spreads. “Un croissant pour mademoiselle!”, and I was grateful, grateful anyway for what they were doing for me.
I ate with a lot of trepidation. First I ate my Cocoa Krispies-type cereal that had warm milk on it because I think that was the only milk they had. Then I drank my orange juice. Then…at last…I cut open that croissant, I spread the chocolate spread on half of it and the apricot spread on the other half, and I prayed that it wouldn’t kill me.
And then I ate it. It was okay. It was like every other croissant I’ve ever eaten. Mais ça va. It was a croissant. And I ate it.
I wrapped up the other bread roll in case of an emergency. I finished the warm chocolately milk of my cereal. I went back upstairs. And then I freaked out.
It finally sunk in at that exact moment that I’m in Paris, I'm in PARIS, I’m by myself in PARIS, I did not plan well and I do not know where I’m going or how I’m getting there or the best ways to spend my time.
And so I got on my laptop and my iPod and tried to figure it all out, where I am going, what I am doing, what I should focus on, how I should spend my time, how much I should fit in, the quality of what I should fit in (random stuff like Jardin des Plantes or go all out to the Panthéon??), what time I should come home, where on earth I was going to eat, how I should pack my bag, what shoes I should wear etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.
It was extremely overwhelming and distressing. I hated it, I hated it, I hated it. I didn’t want to be there in Paris. I didn’t want to be making these decisions by myself. I didn’t know what to do!!!
I could not do it, I could not do it, I could not do it. I kept stalling and panicking. I tired to pack up and hide my valuables and my suitcases. I packed and repacked which pens and colored pencils I would be bringing. I kept looking up directions, going back and forth between locations, not knowing what to do.
I thought of just staying there all day as the time ticked to 10 o’clock, 10:30. I could not do it. I could not handle this.
But I thought of myself when I climbed that rock wall, that when I believed I could do it, I could do it. I grabbed my little stuffed cat named Horatio and hugged him so tight. I thought of Caitlin coming in just a day or two. I read my scriptures, just for a moment. “I will go before thy face.” Okay. Okay. Okay.
I finished packing my bag. I got on my knees and prayed. “Heavenly Father, please help me, please help me, please help me. I cannot do this alone. Please guide me where to go. Please keep me safe. Please go before my face. I need you so much. I can’t do this alone. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen."
And then somehow I got up, I picked up my too-bright red bag, I made sure I had my water bottle and my key card in the pouch around my neck and my little plastic Napoleon who helped me out yesterday, and I walked out the hall and down the elevator and out the door.
And then I was out, I was in Paris.
I thought of what we had learned in that internship prep class—look like you’re comfortable, look like you belong, be confident. And so I started walking down the streets as if it was mon quartier, but remember…I’m in Paris.
The light was pale and morning. The rues were large and there were shops on the sides and there was a boulevard with very tall tall trees and a lot of open space, and I tried to copy the people as to whether they walked by the shops or by the trees.
I listened to people around me talk and speak French. The buildings are beautiful! Haussmannisation, so old and textured…and people live in them! They’re everywhere!!
I saw some stairs go up under an arch in a building with trees. I followed it…saw a park…just a little park at the top of the stairs...
I kept walking. I relied on the maps feature on my iPod. That was my saving grace all day. White little rues, blue little dot. I found the Place d’Italie. “Pardon, où se trove la Place d’Italie?” I would say in case I got lost.
I tried to find an Orange…a phone store so I could buy a phone. I followed the map to the little blue dot…but I could not see it anywhere…I looked around…the store was just gone...
Mais ça va, ça va, ça va aller, so I just figuratively packed up and left to my next destination…la Place de la Bastille.
I just walked up the roads and stuff. IDK. That morning, a grande panique had replaced my grande calme. Once I got out and started walking, the grande calme came back.
(I think it was the morning light and the blessing of God. And the fact that everything is easier once you start moving.)
I realized pretty quick that I needed to move my water bottle to the inside of my bag to not look like an idiot. I also realized pretty quick that I should have gotten a bag that was black or brown and not that ostentatious red. But I kept my hand on it all day, which made me feel good even if it made me feel like a tourist, and the strap was only a little uncomfortable, and everything fit and everything was okay.
The street art! I started taking pictures of the street art here. And the things spray painted on the sidewalks (that reminds me of Provo) And they have wheat-pasted posters—it makes me think of Banksy. I think it has so much to say to what’s really going on in the minds of the culture. Plus, it’s beautiful. Even if I sometimes feel like I have to be sneaky to capture it, because pulling out my camera at every turn makes me feel out of place. (But I do that in Provo, anyway…)
And the buildings, the buildings! They are so beautiful! All of them! Everywhere! They are not like the crappy run-down buildings we have in America that I’m used to…these ones are alive, these ones are history, these ones have been standing, fantastic and beautiful, for hundreds of years, after they tore down the old winding buildings and streets of Paris and Haussmanisationed it. These beautiful buildings—they are amazing! Everywhere! I thought about this all day and all day. It’s amazing how it works—the bottom row is shops. The top rows are people living above the shops. That means that every street in Paris is the same—every street is shops, and cafés, and restaurants, and charcuteries—and every street is hotels, apartments. It’s amazing. There are not stupid suburbs or stupid shopping malls. Everything is just…spread out. Perfectly. Evenly. Amazingly. The tiniest side street is just as important as la Rue de la Rivoli. I love that even tiny streets out in the middle of nowhere in Paris can still be useful and significant. As we shall see.
Another thing I want to talk about—there is a certain smell here. A Paris smell. It is everywhere. It is amazing! I think I first noticed it when I first went outside…but I first really noticed it when I passed a patisserie and smelled something I’ve never smelled before. What is it…? Is it real passion, real cooking, real flour? Is it some perfume that literally tout le monde wears? (Because tout le monde smells of it.) Is it in the cigarettes? It is something in the air itself? I smelled it everywhere, chéri(e), everywhere—I smelled it in the crepe shop. I smelled it on everyone who passed me. I even smelled it in the middle of nowhere at Père Lachaise. It seems…sweet. And pink. And fancy. With a simple, subtle, complex spice underneath, somehow. It’s the Paris smell. Paris smells amazing. Even the cigarette smoke here doesn’t bother me at all. Do they smoke higher-quality cigarettes here? That might be true. That galette I ate didn’t even taste like the same kind of food as what I’m used to eating.
But I’m getting ahead of myself...
I kept walking. I kept waiting for that croissant to kill me, and while I could feel it swelling my stomach like all those days my junior year of high school, I was miraculously mostly fine.
I got to the Jardin des Plantes just fine. Thank you, Google Maps.
I went in…it was kinda flat. Simple. I mean, I wasn’t expecting it to be great. I had to go to see Dr. Nelson’s statue of Lamarck.
I learned that lots of Parisians go to run in the Jardin des Plantes. It was interesting—there were two or three tall, old-fashioned greenhouses that were stuffed full against the sides with tropical plants and trees, but I didn’t want to pay to get in. The Jardin des Plantes was also where the royal botanists would work—they studied all those plants they didn’t understand way back then here. Which I guess is kinda cool, and there’s a big fancy stone building like all the others where they used to work. But also…it was just kinda a sort of sad garden…and I’ve been to enough natural history museums to last a lifetime.
Side note, in case I forget it—all the gardens and parks in Paris are kind of sad. I have been living in the mountains, chéri(e). I understand the depth and breadth of nature in the up-and-down. The gardens in Paris are shallow and flat. Just a thin layer of grass and light brownish soil. Grass you can’t even walk on. There is playground equipment in some of them…fountains…even beautiful fountains. And it’s amazing—people just go in them and sit there. So many people. So many people! You should have seen la Place de Vosage—people, everywhere, on every bench, evenly spread across every foot of ground—people, everywhere. Tourists, I’m sure, but Parisians! They want to go out and spend time in their parks in their city, even if they are literally doing nothing! Well, not nothing—they can eat there since they can’t eat standing up, they can tan, they can talk...
Another thing I really like about Paris is that everything here is about people. Everyone is always talking to other people. You go to the park to be with your people! You walk down the streets to be with your people! You go to cafés and sit there and sit there and do not leave when you’ve finished your food and your desert and your drinks because you are there to talk with people! I love it! I love how much they care about people!
Another thing—everyone here…is…beautiful. Everyone. Every European. I’m certain of it. I noticed that in Iceland too. I have not seen a single awkward or ugly European (and only few few overweight), or one that doesn’t seem perfectly, personably, effortlessly stylish, and talkative and personable, to boot. I don’t know how they do it! They are so stylish, but not annoying or trendy or “on-trend” or trying too hard like everyone here seems to do. It’s like, “Yes, here is what society likes, and here is exactly how to make it look good on my body and my personality, and here are some high-quality clothes of that type that I happened to buy, and now I’m wearing it and I look and feel perfectly at ease.” How do they do it? Can they teach us something?
Also, it’s only been one day in Paris, but I already need—need—circular sunglasses. Or just any sunglasses. Prescription sunglasses. Everyone here has sunglasses.
The other thing—everyone here is in love. I love it. It seems like everyone—and they are all beautiful, remember—everyone has a person. It’s like they neatly paired themselves off into couples, parfaitement fait l’un pour l’autre, as easily as the found their way into beauty and style and confidence. (How do they do it?) And the other thing—PDA here is adorable. People are just so…passionate. In love. It has an urgency. I am leaving you here at this street crossing. Hold me for a long minute, kiss me hard before you go. PDA in Paris is all right. PDA is a thing. The cute thing is how frequently I see this urgency, even in the most mundane places—the way that man in the circular dark sunglasses talked to that girl at the gelato shop. That blonde at the bus stop with her lover, kiss me hard before you go, even though you’re staying with me right here.
Oh, but parks—
Oh, but where am I—
I walked through la Jardin des Plantes. I didn’t go inside the greenhouses. I walked through the gardens for like a moment. I saw some ravens—the first birds I’ve seen in Paris that aren’t pigeons—and I said bonjour. I went to the reason I really went there—the statue of Jean Baptiste Lamarck at the entrance that I had to go see for Dr. Nelson. I took photos (“elle vous vengera, mon père”), a girl offered to take a photo for me, I handed her my phone without thinking…which I really shouldn’t have, I realized after. But it was okay. And now I have photos instead of just awkward selfies, which is what everything else from today is.
I wondered if I had used my day wisely. Then I crossed the Seine (I crossed the Seine! I had to stand there for a moment and say, “WOW, I am on the Seine!!!), I followed up the street to find la Place de la Bastille.
It was a beautiful walk. It was by a quay in between two other streets. So many boats down there! So many nice, old-fashioned! It was beautiful! There was a walk I wish I had had time to go down. I thought I might have gone there on the way back, but I went another way. I wonder who owns all of them?
I got there…and the internet had told me that the Bastille had been torn down during the Revolution, but I was still disappointed just to see a shiny modern opera house like I could see in Denver in its place. Sigh…I wandered around for a bit, because I heard that you can see somewhere the old fundaments, but I didn’t find anything. However, there was a shiny giant pillar for Les Trois Glorieuses of 1830, je crois, so at least that was something.
I kept walking up the road, wondering if I was properly using my time, wondering if I should go all the way to Père Lachaise cemetery—it was kinda far. But I supposed that I might as well…and the day had gone faster than I thought it would, with Orange and la Jardin des Plantes and la Bastille kind of being a bust…it was only 2pm.
So something that had been worrying me all day was food. I realized after seeing all those people in cafés that I did not know how to go into a café, how to order in a café, how to pay. On top of that, I wasn’t hungry because eating things I’m allergic to is the only thing that makes me not hungry, and I was scared of choosing a restaurant and finding food that’s gluten-free and I didn’t want food.
Another side note is HOW MANY restaurants there are!! How can you choose between all the different brasseries, patisseries, boulangeries, cafés, charcuteries…? The great thing was, knowing that all streets of Paris are the same, knowing that these wonderful people take such pride in their own food that owning one of these places is a proud proud thing and that they don’t bow down to chains like we do, I could know that all these places are everywhere. So you don’t have to worry about not finding food later, or about missing out on something great. Everything is great. You just keep going.
And so I was walking up a tiny narrow side street with the most charming of shops and just as “legitimate” and bustling as any bigger street in Paris—Rue de la Roquette, rue that I adored—when suddenly I saw the word “galette” flash by me on a tiny shop that was maybe blue, and suddenly all my food problems were answered.
You see, I had happily found online a few days ago that there is a wonderful phenomenon in France called galettes de sarassin, or crepes made out of buckwheat flour—which means they are gluten-free. So even though I had risked it that morning and I will certainly risk it again…I wanted to play it safe.
So I stared at the menu for a while because everything sounded amazing, amazing, amazing, and I couldn’t decide. I eventually decided on the galette végeterienne…but then the man in front of me ordered two galettes du jour, which were made of potatoes in a cream sauce and cheese and the most beautiful jambon I have ever seen, and so I ordered for the first time in a French restaurant and I got one of those instead.
“C’est à apporter aussi?” the short-haired wonderful restaurant woman asked, because the man in front of me had ordered them to go, but I wanted to say, so I said, “En fait, est-ce que je jeux rester ici?"
“Bien sur, installez-vous,” said she, or her assistant whose accent I could hardly understand, and I awkwardly chose a table and sat down and watched the adorable French family nearby with their daughter asking for a banana crepe because she was still so so so hungry, and I smiled and I waited.
Another thing I like about here—the people always eat. At all hours of the day, French people are in the same crêperies and cafés as the tourists, buying food, talking, eating! They are not above doing it. These places are not something they are above because they are locals. I love that! Also, their willingness to buy good food! And it’s not cheap, I can tell you! Is that just an American thing…? Always only cook for yourself, spend as little money on fast food as possible? What can these people teach us here?
So the assistant came over and asked me something in an accent I could not understand. “Desolée (because I’ve been saying the wrong word all day instead of “Pardon”)—encore une fois, s’il vous plait, j’ai pas compris,” j’ai dit. He said it again, “Desolée, j’ai pas compris…” At this point, he kind of smiled at me gently, said he would show it to me, and went and came back in a few minutes and got the menu, and asked me if I wanted the “crepe complète”, which was basically a galette and a crèpe and a cidre as a combo, but I didn’t fee like spending 13,50E and I didn’t know if the cider was alcoholic so I said no.
So I waited and watched the French family and looked around the tiny restaurant, and at last my crêpe came to me.
Okay, so—I know that writing all of this is really important. And I will finish it, I will. I will tomorrow. It’s just that…it’s 1:37am. All day today I thought that it was Friday. It’s not. Today was Saturday. Which means I have to be at church at 9h30 tomorrow on the other side of the Seine, on the Rive Droite. And I was planning on getting up at 6h30 so I can get there on time. Which means…I’ve got to go to sleep.
I promise I will write about God guiding me. I promise I will write about the graves at Père Lachaise and what I was thinking about in the parks and the time I accidentally attended a pride parade and that strange man on his bike that I met over the Seine and my first time in a café and what happened to the light once the sun started to set.
The past is the present here. But—and I’ll write about this when I write about Père Lachaise—it feels strange and silent and empty. Did you know when I saw those graves of famous people, I felt nothing? “When things really do happen to you, it’s like watching television,” Andy Warhol said. “—You don’t feel anything."
That’s how I felt when I saw the graves at Père Lachaise. That’s how I felt when I saw the wall where the Communards stood and died. That’s how I felt when I saw the outside of Notre Dame, the inside of la Chapelle de Saint Geneviève—I told myself that things happened here, important things happened here, who knows how many people walked these streets? How many people stood here and died? And yet, I just stood there and said, “Well, Notre Dame. There it is."
Do you know when I felt things? I felt things when I looked down the endless streets of Haussmannisation, of all those senselessly beautiful buildings that are just there are just beautiful for no special reason.
I looked at all these buildings and thought about design. What are we missing right now in design?? I know that there’s no way we can go back to what we had before. But there’s a certain emotional engagement with that kind of high-quality stonework. How all of those elements tie so beautifully together! Why does minimalism leave me feeling cheapened and cold? But none of us know how to do anything else!
And yet I looked up in that chapelle and asked the stone angels why the stones are silent, how can the stones be silent? Haven’t these stones seen so many things? All I can see is the present, buildings and cars and shining shoes. Why can’t these stones tell me what they have seen?
But today was my first day in Paris, chéri(e). I started out with so much fire and fear. But God guided me and I walked and now I have a bit of grande confiance, and I wish that every single day I could drop to my knees and thank God with the greatest sincerity that I have by humbling myself enough to realize how helpless I am and how much I need Thee.
(The smell of Paris is still in my hair.)