So it turns out – as much as I hate to admit this – that the talk given to all the sophomores going abroad the following year at the end of spring semester, the one about how it may take weeks or even months before you begin to settle in to the country, classes, and life you’re leading, turned out to be spot on. I can safely say by looking back through diary entries, Facebook conversations, and letters, that I only have just begun, throughout the month of October, to feel entirely at home in Paris. At this halfway point in the semester, I can finally say that I have a rough knowledge of where most metro lines will take me, where the best nutella crèpes can be found, and how much is too much to pay for that old collection of atlases from the vide grenier (the flea market). And yes, even though I just got Colleen Mallet’s email about choosing classes for the spring (seriously how is this possible?? I definitely just got here), for now I’m entirely happy to start to realize and appreciate the smaller details about Paris as it moves through the months.
As the days get colder and foggier and the leaves begin to drop dead (they don’t seem to actually change so much as simply fall down all yellow and wrinkly), tourists are also beginning to empty out of Paris. There are certain places that are always packed – the Louvre courtyard, for one, remains the absolute best place for people-watching and eavesdropping, as well the only place where you absolutely must take the “do not walk” sign seriously when trying to cross the street at any time of day. Also in the Louvre courtyard is, to me, the ultimate sign of being a local – once the vendors of miniature Eiffel Towers stop trying to sell you their wares (which generally corresponds with when you stop looking up all the time with your mouth half-open, staring at the architectural and historical glory that surrounds you), then you know you’ve made it here in Paris.
In addition to the Louvre, there are also still quite a few people out and about on the nearby Pont des Arts, also known as the Love Lock bridge. People will not stop hanging these locks symbolizing their everlasting love on this bridge until every last support sinks back into the Seine, which is in the process of happening. (If you’re at all heartbroken, or feeling cynical about love, the Love Lock bridge is a great place to go to see the metaphor of an excess of love defeating its own purpose play out in action. Oh, also if you’re feeling romantic, I guess.) In either mood, the bridges of Paris still remain some of my favorite places to go, whether it’s to see the sunset, walk slowly past expert accordion players, or as a meeting place on the way to a picnic.
Writing these posts has made me realize more and more how much my experience in Paris has been shaped by where I live. I was lucky enough to be placed with a wonderful host family in the central 2nd arrondissement, the same arrondissement as the Opéra Garnier, Tuileries, Palais Royal. Most of the tourist sites are within walking distance, which is why I’m especially attuned to how the change to fall weather has emptied out most of my neighborhood. (Well, emptied is probably too strong a word. Paris will never be empty of tourists.) Whenever I venture out into the far corners of Paris, whether it’s to visit a friend, or to head to my drawing class, or find a piano to play, I’m always struck by the difference in mood. Historic, central Paris is full of grandeur, white marble and monuments. It’s a beautiful, and sometimes difficult place to live, simply because it’s a little inhuman. The outskirts of Paris are generally filled with newer apartment buildings, hip bakeries and incredibly expensive (all of Paris is incredibly expensive. You just have to accept it and move on) stores filled with vintage fur coats and silk scarves. It’s easier to forget that you’re in Paris, as the art you see is generally of the clever graffiti variety and not the Venus de Milo, and views across the Seine are of assorted movie theaters and bubble tea cafés as opposed to Nôtre Dame. It’s hard to say which one of these versions of Paris I like better – the outskirts are undeniably homier, fleshier, whereas Ile-de-la-Cité and its surroundings can feel as if it was carved out of cold white marble and stone. But I’m beginning to discover that maybe what I like the most is beginning to know these differences, and understand and appreciate the subtleties of what Paris has to offer. So even though I may already be halfway through this incredible semester, what’s even more incredible to me is how much I still have left to discover here in this city of rivers and goose livers, stone and stained glass, Mona Lisa and me.
The Opéra Garnier, crowded on the walk home.
Essentially the overall message of Paris.
Tuileries Garden, (rarely) almost deserted in the rain.
Me on the Pont Royal.
Sunset over the Seine