Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Day in Paris: Planning and Pantsing

A few years ago, I went on a study abroad trip to London and Paris. It was my first time out of the country. It was a whirlwind of a trip, only lasting a week, but filled to the brim with adventure as well as education on how business is done overseas.

The last three days were to be in Paris, and our next to last day we had entirely on our own. I stayed up late the night before, planning and plotting my adventure. I was going to take the double decker bus tour with a friend,visit Montmarte, and take my friend back to the hotel and split ways. Afterwards, I would be viewing things that were fascinating to me, but a bit too macabre for my friend such as the Catacombs and Père Lachaise Cemetery,where Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde are buried. I folded up the highlighted and ink-circled maps and placed them into my purse. My backpack was prepped with water, sunscreen, and snacks.

We woke early, the sun peering through the thin drapes of the hotel window.We dressed quickly, stopped for pastries and expresso, and then continued our journey into the Parisian sun. It was quite overbearing as we tried to snap pictures from the top of the tour bus. The ride was putting us behind schedule,but I tried not to let it fluster me. I am in Paris, one shouldn't be frustrated. 

We arrived at the foot of the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur. We popped in a few stores, ate macaroons, and tasted a truffle that was so good that I realized that I had never actually had a truffle before.  We gazed at the most colorful mime, and then stood at the foot of the stairs. The hours were running away. I needed to be at the hotel right now to be on schedule,and we still had more than 300 steps to climb. Take the funicular? Ha! We weren’t wimps. 

We stepped into the cathedral. Nuns were singing, and I believe that I had a spiritual encounter as I watched the many that had come to see this magnificent place. My eyes were blurred by tears as I toured the inside and the outside. I peered out over Paris. I was here. In that moment. 

We hiked back, yes, taking the stairs once more. When we reached the bottom, my friend asks, “Want to grab lunch?”

As much as the ticking clock said “no”, my grumbly tummy answered, “Yea, that would be great.”

It was nearly two hours later, when we arrived back to the hotel. I tossed my plans of using the free tour bus (we had all weekend to make use of the tickets we had bought) and decided to take a taxi. 

The dark skinned man only had a few words of English, and I had only a few more of French. It was going to be a long ride, and we were both the inquisitive type. He was concerned that I was going to the catacombs, as an impressionable female, alone.  He typed questions into his iPhone and translated them into English. It started with just trying to figure out how to say a word or two and by the end of the ride,we were typing full paragraphs. We discussed my writing, his hometown in Africa, my curiosity of how he viewed Americans, and his political beliefs.Truly, one of the best conversations of the trip. 

He dropped me off at the cross street next to the catacombs and offered one more, “Be safe. Hope you not be too afraid.”

I smiled and thanked him, wishing him well.

I walked across the street. I found the entrance, but was slapped in the face by a closed building. Last tickets sold thirty minutes ago. I cursed the silent curse. 

My next adventure was to be a walk to Père Lachaise Cemetery. I consulted the map and plotted my path. I had walked nearly a mile, when I started realizing that things weren’t lining up. I found a park bench and sat down, trying to makesense of it. 

Dammit.I turned the wrong way this (------------) long ago on my tiny map. I tried tojust make it work, but I needed to turn around, walk through a park, and then Iwould be back on the right path. 
I closed the map and behind it was a wall calling for a revolution. It made me smile. I snapped a few pictures and continued on my journey. 

I came up on a huge circle. Music was playing, a crowd was cheering, and curiosity got the better of me. I walked up on a dance troupe. I stood and watched the b-boys swirl on their heads on the streets of Paris. 

The song ended, and I continued on my path. The park that I needed to walk through had been converted into a marketplace. I hadn’t had a chance to buy souvenirs. I thanked the universe and ducked inside the lined up white tents and tables. I talked to an Indian man about chakras, smelled every handmade French soap, felt tapestries, tasted jams, and checked everyone off of my gift list. 

I reached the end and turned up the last street that would bring me to the final resting place of Morrison and Wilde. The impenetrable stone wall stretched around the 110 acres of graves. I walked and walked, trying to reach the entrance. I was crushed when I found it, and it was locked tight. Closed nearly an hour ago. I couldn’t help but cry a little, frustrated at my failure. First the catacombs, and now this. I mean, if you compared my original plan with what was checked off my list, I was a failure. 

I walked around the last corner and saw a line of tables, volunteers standing behind them, and ladles being filled with soup and poured into the bowls of what appeared to be the hungry. The humanity filled me with warmth. I smiled and walked aimlessly up the next street. 

At the corner was a café with tables and chairs pointing at the street. Time to knock another thing off my wish list. I sat and ordered wine and cheese, and I just  watched, listened, and absorbed. 

The wine was loosening my lips, and I started up a conversation with the waiter. He sat down and talked about his home village. The table next to me joined in. It was the young girl’s birthday, 18, now legal to drink. She wanted to move to America and become an actress. 

As a recovered smoker, the smell mixed with the alcohol was getting to me. Ah, when in Paris… I asked the waiter for a smoke. 

An older man, a picture perfect mental image of a Parisian, hat and all, joined in the conversation. We all laughed and drank .The older man wrote out all the things I needed to see in Paris, and then posed with a basket of baguettes to humor me—his idea. 

When I plotted my day, I built a path of A leads to B leads to C.  Although it could be deemed a failure because I arrived entirely too late to points B and C, I would call my adventure a smashing success. I had an outline for my story, but beautiful prose filled it with long lasting memories and experiences, inspired by the moment, the scenery, and the possibilities.   The end result was a lovely day in Paris.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes improvising comes better than planning. I loved your story and I could see it all in my mind. One of my dreams is go to Paris one day. Good for you!