Sunday, May 20, 2012

Falling in love with Paris all over again

Last weekend finally arrived, the weekend where all of his things were packed up to leave for the summer back to the U.S. Since he was flying out of Paris, we decided what better send-off than to spend one last weekend together in Paris before his Sunday departure? (It was also helpful because I needed to renew my visa.)

At 4 in the morning we rolled/dragged all of the suitcases and got picked up in a grand taxi to be taken to the airport. We woke up a few hours later as we were landing in Paris on a rainy Friday morning. After finding our hostel we wandered around the city trying to soak in as much as we could. Here are a few photos from our trip.

Like any good tourist, we started by wandering down towards the Seine and then made our way over to the Louvre. I am always blown away by how grand the architecture is in Paris. Everything feels like it was placed with the greatest of intention - every fountain, flower box, statue, and pigeon. 

While we were debating about whether or not to go inside, we decided to do some trompe l'oeil photography. 

"Winged Victory"
Mounted in an archway atop a landing on a marble stairway, this statue representing the goddess Nike towers over all visitors wishing to enter her wing of the museum. Such a breathtaking piece of art. 

This is the face you make when you realize that Friday nights the Louvre is free after 6 pm for all under 26 year olds! 

Ingrès - L'odalisque

Seeing this painting felt like I was meeting a friend for the first time after years of written correspondence. L'Odalisque was one of the major influences/references that I used in my senior thesis last year on the contemporary literary/visual art response to 19th century French orientalist art's depictions of North Africa. Interestingly, though Ingres is known for his depictions of the Orient, he actually never once set foot in North Africa. The furthest he got was Italy.  

A view from outside the Louvre. For those of you who haven't visited the Louvre, this once was the palace of the king of France. The entrance of the museum is through the glass pyramid.

The archway across from the Louvre. Though this picture doesn't do it justice, I was struck again by the marvels of French architecture. We came upon the arch just as the sun was setting, and if you looked straight through the archway you would see a tree-lined garden "boulevard" (too wide or grand to be called simply a pathway) with Cleopatra's needle, and then finally the L'Arc de Triomphe mirroring this arch on the other side.  

Our hostel shares its arrondissement (18e) with Montmarte and Sacre Coeur. This is the view of the church from our walk to Gare du Nord train station, our nearest metro stop.

On Saturday, we went to the Catacombs, which begin close to the Denfert-Rochereau metro stop. Apparently this location is just south of what used to be the city gate, which was called the "La Barrière d'Enfer" (The Gate of Hell). 

Built in the 18th century as a way of dealing with the overflowing city cemeteries due to various battles and plagues, the Parisian catacombs are a sight to behold. It is a series of tunnels that stretch over a mile long and are filled with neatly stacked bones of over six million skeletons. The whole site has a very macabre vibe. At each turn there is a new marble plaque that has a quote usually in Latin or French about death. For instance, after going down over a hundred steps to get into the catacombs, there is a sign hung above an archway that reads:

 "Arrête! C'est ici l'empire de la Mort"

(Halt! Here is the empire of Death.)

There was another plaque further along that read:

"où est elle, la Mort? Toujours future ou passée.
 A peine est-elle présente que déjà elle n'est plus." 

(Where is she, Death? Always in the future or past. As soon as she is present she is no longer.)

The catacombs were fashioned out of old Parisian mines. Back when France was part of the Roman empire, it was customary to bury the dead on the outskirts of the city (interestingly, this practice is also seen in the way that the old Moroccan medinas are set up - with the cemeteries by the outer walls). However, with the arrival of Christianity, it became customary to bury the faithful in consecrated ground around churches. Between population growth, war casualties, and plague victims, the amount of dead was leading to not only spatial issues but sanitation ones as well. Moving the bodies underground seemed like a logical solution.

Afterwards, we continued strolling and sight seeing. 

France's color palette: beige, iron black, green, glass. 

We kept remarking about how great it was to spend a few days in France as an interim before he headed back to the U.S. not just because it's Paris, but because it helped facilitate a gradual adjustment to the inevitable culture shock of returning to the U.S. after spending nearly a year in Morocco. Though it is still very different from Morocco, there were several commonalities that we found to be comforting. First of all, while the city was comparatively pristine to our home of Rabat,  the similarities in the architecture of the buildings in Paris to the ones that line the grand boulevards in Rabat were undeniable (though admittedly, ours are a bit more worn down). Another similarity was in the language, though not in the way you would expect. While walking through the city we often heard more Moroccan darija than Parisian French, which made our ears perk up. On our last night in the city we grabbed falafels by the Notre Dame Cathedral at a small little stand on a cobble-stoned side street. I overheard several clients speaking to the man behind the counter in Arabic, so I decided to order in the true lingua franca. After a short exchange, we realized that not only was he a Moroccan immigrant, but he grew up in Rabat in the quartier just next to ours! It's moments like this that make you feel like the world isn't the large after all. 

After 48 hours in Paris, we found ourselves staying up late drinking wine from the bottle and agreeing that we should live here some day.