Glimpses of Paris Days
Being in Paris, it’s easy to forget the flow of reality, to get lost between crinkling pages or stuck in a solitary moment. Time stops for a few seconds, and no matter how hard I try to focus on the breathtaking feeling of being alive, I can never really be sure that I’m not slipping into a dream.
Together, my older sister and long-time travel companion and I dance through the days, stretch out our hands to brush against banisters and houses, as if to somehow reassure ourselves that this, right here, is real.
But we can never be quite sure; after all, we are dreamers at heart.
Paris in August is almost uncannily quiet. Shops and stores are closed for the month, their wide facades transformed into dark mirrors that we glance at in passing. All who remain in Paris during this time are left locked out of the city of the other months. Gone are Parisians in cafés and on balconies, gone are chattered conversations in far-off streets. Instead, new pleasures appear: window-shopping in artful displays and streets that quiet down immediately as soon as we rip ourselves away from the bustling centers of main attractions. The city seems to be asleep, resting after eleven months filled with the everyday bustle of life. These days are my favorites: We let ourselves wander through the streets without any real destination, and allow the city to show us the way. We find our way to little squares and beautiful moments, and I cannot quite say if they might only exist now that we have arrived. Everything seems just a tiny bit too quiet, a tiny bit more mysterious than I have ever seen it before, shadows and light transforming into stories for us to read on every sidewalk.
We aren’t here for long, but even so, we soon find ourselves falling into an easy routine. Picnics at the river or in parks, afternoons spent hiding from the sun in the artificial cool of the museums. No matter how well we plan our metro connections, we end up walking miles each day, grinning at the childish feeling of being explorers at heart despite our aching feet. Sometimes we talk, or laugh, or snap photographs of each other in twirling dresses, sometimes we find a place sit side by side, each with a pen in hand and a notebook on our laps. I wonder what my sister writes, how it might be different from what I see. Our days are similar, but our worlds are different, and slowly but surely, we are each building our own stories, too close to the truth to be fiction, but too far from one another to be fact.
The heat is beating, but not relentless. It roles in every morning, taking its time to warm up the city, and seeps back out at night. In the in-between hours, girls put on flowing, colorful dresses and large sunglasses, and seats in the shade become the most coveted. People congregate in parks to stretch their faces into the sun alongside fuchsia flowers and the tinkling sound of artful fountains. Dust billows up on the walkways, scuffs polished shoes and lands on every unprotected surface. “Pétanque” balls clank against each other and thud dully as the land on the ground, illustrating the onomatopoeia of their French name perfectly. Everything moves slowly, with a kind of lazy leisure, until the shadows lengthen into bustling evenings at the Seine and nights filled with laughter and distant music.
A Feast for the Soul
Having been brought up in the halls of museums such as the MET or the MoMA, it is natural for my sister and I to end up in museums in every city we visit. And Paris – Paris is an artwork of its own, but it is also the home to masterpieces from every century. We take our time in front of paintings by Monet, Botticelli, Vermeer, Miró, and, our newest discovery, Berthe Morisot. Each artwork seems to whisper little fragments about a world long-past, and we‘re more than willing to listen. A painted smile here, a soft gesture there: I get lost in the beauty, immerse myself in the brushstrokes and stories that seem so perfectly guarded while still so vulnerable. Words from my childhood whisper in my mind: lime green, brick red, cobalt blue. Colors I first encountered so far away, but find again here among the frames once more. They seem to me like old friends, and it is hard for me to rip myself away from them again.
The world inside museums is always muted. Even with crowds pushing their way through from one room to the next, voices are quieter, revering in the face of such famous artworks. Only one boy in the Musée d’Orsay is not swept along by this silence; he stands in front of a gigantic painting, complaining in a loud, plaintive voice that carries through the hall. “Where is that even suppowed to hang? Who even has a wall that huge?”. I grin in spite of myself. I know that I am no expert on art, but I am a seasoned museum visitor, and I much prefer his unfiltered reaction to aloof comments on overanalyzed artworks made by tourists in impractical shoes.
Soon, he too is swept along by the unstoppable crowds, and silence descends over the museum again. It is untouchable and impersonal, but it is a silence that I know well. I breathe in the quiet before a new wave of tourists crashes through the exhibition, and feel inexplicably content with the world.
I can’t say what it is about this city, but something always draws me back. Maybe it’s the beauty, the brightness, the colors. Maybe it’s the light - the muted, soft light that paints a picture of content. Maybe it’s the nostalgia, the bittersweet reminder that all we are is another story among many, but that perhaps, our story is worth telling.
Paris is calm and graceful, serene and lovely, and Paris is improbably unchanged. Paris is inspiring. And maybe that’s what draws me here over and over again.
But I don’t know. I think that the real reason is that I am a dreamer:
And in Paris, it seems possible that dreams can come true.