One of the things they don’t tell you about international travel: You should not drink most of a bottle of white wine after an 8-hour flight because you are very dehydrated and haven’t eaten all day. But they don’t tell you, so you drink the wine and go to bed then wake up a few hours later in so much pain that you have to squeeze your body out onto the hostel’s bathroom balcony for cold air. You get sick all night. You listen to meditation videos on YouTube to get some sleep. You don’t wake up until 11 the next morning to drink your weight in water, orange juice, and coffee. You decide that’s okay and get out of the lobby before you waste the rest of your first full day in Paris.
Before I head out, though, I have the chance to speak with a Brazilian woman who is also on her first solo adventure. Our conversation brings in a few other people enjoying a late breakfast, and all of a sudden I’m eating mochi with six people from six different countries. It’s like a diversity commercial for an overly white college, but less pandering and real. Though I’ve never been in a hostel before, I always imagined they were a little bit like this.
Even so, this trip is about me. I set off on the #2 to link up with the #9 that takes me across town. Getting around Paris really just isn’t a that big of deal, thank God. Everything is labeled and the trains are timely–who would have thought that transit systems could be efficient? I get to the Flamme de la Liberte in record time, eating granola out of my backpack instead of taking the time to stop for lunch. After paying my respects to Princess Di, I stroll along the Seine and listen to some yearning music that speaks to a teenage version of myself that was never nurtured with the right amount of angst. My melancholic self makes it to a modern art museum–admission is free, which is a perk I get to enjoy in most Parisian museums for one more year–and pay the $4 or so dollars for an audio guide because I know it’s the only way I’m going to appreciate modern art. Per usual, nothing strikes me; however, I will say that Le Grand Sanglier Noir by Jean Fautrier is actually moving, though I can’t say why. A lot of things will move me for no reason on this trip.
After, I find my way to the Asian Art Museum and spend a good deal of time in an empty gallery thinking about how I am my own record keeper and how people interpret events so differently. When a man walks in and views the exhibit, I wonder if he will remember me at all, the way I am remembering him now. Maybe not. Probably not. When I make the observation in my notebook, I get back up and wander through the halls and reflect on how human history is strikingly similar wherever you go. The only unique thing about the human experience is the location.
The heaviness of human history continues to weigh on me when I wander into an architectural museum, all exhibits particularly dedicated to the architectural history of France. There is a recreation of La Chapelle des moines de Berzé-la-Ville that hits me hard. While it was originally painted in the early 1300s, it was whitewashed in the 1740s, and then rediscovered in 1887. The lights in this exhibit are dim, making it easy to sit down under it and reflect. The mural depicts Christ surrounded by all the apostles. It’s a massive piece, allowing the eyes that are bearing down on you make you feel small. I have to wonder if it has been making people feel that way for centuries. Are my feelings a mere echo of something much greater than myself?
I would digress but the point of this exercise is to get at deeper parts of myself. I take the introspection right on over to a cemetery and wander through the rows in search of names I recognize. There’s something about a good mausoleum, y’know? It is drizzling a bit, which makes the introspection all the more poignant. I’m aware that my posts are usually lighthearted and funny, but I’m just not feeling it today. There’s a lot going on in the world, particularly for women, that are heavy burdens for me to bear right now. A cemetery helps center my thoughts so that the need to breathe subsides long enough for me to enjoy a ham and cheese sandwich in a nearby park. I watch kids play on a playground. I can’t help but wonder what the world will look like when they are old enough to be aware of it. I hope that I leave this life in better shape than when I found it.
There’s one more place on my list for today before I head back to Belleville: the Monet museum. Of the painters I am both aware of and fond of, Monet is certainly one of the best. As I sit surrounded by his larger water lily works, I am struck by their solemness. It makes sense that he painted them towards the end of his life. It’s a great place to get a few pages of novel writing done, especially when you ignore the people waiting for a seat in the middle of the gallery (sorry not sorry, Nana).
I think I understand French impressionism now. Neat.
The real mark of growth comes at the end of the day when my GPS gives up and I have to find the way back to Belleville on my own. Luckily, I’m prepared. After nearly a year of Boston-levels of transportation, I can read a subway map. And I take the metro all the way back to the hostel where I sit in the lobby and realize that people like to be alone together, which is exactly how I feel tonight. When it’s time to eat, I venture out into Paris earlier than is traditional. I get no further than a restaurant that touts AUTHENTIC AMERICAN BBQ. I look at the sign and laugh, then laugh some more, and then I get a table. It is not authentic American BBQ, but that’s okay. A lot of other beautiful things happened today.