Chronicles of a writer abroad

Prodigious Paris

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Ah, beautiful Par-ee.

Okay, yes, I’m pulling your leg. That is not really Paris, except insofar as EuroDisney’s theme park is called “Disneyland Paris,” despite being situated in a suburb a 40-minute train ride away.

The park is where we spent our first full day in France. We joined friends from Germany to help celebrate one of their birthdays (as a bonus, the weekend also fell close to Stelian’s birthday). As soon as we entered the park, our friends knew where everything was, which I found strange, because I didn’t think any of them had visited this park before. It was then that one of them informed me that all Magical Kingdoms have the same layout. For some reason, the cookie-cutter quality of this creeps me out. I also learned that because the particular park we visited is in Europe, and has to compete with real châteaux, its crowning castle (pictured above) is larger than the ones in Orlando or Anaheim.

Our day there was enjoyable. We rode a lot of rollercoasters, which sadly I have become quite intolerant of since my teenage years (read: while on the ride, I apply a Vulcan death-grip to the handles, squeeze my eyes shut and count the seconds until it’s over). But was the visit magical? Well, it was interesting for Stelian and me to reconcile the reality of a Disney theme park with our respective childhood conceptions of it. As a child, I never had any kind of fetish for the parks, or any real desire to visit them, but I did imagine Disneyland as a place where children went to be treated like little kings or queens and to frolic with costumed characters. Stelian recalls having a book about the Disney parks as a child, and thinking of them as an enchanted place that he’d never be able to visit.

But I think I can tell the truth here: there’s nothing magical about the crowds, the long lines, the many kids who are crashing from sugar or over-excitement, the endless processed food and cheap souvenirs being proffered at every turn. Perhaps the aura of magic still somehow materializes for the children who have been dreaming of visiting for so long. I hope so, but I fear not. And this has caused an interesting question to linger in my mind: Is it sometimes better not to visit a place about which you have developed a beautiful, magical dream?

Anyway, the next day we went to real Paris. We’d visited the city once before, but this time we stayed in Montmartre, a part we hadn’t visited on our first jaunt. Montmartre is home to this:

And also this, which is particularly beautiful at night when it’s not mobbed by other tourists (and you can go inside then too):

Montmartre perches above the rest of Paris on the right bank, and the Sacre Coeur (pictured above) is its crowning jewel. This is also the former hangout of Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, and other great artists. In fact, one of the highlights of my trip was this:

I love Dali’s imagination and symbolism, and Espace Dali, a gallery in Montmartre devoted to him, offered plenty of it, from his more classic works:

To more obscure works like this:

Not to mention a pretty cool gift shop where I nearly bought surrealist melting salt-and-pepper shakers, before stopping to question whether I could handle having to look at them all the time.

Our time in Paris proper was short (just two partial days and one night), but still long enough to squeeze in good art, a couple of good salads (I don’t usually order main-course salads, except in France, because they do them so well), and a good visit with an old friend who happened to be in the city. For me, the magic of Paris lies in the quiet interstices of the city’s many hyped-up and “magical” sights, and I’m okay with that.

One thought on “Prodigious Paris

  1. I always think of Paris as a special place and I guess the crowds were considerably less in 1965 when we spent a couple of days there. We stayed in an hotel on the left bank where our room was on the fourth floor (just like your apt. in Zurich) and the most important thing was not to forget anything when we went out for the day!
    Speaking of imagining special places where one may never visit, I feel that way about the Great Bear Rain forest on the north coast. Just to know it is there is the important thing.

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