My first day in Paris felt more like three days. The day began at 8 AM on a Tuesday morning in New York City and didn’t end until 1 AM, Thursday, France time. When I arrived, the sky in Paris was just beginning to wake up. My plane was an hour early landing at Charles De Gaulle and the sun was an hour and a half away from showing its face fully. It felt like I and the other passengers of flight 44 were the only people awake in the world.
When I stepped off the plane, I began to feel more and more out of place with every step I took. Even the French/English signs offered no comfort for me. I realized the loneliness and helplessness that is felt when you are in a foreign country and I can’t speak the language. For the first time in my life, I really felt disconnected from humanity. Even after being in New York, where the world converges and becomes a melting pot of various religions, races and cultures, I felt like the oddball. This moment was even more paramount than the first day I had arrived in New York. I stood at the baggage claim, trying to figure out who was American and who was French. I must have looked like a confused, deaf mute as I searched the faces of others for perhaps a clue to this whole system. But from the responses, I gathered that they were just as confused as I was. My thoughts ran arbitrarily with wondering where my luggage was, where to go next, what needed to be checked or stamped and hoping no one would ask me any questions in French. As it turned out, I received my luggage without any incident and followed the crowd as if I were herded cattle taken to the next corral of my arrival.
As I approached the lines to have my passport stamped, I realized quickly what this “anti-queue” philosophy is that the French have. It was easy to distinguish between who the Americans/Other were and who the French were. The Americans were patiently waiting in line while a large drove of French men and women walked completely around the silly, roped-off barricades and went straight to the passport booths. Of course, the guards said nothing. And why would they? I realized how ridiculous it all was, too. Why does everything always have to be so rigid, so formal, so structured? I soon began to admire the rebellious way they all took the ‘all for one and one for all’ stance. Obviously, there was power in numbers. Hence, the many strikes that occur. The passport agent gave me a half-hearted “Bonjour” and nonchalantly flipped through my passport. My first stamp was created and there my journey began.
The best book to read if you know nothing about French culture:
Deep breath. Phase two of my airport journey was through. I had my luggage and I was free to continue on into France. I stood for an hour at the arrivals gate, observing the Americans, the Europeans, and the Parisians. I played a guessing game of who they were and where they could be from. I watched families push through the crowds with loads of luggage and strollers, loved ones saying ‘hello’ and ‘good-bye’ with kisses and business men beginning their week. One hour I stood, alone with my thoughts. They jumped back and forth between what was to come and people watching; thoughts of “I can’t believe I’m finally in France!” back to questions, anxiousness and more pondering of my life and the events that led me up to this moment. I realized I had potentially put myself into what my friend would often refer to as “Lucy Moments,” coined from The ‘I Love Lucy’ Show. Lucy was always putting herself in compromising or ridiculous situations. In the beginning they were these quickly-devised plans that seemed to almost work out but during implementation, they were usually a disaster. In the end, they were always a great laugh and adventure, though. My “Lucy Moments” were few but always memorable. I smiled to myself as I realized I hadn’t come this far for nothing. There had to be something special that was worth exploring. I held onto that feeling as I thumbed through a thick fashion magazine filled with runway shots of European shows.
In the taxi, scooters whizzed by and the sun was now fresh on the horizon. I felt like a newborn baby just seeing the world for the first time. There were new sounds, new things to see, new words to learn and new foods to taste. I couldn’t believe I was here. I was taking in every second of every moment with appreciation. I was fascinated by every detail of my thoughts, emotions, the city moving around me. This was a moment of many to come where I felt so alive and so grateful to be living.
When I arrived at the hotel, the check-in time wasn’t until 1 PM, so I decided to go for a petite déjeune at a nearby café. The waiter extended to me a very warm Parisian welcome and a delicious cup of café au lait.
After breakfast, I decided to wander around Paris and take one of those free guided tours that last about 3 hours. I think my mind was still in shock or perhaps I was still recovering from the early morning hours. Paris was beautiful and spectacular. Eventually, I lost interest in the tour group and lagged behind. I retreated to my own adventure of Notre Dame, a walk along the Seine, La Madeleine Church as well as an hour break in the park to sit next to the fountains, soak up the sun and live, Parisian style. The moment felt perfect, as if time stood still and the world around me disappeared. Up until this point, the whole day had been a bit of a whirlwind. It wasn’t until this moment in the park that I really felt like I was in my skin, here in Paris.
The hotel arrival was an adventure in itself. When I did finally check into the hotel at 6 PM, I was pleasantly surprised by its overall appearance and the view of the city. The room was modern, cozy and featured one of those frosted glass doors to the bathroom. A hot shower was the first thing on my mind and I tore through the room like Moses parting the Red Sea to get into my hot, trickling therapy. After starting the shower to get the water nice and warm, I went about finding my toiletries. When I went into the bathroom 5 minutes later, the floor was soaked with about a half inch of water. Apparently, this shower was not meant to actually be used like a shower. It was poorly designed and leaked like a sieve. I ended up getting an upgrade to an Executive Suite, free of charge. The view was nice, the room was huge and as luck would have it, that shower leaked as well.
I finished the night off at one of those family style meal restaurants. It’s called the La Cave Schmidt
or the newly reopened L’Os à Moëlle
Parisians sat at the table and we all shared bowls of food but very few words were spoken. The atmosphere felt like home and the food was quite good. I finished the dinner in typical French manner with it ending around 11 PM, stuffed silly with good food and wine. I walked back to the hotel through the quiet, tiny cobblestone streets.
I had never been exposed to so many different, wonderful, beautifully presented dishes as I had in France. Even a café that would be considered the worst place to eat ranks high on my list. Compared to the tasteless, unimaginative, fake, artery-clogging crap I grew up eating in America, anything French was grand gourmet to me. If there was one thing the French could do better than anyone, it was food. France was the most romantic, in love with love places I had ever seen. It didn’t matter how old you were, you still found couples sitting on park benches, kissing, holding hands. Couples, and even friends, sat for hours at tiny, intimate tables in front of quaint cafes, leaning over, gazing into each other’s eyes or deep in conversation.
Men and women celebrated their new found love and relationships as if it were unexpected promotions at work. Love was a luxury and a precious gift. I discovered that the things in life that really mattered were the least things taken for granted in France. I realized that life and love were indeed special gifts and awakenings of spirit and self. Being in Paris reminded me of how good it felt to be human and a natural woman. I felt so free to be the feminine being that I was created to be. I had no sense of emotional boundaries, suppression, hang-ups or fears. It was like a veil that had been covering my soul was lifted and the girl within could finally be revealed.
By my third day in Paris, I had seen many of the monumental sites. The Louvre, Montmartre and La Basilique du Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) were among one of my favorite places to visit. I paused in the large cathedral for a while to sit, enjoy the silence and take in the calm. It was my form of escape and therapy from the people out on the streets. I loved the beauty and comfort underneath the sprawling arches of the cathedrals.
Paris made such a huge footprint on my heart. I will go back again someday.