The Expectations and Reality of Holiday in Paris
By Halle Wyatt, Co-Content Editor
Whether you call it the City of Love or the City of Light, we can all agree that Paris, France has a sizeable reputation. You hear the name and your head is filled with images of heart-shaped padlocks over the Seine, a glittering Eiffel Tower soaring high into the French skyline, and an artful shot of the Mona Lisa worthy of an indie film with Edith Piaf singing somewhere in the background.
I have wanted to travel to France since I was six-years-old, and this past summer, I had the opportunity to visit Paris for my sixteenth birthday. My mind was filled with a decade’s worth of expectations and hopes for what this legendary vacation could entail. I rationally knew that it would be nowhere near as cinematic as my imagination wanted to believe, but that logical thinking still couldn’t get Sidney Bechet out of my head.
When we finally landed outside of Paris after a ten hour flight, I quickly realized that my logical side was right about everything — except for one thing: the fact that it was a real city with real people and a real history wasn’t a bad thing. That didn’t make it disenchanting; it made it beautiful.
Yes, the outskirts near Charles de Gaulle felt dangerously close to the American Midwest. In the city itself, the streets were dirty, everyone smoked, and it was so hot we became nothing but sweat. But in between our bouts of discomfort, there were moments of joy all around us. Paris was alive, and I could feel it everywhere we went.
I dreamt of Paris through rose-colored glasses, while rationally expecting Paris to be as gray as Seattle, but in reality, Paris was golden. People smiled brightly and deeply laughed, deeply, truly connecting with one another. Parisians stayed up until two in the morning on weeknights, engaged in deep conversation with close friends at the restaurants near our apartment; strangers were kind to us and sought to know us. When Paris is called the City of Love, we think of romance. I now think of friendship.
When people think of Paris, they think of the Louvre. I, of course, stared at the Mona Lisa with my own two eyes, albeit through a crowd of heads and mobile phones. She was small, and surrounded by a thick prison of glass, but enchanting nonetheless. But my favorite piece in all the museums was not a Van Gogh or a Picasso or a Rembrandt, but the sculpture of the Winged Victory of Samothrace. She was brutally mangled, a bit torn apart, yet she continued to stand tall. She made me feel connected to the women who have come before me. She made me feel powerful.
Paris was alive on the Seine. It was alive at the musical cabaret show, Moulin Rouge, which included topless dancers (I won’t get into the sexism here, but not one man ripped his clothes off once) and it was alive at the Sacre Coeur in the early morning and in the little cathedral across from the tourist shops where the choir sang, their voices pouring out into the street. Paris even felt alive when I was sick in bed for the last few days of my trip while I rallied under an unhealthy amount of ibuprofen.
Before Paris, I could only imagine two scenarios; either the city was a cinematic masterpiece or a brutal dose of reality. After my trip, I know that along with many other cities of unbelievable reputations, Paris isn’t made up of romantic storylines or soundtracks, but of the people living there now and those who came before.