Saturday, August 21, 2010

A View From The Top

Je suis vraiment desole, je ne parle pas français tres bien, mais..." (followed with random vocabulary words in French) was the phrase I used most while exploring Paris. And you know what? It worked rather well. It means, "I'm sorry, I don't speak French very well but...", and I found that as I made an honest effort to communicate in the language of that particular country, almost everyone was willing to help me or kindly make sympathetic attempts at friendly conversation. Which really, who could ask for much more?

For some reason, many Americans assume the French are extremely rude and dislike any form of interaction involving them. I suppose I can imagine if one goes to France, acting like a tourist rather than a traveller, and expects everyone to speak English and automatically conform to customs and habits one has picked up in their own country, the ensuing encounters could be a bit unpleasant. Living in Southern California, it would best be compared to an individual of Mexican descent approaching you and rattling off their concerns in Spanish, expecting you to communicate effectively with him or her and becoming irritated you cannot. Make sense? I hope so.

Moving on! As the morning began, and the sounds of Parisian activity rose from the street outside my window, I quickly set out on the path that was planned out the previous evening before I reluctantly went to bed. Of course the true art of travel is diverting from one's plans, so I wasn't counting on sticking to it. Walking to the nearest Metro station, I breathed a sigh of satisfaction from merely being in Europe on my own time, with such a feeling of detachment from all I left behind in the States. That is one of the many sacred characteristics of travel: the ability to completely escape all you’ve known as ordinary and replace it with what others know- their culture, their world. There is something spiritual in nature about becoming immersed in a different culture; a sort of connection with people that cannot be attained by sitting at home or in your hometown all of your life. Not to say that is the incorrect thing to do, but it is something you will never experience unless you get out into the world and be a part of others’ lives and let them become a part of yours. Seeing things from a completely new perspective in that way is something that the cost of a plane ticket and hotel can never cover; it truly is priceless. I think at some point or another a part of each of us has thought of how incredible it would be to drop everything and take a plane out of one’s own world and into a totally new one. Dropping everything and leaving, just walking right out the door and boarding a plane. Of course apart from being a fugitive, that could be a very good thing. Perhaps one could ask themselves why they “can’t do that” and look for solutions to remedy the problem?

Anyroad, I left the Metro once it arrived at L’av des Champs-Élysées, and proceeded above ground to L’Arc de Triomphe, which turned out to be quite a bit larger than I had previously anticipated it would be. It was also a great deal more epic a sight to behold, with an immense French flag waving amidst the four pillars of the infamous landmark. After walking around it for a time and seeing The Tomb of the Unkown Soldier, I proceeded down L’av Kléber to the Palais de Chaillot. Now, this was one of the most incredible sights of the entire trip. Not the Palais itself, but in fact what I saw once crossing the open plaza to survey the city. I had seen bits and pieces of Le Tour Eiffel (the Eiffel Tower for you English speaking folk) between the beautiful buildings along the avenues, but when you walk into plain view of all that Paris has to offer, your breath can’t help but escape you.
The amount of sky when in harmony with the environment of the low level buildings, and contrasted by the tower against it all is something pictures really cannot capture in depth, both physically and mentally. It really took a while to soak it all up (that’s me in the center of the picture there), but once I recovered and got back on my feet, I walked across the bridge, or Pont d’léna, to the tower and purchased tickets to the very top. It was about €14, but the price was actually much higher than those Euros to get to the top. I never thought the words “this is a nightmare” would come out of my mouth when on the Eiffel Tower, but there was the absolute coldest, highest-speed wind I’ve ever experienced bombarding all of us when moving up the three levels of the tower, I just couldn’t help it… so make sure you dress warmly for the occasion. A young child was crying and trying to hide it was that bad! But keep in mind, it was well worth it to see what there is to see from the top. It seems for many things in life, the price you pay to get to the top turns out to be nothing for what you really get in results and rewards of finally reaching it.

The interior of the tower itself can best be described by the following: A small, rambunctious young lad was running around and misbehaving when he suddenly runs to a support beam and yells loudly, “Ces’t comme le chocolat! NOMNOMNOM!” All of which basically means, “It looks like chocolate!” shortly followed by the charming sounds of the boy pretending to eat the Eiffel Tower. I suppose it was the brown paint covering the metal, but either way it apparently looked delicious. The structure really was a remarkable sight and the views it offered were spectacular. The best view of the rest of Paris is where I will leave you for now, but needless to say, the day held much, much more