I am a wanderer, best served when I am participating in this world. I believe that when we move, we mix—and mixing makes us better people, better communities… a better world. There are many designations that can be laid upon me that suggest location or region; inner-city, urban, omahan, nebraskan, midwesterner, American… but the one that is most accurate and that which I cherish most is "GLOBAL." I am a citizen of the globe, and I am free to move about this world and participate in the Life of an Earthling.
1 >> L' Été à Paris c'est magnifique
All the things you can possibly imagine, the things you've seen in books—at a scale that you could never possibly anticipate.
Almost as soon as we could get checked into our delightful little hotel (Hotel Residence Europe) in the small northern suburb of Clichy, we were ready to explore the city. Clichy lies about 20 min north of the center of Paris by way of the "Metro"—their version of London's "Tube" or New York City's Subways. A quick stop (and test of my newly acquired French tongue) and we had Metro passes in hand for the week and were ready to rock. Having vast experience riding subways in NYC and "El" trains in Chicago made navigating the Paris Metro a breeze. So the first thought was, "let's get the to obvious sites right away!"
The Metro is tightly packed when heading into the center of Paris. It's a massive city far larger than I imagined. The city is zoned in terms of "arrondissement"—their term for "boroughs"—which are far larger than simple neighborhoods. They are nearly small cities unto themselves. For instance, Clichy lies in the 17th arrondissement and the "Arc de Triomphe" is located in the 8th arrondissement. And that would be our first stop. It was the dead of summer and Paris was encountering a historic heat wave. The brutal heat of the Metro was suffocating, and the announcement that we had reached our stop, Charles DeGaulle Etoile, was a welcome sound—until we got to the top and got zero respite from the heat as the blazing sun had not yet set. However, I couldn't feel the external heat anymore as my heart leapt and my internal temperature spiked from the excitement filling me. I caught a glimpse, just a small peek of my first Parisien monument, and by far one of my longtime favorites; the Arc de Triomphe. Here is when I knew that I would never be prepared for the scale of what I was going to see. Huge wouldn't even begin to do it justice. As majestic as it's name, it was clear to see its intent as a monument to the victories of an emperor.
Situated at the far end of the Champs Elysée, walking from the Arc to the other end seemed a natural choice, but already we witnessed the next example of scale; it's a 1.3 km walk down the famed avenue. No sweat, I'm an athlete… let's get it in. Besides, the Adidas Store is at the far end on the Franklin D. Roosevelt roundabout.
2 >> La Magnifique Tour Eiffel
As the day wore on, our energy waned none. So pressing on, we saw the iconic silhouette in the distance and thought we could make it there with no problem. Judging by visual distance can a bit of a mistake, but the adventure was on. So we pushed, and what a brilliant decision that was. As we approached from the northwest, we reached the Esplanade du Trocadero of the Palais de Chaillot. After navigating the trinket merchants with scores of Eiffel Tower minis and selfie sticks, I excitedly bellied up to a stand that was making fresh crépes and coffee, which would later prove to be a very crucial and emotional combination for me in leaving France—but I digress. The esplanade was full of life and activity as people the world over had come to funnel down through the Jardin de Trocadero and funnel into the space beneath the enormous steel beauty. But we took our time. I sat and had my Nutella crépe, sipped my tiny coffee (which I would become accustomed too soon enough), and sat quietly taking the entire scene in. At one point, I leaned over to my wife and said softly, "Look at where we are… can you believe this?" I love to observe and I'm easily taken in by seemingly insignificant moments, so this was affecting me greatly, needless to say.
Making my way down the steep ramp and stairs to the fountains and gardens below the esplanade, the scenery took on a new look. As the light continued disappearing behind the horizon, the grand steel latticework began to glow with a light all its own. Again, the scale and magnitude defies proper description. The way I began telling people was, "Do you see this picture? It's not professional… I took that. That's the best way I can tell you how beautiful she was. She made me & my iPhone look like a Nat Geo photographer!" See for yourselves.
3 >> En déplacement et en pied À Paris
Being on the move in Paris has a totally different feel than that of other larger cities. I've come to find that each city truly does have a personality all its own. Paris pulses with the clock like any other industrialized city in the world; the workers wake, go to work, take a lunch, and head home—but even this in Paris has a style and a flow to it. I believe it's a bit of a gift to straddle that line when traveling, to live a bit more normally and participate in the culture while still being an outside observer of life as it's lived. So many hidden gems and a feeling of understanding were to be found as we operated only partially as tourists. The other time was spent existing within the space provided.
It was impossible not to smile a proud and beaming grin as I walked past a fully restored replica of the famous "Herbie the Love Bug" (complete with California plates) parked on the street in the neighborhood of Clichy, as I strolled from the Metro to get a few groceries from the market. The Metro ride held something normally special each time I stepped on, but I only noticed because of not being lulled to sleep by the normality of the situation, but rather needing to be alert and stay safe in these surroundings new to me yet everyday occurrences to Parisiens. To quote Nick Carraway in 'The Great Gatsby,' "I was within, and without"—what a very interesting feeling. Our long walks to see nothing were as rewarding as our treks to see the big somethings. Why wandering to and fro across the bridges leading to Cité we stumbled upon the Hotel de Ville of the 1st Arrondissement—this "county seat" structure so grand it would be regarded as a castle in America—and in front of it, a modest health & technology fair, like any you would see back home. Just around the corner was a KFC… that's right, the Colonel was smack in the middle of one of the oldest boroughs in Paris, but there was a slightly different menu so even going to a staple of American fast-food culture was still eating "French" food. Kinda blew our minds a bit because it's a bit of a paradox of travel to eat at an establishment from home but not really eat the food from home. These moments of normality were moving to me because it closed the gap, it gave persepctive—we are so vastly different in so many ways except those that really matter. Just people moving about the city, albeit one of the oldest and grandest in the world.
Of course there were sights to be seen and grand scenes to behold, but the most moving moments were those when Tonya and I would stop for coffee, grab lunch on a whim just walking by a place un-Yelp'ed about, or duck into a market for a couple of bottles of water. Because in those moments we were not on a grand vacation, we were just another couple living in Paris—so memorably, remarkably normal.