Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Waking up in Paris

I continue to process my memories of the Paris trip and to try to fit my experiences into my existing mental framework. I'm also going through some of the photographs that I did not put in this blog on the day I took them. However, I want to start with a photograph taken by my friend and traveling companion Jay Hook.

This was taken on the morning of the first day I woke up in Paris. That morning we set out, eager and curious, to explore our new neighborhood, the Marais. What is so touching to me about this photograph is that I wanted to be photographed in such a photogenic, beautiful place, and I didn't really grasp that I would have many, many opportunities to sit in beautiful squares and parks and be photographed. (And sitting is, of course, the yin to walking's yang, the other half that gives the first half much of its meaning.) I had thought of Paris as a sort of highlights reel, and for all the planning we did, I thought we would hasten on foot from highlight to highlight. Before we left, I noted particularly lovely or noteworthy streets to walk down, but I didn't really understand that so much of the city was going to be such a pleasure to walk in, even the parts in between all the places I noted as special. Of course there were busy streets and traffic and crowds, but I was never very far from someplace like this, and even on the busy streets, the buildings were more often than not eye-catching, harmonious, and beautifully proportioned. The streets themselves were often lovely, either narrow and picturesque or broad and tree-lined.

Before I went there, I think I saw the city as something like a landscape where humdrum flat areas are punctuated by mountain ranges. On this first morning there, I thought this square was one of the mountains, a high point in the landscape. I didn't realize that to a large degree, it was the landscape, the quotidian experience awaiting me when I stepped out the door. Until Jay told me, I couldn't remember the name of this particular place, charming as it was, because I sat in so many like it. (For the record, the photo was taken in the Jardin Saint-Gilles-Grand-Veneur.) The monuments and churches and museums and big gardens were high points, but they were more like individual peaks in the Himalayas than like the Rockies rising up from the Plains. I can't help wondering how my perspective on the city would change further with prolonged exposure.

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