In honor of recent events in Paris, The Gentle Traveler presents a slice-of-life account of an American in Paris for the first time from writer Zachary Pugh. This is the Paris that we across the ocean long for, the Paris that we pray for and the Paris that will endure.
This is Paris, France. The streets are made of cobblestone the size of American alleyways. Cars are much different here. They are compact and have little gadgets that make me think of how clever human beings can be.
Cafés line the streets and the old men who own these cafés sip lattes and smoke their clove cigarettes while American tourists bustle with places to go– maps in-hand and rustling to the symphony of the Parisian breeze.
Compared to San Diego, where I come from, the scene is slowly and keenly intellectual. People stop to take in long full breaths of oxygen laced with antiquity.
As I sit here in this café on a chair at a table that dawns a backdrop of the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, I think of the history of where I am. It is richer and older than anything I have ever known.
I think of the theories and the ideas and the motivation that was birthed either in this same very spot or nearby. I am overwhelmed.
This is the Paris where, in the middle of urban high fashion, men and women brandish sleek, fresh white-skinned faces with smoky features and sensual tones of tongue. There are buildings that I have only seen in films about young, quirky love. There are churches built eons ago with ancient pillars the height of the El Cortez Hotel in downtown San Diego. These pillars hold up a church that is across the street from the hotel where we are staying.
The St. Madeleine Church is so beautiful and I have never seen anything like it before. I mean that in the most sincere and honest way possible─ it breaches any experience of mine. The first time that we walked passed it, it took my breath completely out of my lungs and replaced it with awe. The church is a perfect square, a block, and on each side of it there are sculptures of saints, their tops blackened by weather and the exhaust of compact cars that roll by day after day after day.
These saints remain still and hold their rosaries and crosses. They keep their passionate stance beneath the wings of the church.
When we first arrived, for half of the day we walked through the adjoining streets of our hotel, the New Roblin Hotel, as well as the St. Madeleine church and the Louvre garden, which is absolutely breathtaking. I say this hesitantly because I am not one to use cliché language as such, but for this, it is the truth.
When you enter the massive Louvre garden, you are greeted by sculptures of gods, goddesses, warriors and their sons and daughters. Their still-life peace makes you stare and expect movement as the trees all around you quiver with the gentlest breeze. It is completely raw.
Most of these statues possess an eerie peace because their faces and bodies have been weathered by this wind and the elements. Some have blank stubs for noses and some have no ears, mouths, hands or feet. What remains are expressions and symbolism. These statues are important, more important than we can ever fathom. They are older than our fathers or grandfathers.
In the middle of this broad circle of statues, there is a large man-made body of water; it is a fountain without action. The water is stagnant and peaceful and people gather around it to sit and smoke and drink and eat. This seems to bring it alive as it ripples from the same Parisian wind that weathered Zeus and his son Heracles who, as you read this, suckles in a statuesque state from the breasts of the maternal canine that stares off into the distance and into my eyes, your eyes, their eyes.
That was our first day.
Today, we visited the Palais du Louvre. There are so many astounding works of art that I saw and so many that I did not. What I did see, however, has genuinely changed my life…forever.
A few come vividly to mind as absolutely fantastic, and cannot be replicated by a reproduction, two-dimensional or three. They are pieces such as the Venus de Milo, Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, the Turkish Bath, and of course, Mona Lisa, who has eyes, I swear, that give you the same intimidating and intimate feeling when staring into the eyes of another person– a lover, an enemy, a friend, or a companion. In my opinion, if you want to replicate merely a fraction of the intensity of staring into the eyes of Mona Lisa, simply stare into the eyes of another person while speaking to them.
There is so much more that Paris has given to me in such a short period of time. For the first time in my life, I cannot fully describe it to you in the form of the written word. I can only suggest that you walk these cobblestone streets at least once in the travels of your life─ I can honestly say that it is like nothing I know.
Zachary Pugh is a writer living in San Diego, California. He writes fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction. He received his Master of Arts in Literature & Writing Studies from Cal State University San Marcos in 2005. He has taught General Education Humanities, General Social Science, Writing, English, and Literature. His work has been published in Tidepools: A Journal of Ideas, Turbula, San Diego Independent Media, Political Activist Network (PAN), Poets Against War, Vision Magazine, and Perigee: Publication for the Arts.
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