Where else can you finish your first “night” at 6:30 am, and your second at 8:00 am after you’ve watched the sun rise and the commuters come out? They say that New York is the city that never sleeps, but Paris definitely gives New York a run for its money. And Paris by night truly is enchanting.
This past weekend I went for a short visit to see my friend Luke from Boston. After an exhausting day struggling with a computer virus, checked out students and no-show classes, I was happy to make my way to Paris sans train complications. After navigating to our host’s house, happily reuniting with Luke and filling up on delicious wine, cheese and baguette, it was time for the match de foot! As soon as we exited the metro, you could feel the energy shift in the streets. Crowds of fans donning blue attire and chicken? hats swarmed into the stadium equipped with flags, whistles and horns. I was beside myself as we took our amazing seats and stood for the French anthem. The excitement that I felt as a 12 year old, rooting alongside the dedicated French fans in bars as we screamed at the television, flooded back as I stood there in person screaming at the actual players, “allez les bleus!” I laughed in disbelief and amusement as the French booed their own players for missed goals or actions not up to par. Only the French would feel so offended by anything other than perfection. As the flags flew, the horns blazed and the roar of the wave that made the Red Sox stadium sound like a mere trickle passed through the crowd, I couldn’t help but think “Is this real life??” Georgia gave France a difficult beginning, but the game finished with a satisfying 3-1.
The night continued with rejoicing in the streets, late night “burritos” (panini pressed and filled with thai rice- but at least they had black beans!!), a house party, followed by a random dive bar with only men and a bizarre selection of 90s music, another surprise dance bar with gummy bear drinks and wonderful west african music, and ending at the Notre Dame where a crowd of teenagers excitedly interrogated us on and impressed us with their knowledge of american culture. Had I not spent the past 6 months working with teenagers, I think I might have been intimidated or annoyed by these kids. However their enthusiasm amused me and my heart went out to one in particular- a Syrian immigrant who came to France for the Army even though he wanted to do graphic design. His face lit up when I told him I taught art in the states and as we left I couldn’t help but tell him not to give up on his artistic passion.
Day two got off to a late start, but we made our way to the Château de Vincennes originally constructed as a hunting lodge for Louis VII in the 12th century. It was bizarre to see a château in the middle of apartments and shops and to witness an actual prison tower (the kind you would imagine Rapunzel in).
After enjoying the warm weather at an outdoor cafe, we returned home for aperos and received a special treat- Paris by car. We were lucky enough not only to stay with our French friend in Paris, but to stay with one who happily offered us a personal tour of Paris by night. As we passed the famous monuments and places- Louvre, Bastille, Oblisque, Orsay- I couldn’t help but feel mesmerized by Paris. The glow of the lights, the old buildings, the winding streets, the history encompassing all- it really was enchanting. My favorite moment came as we drove down the Champs-Élysées toward the Arc de Triomphe. I have walked to, around, on top of and under the Arc, but it was amazing to see it from a perfectly centered view as it grew ever closer along the strip of lights.
Our next stop took us to another house party. Unfortunately we were not in the loop, and had no idea that is was not only a birthday, but also a themed party. Apparently the French love to do theme parties starting with letters. Since Charlotte was the birthday girl, everyone dressed in C related attire. It made for great conversation starters to meet people and call out across the room “Chat!”, “Cleopatra”, “Cowboy”, “Charlie” (The French Waldo- weird, I know.) Our night continued with more bar hoping, champagne on the subway, and eventually the Centre Pompidou- at 5 in the morning. It was the last weekend of the Dali exhibit and as a result it was open for 24 hours.
Convinced we would be the only ones there, we were quite surprised to discover the contrary- a gallery full of people. What a surreal experience- to be in Paris, in an exhibit at 5 am wandering among all types of people and having time to take in Dali’s actual work. I relished the time and intimately stared at and studied Dali’s brush strokes, his choice of color, and bizarre subject matter. It was all the more surreal to exit as the sky shifted from a deep blue to a rosy purple.
Our final destination brought us to the Eiffle tower as the sun came up. Unfortunately the Paris weather prevented the viewing of an actual sunrise, but the experience was no less impressive. We stood under the massive tower as it penetrated the morning mist, listening to the birds waking up and watching Paris come alive. I felt rejuvenated and overwhelmed. What an amazing adventure. What a treat to remember why I love France, to embrace new experiences, to feel the romantic night of Paris, to take in these famous sites at off hours. It is so rare to have a personal moment with monuments without the hassle of crowds, the noise of tourism, and the rush of “gotta see this quickly!”
As we walked away, delirious and tired, I couldn’t help but smile and think about what Luke said earlier in an outburst of delight (though he will tell you otherwise), “Everything I’ve ever wanted has happened!”
How lucky were are to have these moments.