Imagine for a moment, if you will, the sound of the accordion, the rush of La Seine as it slithers below your feet, the hum of foreign voices and the scent of romance in the form of any kind of perfume purchasable, from Gucci to channel. This was my first encounter with the glorious and eternal city that is Paris.
It was a city that was so full of sights that your eyes were sore at the end of the day. The year was 2008, and I was by myself in Paris, the city of lights itself. Well, I wasn’t completely alone. I was with a tour group, there for eleven days of pure, cultural bliss. It was time for a fifteen year old to be frightened, homesick, and overwhelmed. My response to that statement? None of the above
My expedition in the country was everything that I’d dreamed of it being. For years I had studied the French culture, language, and history. I was consumed by the French way of life, and going to Paris was like a homecoming for me- a pilgrimage if you will. Our tour traversed the entire country, beginning in the Capitol and moving slowly southward. Paris was incomparable to anything I had ever envisioned in my mind. Never had I thought that buildings- regular buildings that people, lived, worked and filed papers in, could be so majestic and grand. The city was so vain that it covered the ugly pockmarks of its constructions behind beautifully painted screens. The city was not proclaimed the most beautiful in the world for nothing.
The continuation of my journey delivered me to the small city of Tours, France- the linguistic center of the country and speaker of the proclaimed ‘purest’ French accent in the world. Students from different countries and nationalities of the globe traveled to the quaintly metropolitan city to learn to speak French, and as an aspiring linguist, this was nothing short of paradise.
But it was Normandy that offered itself as the most serious and contemplative part of the trip. Never had I felt such a sense of loss, reverence, or empowerment as when I stepped down into one of the forsaken fox holes on the beach of Normandy. The terror, panic, and bravery of the soldiers drowned me until I lost all sense of reality and time. It was as if I could hear the machine guns firing over my head, the bombshells exploding, and the planes roaring past. I looked at the sea and wondered if it had been red with all the blood that had been spilt for the terrible, terrible price of liberation.
I hadn’t realized before I left to go to France that I would be confronted with such a powerful experience. I believed that I was going on the vacation of a life time to spend time shopping in haute stores and viewing the greatest art of the world. But Normandy cast a lingering shadow on the trip that made me appreciate the country all the more. I beheld down in the foxhole that once sheltered a soldier of freedom, that France was a country that had both good and bad. It made me realize that everything I saw in the city of Paris, the Arc du Triumphe, the palace of Versailles, the Louvre, all had at one time or another been threatened by, or been the results of war. It made me stop and consider the country in a different light, one that opened my eyes to the world and what it really held.
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