Paris. What comes to mind? Is it romantic French cafes, filled with soft music and the murmur of good food and even better wine? Is it the roaring Champs Elysees, with its do-or-die roundabout and its tantalizingly expensive French stores? Or is it the icon itself: the Eiffel Tower piercing the sky, standing alone and magnificent behind a beautiful foreground of a long grassy quad?
For me, at thirteen, Paris should have been all of that. In my eyes, as we drove in to the city in our old, small rental car, it was all that and more: the epitome of travel, the most beautiful city in the world.
In reality, Paris is nothing more than rain.
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A constant English dribble, Paris is gray, overcast skies and tourists huddling under umbrellas. Paris is dodging traffic, keeping your head down as you walk, trying to stay as warm and dry as possible – and failing miserably. Paris is not being able to see the full Eiffel Tower because of the clouds; Paris is taking a tourist bus only to be driven out again by miserable, icy-cold rain.
What’s more, Paris is grandparents. Paris is getting lost with stubborn old people who, for the life of them, won’t take direction from younger, more location-oriented children. Paris is waiting in endless cafes for café au laits, while begging your grandparents to do something else. Paris is forgetting your French after three years of busting your butt in French class and having to depend on your grandfather’s Fren-glish to save the day.
But Paris is more than that. Paris is waking up to freshly baked bread and the promise of endless good food. Paris is (like the movies so often depict) seeing the Eiffel Tower around the corner, even in the rain. Paris is taking the subway (a marvelous invention to someone from the suburbs), and emerging from the underground to a whole different part of the city. Paris is old architecture and life, a magnificent city unlike anything in the United States. It is good fashion, attractive people, and a romantic language.
Truly, Paris is beauty.
Paris is also a wonderful lesson. A lesson that says ‘No, somewhere doesn’t have to be beautiful to be magnificent.’ Paris is learning that rain can be a good thing, that grandparents, though old, are always loving, and that young people make mistakes in their youth. Paris is learning to appreciate what you get, and to love it no matter what others think. Paris is small cars and crazy parking, almost getting run over and missing the sightseeing. Paris is knowing you’ll come back when it’s not raining, to do typical Parisian things, but it is also loving the way you see it then, for the first time: in all it’s rainy, Parisian glory.
Rain or shine, young or old, Paris is, well, Paris. Different to every tourist, there is one thing we all share: after visiting Paris, no one is the same.
That, my fellow traveler, is the true beauty of Paris.
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