I can never get enough of Paris. There is no place else on earth like it. Paris feels different than other cities. Paris looks different than other cities. Paris is just - well, it's just Paris!
The beauty of Paris unfolds as we walk around each corner and through each neighborhood. It's a feast for the senses.
Our eyes take in old and beautiful buildings, cathedrals, the Seine, the Louvre, Les Invalides, the Eiffel Tower. Our ears take in the sounds of the streets - people walking past, taxi cabs, bicycles, people quietly moving about and going on their way. Our noses take in the scents of strong café, the wonderful pastries, freshly baked baguettes, roasted chicken, and if we are in the right place at the right time - roasted chestnuts.
The beauty of sight, sound and scent that is Paris. When I am not here, I can close my eyes and see, hear and smell Paris, and for a moment I am back there.
But there is also the beast that is Paris.
My first trip to Paris was in 1999. I can walk past the same buildings, the same restaurants, the same sidewalk cafes. Nothing changes here in that regard. Buildings are not torn down to make room for newer, more modern buildings. The structures in central Paris are still and probably always will be - ancient and beautiful.
But some things have changed and continue to change with each trip that brings us back here.
The beast that is also Paris.
It is in front of the Eiffel Tower with dozens of hawkers trying to sell their trinkets and souvenirs. On days that are heavy with tourists, we can hardly get through the crowds because of the constant in your face pandering for attention and money. They have taken over the entrance to the Eiffel Tour and made it ugly. Made it into a beast.
It is in the gypsies begging on the streets for money. These are not homeless people and down on their luck people. These are gypsies - always old women or younger women made to sit on the sidewalks begging for handouts - sometimes with children. The same gypsies that are seen in Madrid, Rome, Napoli, Nice. The gypsies have taken over street corners and sidewalks and have made parts of Paris ugly. They have made it into a beast.
It is in the pickpockets that love to prey on tourists and are a well-honed machine when it comes to stealing wallets and purses. They can be in and out of your purse and gone with your wallet long before you realize that it is missing. The bold ones will cut your purse or backpack and take what falls out. These are the beasts.
It is in the warnings from the French government of what to do to stay safe and protect yourself from possible terror attacks. Know what places to avoid. Be smart. Paris has been hit too many times and faced to much grief to not be smart. This is one of the biggest beasts of all.
So I began this blog with the idea of showing the beautiful and the ugly side of Paris. Then this morning we walked the streets. Tonight we went to Tour Montparnasse and from the observation deck above the 56th floor, we looked out on the night lights of Paris.
The Eiffel Tour sent its beacon into the sky, Les Invalides' dome was brilliant and beautiful. Taking a walk around the observation deck we saw the Arc de Triomphe anchoring the West end of Champs-Élysées and the ferris wheel anchoring the East end. The Pantheon, Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter, and far in the distance Sacré-Cœur, Beautiful, beautiful Paris.
And as we walked home and had a light supper of an omelette with frites and a glass of wine in a little local cafe, we knew once again what we had always known. . .Paris is beauty.
There are some beasts - yes. They are not sugar-coated or hidden. You have to know they are there to navigate the city and be safe, but what really matters is the beauty. Beauty wins each time.
So we will come back here at every opportunity. We will return if we are lucky, many more times in our lives. And each time, we will be greeted with beauty and be welcomed home where our souls are at peace.
“I've seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”
― Ernest Hemingway