Notre Dame of Paris (I would have said "My lady", but I had none)
I had thought of historical
monuments as being almost untouched since the time of their construction – that
was my idea of antiquity. But the cathedral, like many other monuments, had
undergone many renovations since then, and as I write, was undergoing another
one. It begged question whether its reasonable to start the age of the monument
as when it was first built. The case in favor of making the monument look it
was first built or envisioned of instead of letting it fall apart is strong
The majesty of Notre Dame
cathedral is easy to see, but to see what lay underneath, go underneath (sorry
for being trite) to the archaeological museum. There you can see remains of
walls that lay at the site from the Roman period to pre-cathedral times – man,
that was too much history for too little land, sort of like Jerusalem having
sacred places for about 70% of world population. At least, the Parisians
managed to let all the history co-exist peacefully, even if they had to dig out
space to do that. As an engineer, it is
disappointing to see how similar the walls 2000 years ago are to those in
present times – no wonder the monuments from those times are still regarded as
master pieces today, while no one will give a damn to the science or
technological knowledge of those times!
I dump Mona Lisa
I am not an art connoisseur – in
fact, I consider myself incapable of admiring art. But to visit Paris and not
see Mona Lisa or Venus de Milo is like visiting MIT but not seeing the dome or
the Stata center (in spite of all people may say, I say "Thank you, Mr
Gehry"!) So, went my remaining 1 ½ days in Louvre museum and Museum de
I was expecting to be lovestruck
after seeing Mona Lisa, expecting to see her in my dreams when I get back the
way I see Hollywood women. I felt a bit letdown – the small sized (stop
giggling, I am talking of the painting and not anything about the figure depicted)
painting, if I didn’t have a short wall all for itself, would have hardly stood
out in the midst of large impressive paintings abounding around it. Someone
next to me mentioned about how the woman’s bust the in painting formed a
perfect triangle, and how Leonardo da Vinci regarded it was his only completed
work, etc etc – but I preferred to move on.
.. but Venus de Milo gives me hope
Venus de Milo, on the other hand,
was easier to admire – the three dimensionality helped. The subtle soft figure,
the broad hips… maybe I will have dreams about the this sometime Looking
at other Greek and Roman sculptures, I made any etymological discovery for
myself– the origin for the word hermaphrodite – its from hermes + aphrodite,
or the son of hermes and aphrodite, who united with a nymph to get his bisexual
nature. Though not good enough a
discovery to get me my PhD, I was, like the five year old boy who discovered
that blue and yellow when mixed make green, proud of myself! Next stop, Museum
de Orsay – art is much easier to understand if seen chronologically, looking at
gentle evolution through different times.
Talking about beauty in the
context of Paris, its difficult to leave out Parisian women. Non-Parisian
French women, please be not offended – I haven’t seen the rest of, or any bit
of the rest of, France, so I am not qualified to comment on that. I do hereby
proclaim it loud and far – Parisian women are, and are so by quite some margin,
the most beautiful women I have ever seen. There is something very classy about
them, their looks, the way they carry themselves – they look classy even in the
jazziest sleaziest club attire. My travel-worn look and language handicap
didn’t really give me any chance with them, and other than a half-plan aborted, I
didn’t really try to get too adventurous with them.
I landed in Paris around 11pm and reached my friend’s metro station
about midnight. While getting out of the station, I noticed a pleasant-looking
non-East-Indian girl in an Saree–a traditionally Indian dress. Its pretty
likely that she is an Indo-phile, and if I am lucky, I may get her to show me a
bit of the city. Besides, I didn’t have anything to lose – I can always pretend
to have lost my way, always easy to do in a new place. I got out and followed
her, semi-running to catch up with her. She must have been scared at the
thought of kinda being chased on a very deserted street on Sunday midnight, for
she kept looking behind her back. As I caught up her, she turned right into a
street. I termed following her further as too risky, turned back, and headed
towards my destination.
The two towers
In the evening, I went to the
Eiffel tower and Arc of Triumph. The last time I checked, Eiffel tower was the
most visited monument in the world, and I knew what to expect – that and
overcrowding took away some fun of it. Arc of Triumph was a pleasant surprise,
however. Not very crowded but the terrace still offering a great view of the
city – a perfect place to come with friends with food or drinks and party till
the 10pm closing time. A little bit
of history and future history about the Arc – Napoleon built it to commemorate
a major victory, the Allied troops marched through it after liberating Paris
from the Nazis, and in a few years, George W. Bush will march underneath it
after liberating Paris from French as part of his War on Terror.
I save 1 euro 40 cents
Checking out French live music
scene was also on my agenda. So, I picked up a local event guide and the mean
miserly student that I am, picked up a no-cover jazz place. As if I hadn’t
enough surprises already, all singers there sang in English as they sat about
joking and chatting about in French, probably sneering at the lyrics of the
sang they just sang. They were very few people there – I felt noticed, and
hence compelled to order some drink when asked. I asked for Coca-cola, but my
inflated ego on saving money by doing so was burst when I saw the bill– 5
euros for a freaking bottle of coca-cola. I felt like someone just slapped me,
and then mocking at me, held up a sign saying "Welcome to Paris, you broke
moron". Thankfully, the subway had stopped running when I came out – I was
saved of 1 euro and 40 cents that I would have spent on the ticket instead of
Paris: Lost in translation
The first thing that struck me
when I got to Paris was the lack of English speaking skills – I just got here
from Amsterdam, and it spoiled me into believing that all Europeans speak better
English than I myself. Another barrier, with those that spoke English or when
asking about places, is the very different pronunciation in French. A lot of
alphabets sound so similar in French – I wonder why designed a language that
uses so little of their vocal facilities!
I have been told that many French
who know English well refuse to speak it in France. Soon after I landed, a
French non-English speaker attempted to give me the subway directions to my
destination – he had to write down RER and rue because I wasn’t
familiar with French pronunciation of "r". The difficulty he went through
explaining it to me in all French – its hard to believe he will go through this
pain just for the language pride. I will dismiss those stories as another
example of French leg-pulling that we all so very much like to indulge in.
That wasn’t only it.
There are comedy movies on lack of communication due to language
mismatch. Something similar happened to me in the park behind the cathedral. As
I stay there munching bananas (I had learned to do carry them around – food,
like everything else in Paris, was expensive), an old man enjoying the sun on a
bench, his hand and chin resting on staff said something in French that I didn’t
understand, but by the way he said it, must have been something pleasant.
"No parles francais", I tried to
An attempt or two, later, I got
the point across that I spoke no French, and he, that he spoke no English. Now,
our conversation broke in a one-word question and answers, sort of what babies
in early stage learn, or what George W. Bush is only getting to get hold of.
"Tourist?", he asked.
"Oui", I said.
He looked puzzled.
"Indisches", I tried
again, then immediately realizing that was Dutch, not French.
"Indien", I said again,
this time carefully.
He signaled me to join him on the
bench. He seemed to be nice, but I feared taking up the offer to join on the
bench – it will be difficult to get up, and that would mean a few more minutes
of this unproductive conversation. I made a walking signs with my fingers,
mumbled something like "to go", turned back, and left, avoiding looking at him
again as his eyes followed me leave.
Born and brought up in India, Arvind is currently a graduate student in
Boston, MA, USA. Even though his study area (Computer science) doesn’t really
have much to do with travel (except for conferences), he likes to travel and
write about his travels — usually packing his trips with as much event and
adventure as he can. You can contact him at email@example.com