A TALE OF ONE CITY: A VIEW OF PARIS FROM THE EYES OF PINOY 90s KIDS
Junart Kim S Nieva
ORDER DU JOUR
It takes two to tango; it takes three to retro.
Not in music though, nor in fashion.
We may be called the three stooges, but since we’re bound to France the ‘Three Musketeers’ seemed more appropriate. This is a retelling of our short adventure – Jeffrey, Kim (yep, namesake) and I – in the French capital, taking in sights and sites that make one relive a millennial moment in time.
It was my first time to ride the Eurostar. Despite the frustration of not being able to see actual sea creatures on the glass windows while passing through the channel tunnel (forgive the ignorance), I could say I’ve had a comfortable trip aboard one of the mankind’s amazing inventions. I greeted a late afternoon Paris with a momentary closed eyed and a smile. “I’m back!” My mind exclaimed. Even at Gare du Nord station the smell of croissants from stalls hinted familiar aroma that made me confirm, “Yes, I’m truly back. Bonsoir, Paris!”
My travbuddies for the weekend Kim (yep, namesake) and Jeffrey who are both from the same workplace as mine arrived earlier in the day. JUAN for all, all for JUAN!’ So as not to waste the time, we left the hotel and made our way towards France’s most famous icon – La Tour Eiffel. About five years ago, I had the chance to go up the tower with my parents. This time, we decided to skip it to avoid cliché; it might sound a bit odd, but it’s nice enough seeing it up close and personal, and then seeing it from afar. This legendary tower of France, which I see as a symbol not just of beauty, love, and peace, but also of unity, solidarity, and resiliency has given the recent terrorist attacks the Parisians have endured, will always stand the test of time.
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
The sun had started to set when we crossed the bridge over River Seine (cue: Our Last Summer by Abba, lol); this meant that the Eiffel Tower shifted from a still and silent giant column to a glittering and glamorous skyscraper. We won’t talk about lovers kissing under or around it, but rather, about the many people of various races teeming around the vicinity, enjoying a Friday evening obviously ready for a good weekend. We had chicken and beef shawarma for dinner accompanied by the mandatory ‘French fries’, in a seasonal food market close enough that Eiffel’s spotlight could still reach. Any Beauxbatons Academy (Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, 2000/2005) students around, please?
A short bus ride took us to Musee du Louvre. The statues that adorn the U-shaped building conveyed an eerie feeling, for it’s as if they are looking at us, not to mention the tinted windows which make you wonder, ‘Is there somebody up there’? As the moon shone bright, so did the four pyramids glittered at the center of the square. I suddenly remembered the controversial ‘The Da Vinci Code’ novel by Dan Brown and its movie version. Captain Fache, one of the characters, asked our favorite symbologist Robert Langdon if he liked the pyramids. The latter implied yes, but the former sarcastically described them as a ‘scar on the face of Paris.’ For me, they are actually assets which make Paris live up more to its status as the city of lights and love. There weren’t many people at the time, though there were pre-nuptial photoshoots going on. Above, the stars were on display in the night sky; below, I looked for hints of the Rose line. It was midnight.
The place slowly grew silent. No repentant hero Valjean, no grisette Fantine who dreamed a dream, not even Inspector Javert patrolling the streets (or rooftop). The sky wasn’t bleak, so obviously there’s no Eponine on her ‘own’.
We headed back to the hotel after a while, determined to explore more the following day.
MONA LISA SMILE
Our second day was the busiest yet most exciting as the morning was spent in the suburb of Paris. We made our way to the Palace of Versailles in Ile-de-France region, which is probably the biggest I’ve seen so far. Since it would take a whole day to take it all in its entirety, we just decided to visit the gardens to at least get a royal vibe. It’s as if by divine right the Sun King Louis XIV himself smiled upon us as we had a laidback stroll on a warm weather, far from the ridiculous cold summer that London sometimes offer. Ornamented with cherubs, Roman and Greek statues, as well as sparkling fountains, towering hedges and beautiful topiaries, this is definitely a place one should not miss when visiting the famous Palace of Versailles. Its green plants and lavish ornaments made me associate it with Highgarden of The Reach in Westeros (Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice & Fire). What more inside the palace itself? As a child, I remembered Alexandre Dumas’ novel and Di Caprio’s movie ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’. This Chateau that once served as the seat of absolute monarchy is now a museum which people can explore and enjoy without being intimidated as in the old days. After a seafood lunch near the train station, we headed back to city centre and went to our next destination, the main highlight for me.
It was Louvre Museum. Missed on my first visit to Paris way back, I saw to it that this time I’ll make it. It was already afternoon yet the swarm of people coming over queuing was nonstop. It might sound an overstatement, but this truly is one of the most visited museums all over the world. There were only two works of art that I longed to see: The intriguing Mona Lisa and the marble Venus de Milo. I realized it was wrong to do so; every work of art is a sight to behold! As a fan of The Da Vinci Code, we had a look at Leonardo’s Madonna of the Rocks, which played a role as well in the story. It was nice seeing paintings by Raphael as well, and Michelangelo’s ‘Dying Slave’ sculpture. We’re not sure if we saw any of Donatello’s, so we regrettably left without completing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s collections. Meh!
It isn’t only the Renaissance Italian artists who make Louvre an interesting place to explore. The repertoire includes the Great Sphinx of Tanis (2600 BC), ‘Liberty Leading the People’ painting by Eugene Delacroix (1830), and the Winged Victory of Samothrace (190 BC) which stands at the top of Daru Stairs. Before leaving we had a closer look at La Pyramide Inversee – the inverted pyramid – and wondered… what if Mary Magdalene was indeed buried beneath, with a ‘blade and chalice guarding o’er her gates?’ Nah, it doesn’t matter. There’s a work of art there!
Though feeling a bit tired at this juncture, we decided to pay homage to the Roman Catholic Church – the Sacre Coeur Basilica – situated in the bohemian Montmartre region. Now in Paris, there are no mountains, but there are hills, and this holy place is situated on the highest point of the city. We didn’t mind the steps up, the view from atop is just breath-taking. We entered the solemn premises and felt relieved. The basilica showcases French saints such as Joan of Arc and St Therese of Lisieux.
The night ended with a brief wander around Pigalle district, undecided whether to enter Moulin Rouge or not, only to realize there are no walk-ins but by booking only. We just had drinks in a quiet Parisian ‘pub’ before calling it a night.
ONE DAY MORE…
Even on my last day before heading back to the UK (Kim and Jeffrey stayed for another night before proceeding to another European getaway!), there were still a lot to see. Reading the ‘The Three Musketeers’ and of course Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’ and the movie version of it, I persuaded Kim and Jeffrey to go and see Place de La Bastille. Used to be a prison until it was destroyed during the French revolution, there only now stands a monument called the July Column in the middle of a square. To the barricade!
Afterwards, we took the Metro towards the Pantheon, a colonnaded neoclassical sepulcher in the Latin Quarter. The Pantheon truly amazed us in many ways possible; first through its architecture, next to what’s in the interiors. Not to be confused with Rome’s, this mausoleum which was previously a church houses the remains of significant French people, most of whom are part of our fields of study. It felt surreal to see the tombs of famous literary giants I admire, that of Victor Hugo and of Alexander Dumas, and an inscription for Sainte-Exupery, author of ‘The Little Prince’. There’re also the graves of Voltaire, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Pierre and Marie Curie, and of Louis Braille – hero of the blind. Imagine these great people who may be dead yet their legacies live on (recalled exam papers in science, world history and literature subjects back at school, lol).
After lunch, we headed to Ile de la Cite where the famous Notre Dame Cathedral is. Quasimodo may be busy at the time as unfortunately, we were not able to go inside due to long queue; there was nobody to safely deliver us to the sanctuary (enter Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame). Though even the chimeras seemed elusive, at least we get a good glimpse of the façade and its waterspout gargoyles. God blessed the outcasts!
Instead of feeling down, we proceeded to Champs Elysees, a famous shopping district, Paris’s answer to London’s Oxford Street. Starting from Place de la Concorde in the east, we rambled the long avenue until we reached the western end, the Arc de Triomphe. This monument was built in honor of the heroes of the French Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, and World War I. We entered, climbed up, and voila! Another scenic view of Paris 360 degrees, with twelve avenues right on sight. Finally a good view of almost all the twenty arrondissements! We loitered for a while, savoring the cooling winds as dusk approached. There I heard ‘people sing, singing the songs of angry men. It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again!’ Then the beating of their hearts, echoed the beating of the drums. Surely there’s life about to start when tomorrow comes…! Hmm, too much Les Miserables for me. LSS mode, pardon! (Watched the film, now I really have to watch the longest-running musical in London’s West End!)
A few hours later in the day, I found myself back in the Eurostar. Back to London, I was, with memories of a more detailed Paris than before in mind and in my heart. I was once a child, now I’m getting old, yet the fountain of youth within my very bones stirs each time I travel! Oh well, I just enjoy every bit of it.
Au revoir, le Paris!
Despite the recent tragic events that befell the French capital, it remains strong and resilient as ever! Encounter with the elusive Arsene Lupin in the Parisian Metros might have been proved futile, but that was a blessing, oui?
Here’s more of France in popular media/culture during our time:
- Award-winning actress and singer Lea Salonga played the characters Eponine and Fantine in Broadway musical Les Miserables.
- ‘Remi: Nobody’s Girl’, is a Japanese animation which is one of the World Masterpiece Theatre TV series which has been part of our elementary school days. Other anime’ I could still remember set in France include ‘Julio at Julia: Kambal ng Tadhana’, ‘The Musketeers’ and Monkey Punch’s ‘Lupin III’.
- Early 2000 saw the emergence of Koreanovelas in Philippine primetime. The characters Vivian, Carlo, and Martin from ‘Lovers in Paris’ became household names… and of course who would forget the rousing expression – ‘Aja!’ “Ohhwowooohh… Wag na wag mong sasabihin…”
- As a popular city around the globe, Paris has been a setting in numerous films. Most notable in the past 20 years is Midnight in Paris (Owen Wilson), From Paris with Love (John Travolta), Taken (Liam Neeson), X-MEN: Days of Future Past (Hugh Jackman) among others… but my most recommended would be Paris Je t’aime (2006), a collection of short independent films which made me more enthused into visiting the city of lights and love.