Personal Narrative: Visit to France
I can recall the time I visited Paris, France like it was yesterday. I had been excited for months; the anticipation had grown to insurmountable proportions. My passport was ready and my bags were packed. I had repacked them twice, partially out of excitement and partially because I did not want to forget anything. I remember thinking, naively as I looked at my bedroom, house, and street the morning we left that this was the last time I would look at any of these places as a child. I would be returning a cultured adult who had seen the world. I would be sophisticated. I wondered if my usually daily activities would bore me after I made French friends who would introduce me to new forms of music, food, and exotic dancing.
Paris, the city of love, was calling my name. I could not have been more excited. I was sure that enchantment and mystery would be waiting around every corner as we finally exited plane after our excruciatingly long flight. I began to realize as we walked through Charles de Gaulle airport that I may have been experiencing extreme flights of fancy involving what Paris is like. As we made our way through customs and collected our luggage, I was surprised that there were not chandeliers hanging from the ceilings, mimes performing for my amusement on the edges of fountains, or trapeze artists swinging from lavish balconies. This was immediately followed by a sense of shame and guilt: Had I booked a ticket to Paris or the set of Cirque du Soleil?
The outside of the airport jarred me completely into reality when an unwashed homeless man asked me in French for what I can only assume was spare change. There were fountains places strategically outside of the airport and the sunshine did seen to glitter off of the sandstone colored sidewalks, but to the untrained eye, in the daylight Paris did not look much different than any other major city I had visited. While this was disappointing, because I had apparently hoped for a more whimsical version of Paris, I did not let it stop me. Paris was still a wonderful experience. The first day was a day of adjustment; jetlag is miserable. The next three days, however, were for exploring.
My whimsical desires were forgotten during a beautiful bike tour of Versailles’ gardens. The vast expanse of the gardens was almost like being completely removed from an enormous city. Paris is always bustling with people; the tour felt like a vacation from my vacation. It was also very peaceful and relaxing. Connecting with nature in that way, especially in a garden that has seen so many faces and emotions, such as the gardens of Versailles was quite moving. It was all topped off by a picnic by the Grand Canal. While there were no clowns, mimes, or chandeliers present, it was as if the scene was ripped straight from a novel. There is a peace by the Grand Canal that I have not found since.
My troop and I dedicated an entire day to traveling to Normandy. We breathed in the sites of the D-Day Battlefield, somber with the events that took place. Paris can be exciting and romantic, but there is a history slumbering there, unmatched by any other place I have visited. We were able to visit the American cemetery and learn more about the French-allied soldier that the Americans helped liberate. The beach was truly beautiful, but it also had a melancholy feeling hanging over it. The scene was great but it had seen so much death and despair, it was hard not to peel back the layer of beauty to see the carnage underneath.
Of course we spared a night to see the Eiffel Tower in its full, bright glory. Any traveler or tourist would take the time to do this after hearing this great piece of architecture raved about since their childhood days. I will say this: the raving does not do the structure justice. I remember standing in front of the colossal tower, lit up so brightly it was hard to believe the entire world could not see it, and feeling so simultaneously calm and excited that it confused me. The tower stood as bright as a Christmas tree; in pictures it does not look like anything special. But in person, with the vast expanse of lit gardens before it, people strolling hand in hand, and street vendors playing soft music in the background, the environment is anything short of magical. I no longer desired a circus. It was a unique experience, to say the least. I can understand now why the city, and particularly the Eiffel Tower, inspires romance in so many people. There is an undeniable magnetism about the area. You are drawn to it and the people around you for an inexplicable reason.
My trip to Paris was best described as bittersweet. To begin with, I was foolishly expecting to arrive at a French circus instead of the fashion capital of the world. When I realized that I was not going to be constantly entertained by acrobats and jugglers I was disappointed until I found that the city has so much enrichment to offer that is far more entertaining than any circus, even of Cirque du Soleil caliber. I did return to my home more cultured, as I had hoped, but with a realistic understanding of the rest of the world. It is not all exciting, bright, and colorful. Other areas of the world have seen death and homelessness too. While I returned home worldlier, I believe I also returned home wiser, which made me appreciate the things I thought I would find boring that much more.