Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places” ― Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
I was recently lent a copy of Invisible Cities and coincidentally, I was leaving for Paris in the same week and decided to have it for the plane ride. I entered Paris by bus from the north, and was immediately enthralled with the rolling, green hills of the countryside right before I entered the city. None of the street signs were in English and I began to panic a little. Luckily, Paris is the kind of city that welcomes you the moment you step foot into it. The squeal of the brakes on the metro, the quiet murmur of rushed conversations in the café, the ‘s’il vous plait’ and ‘merci’s, and the click-clack of heels along the cobblestone (how they wear heels on cobblestone is beyond me). While we immersed ourselves in the city by taking the metro and using as much French as we knew, we also immersed ourselves into the crepes and rosé. We spent our first day at the Eiffel Tower, shopped at a small market just next door, saw the Arc de Triomphe, and topped if off with a fondue dinner. Before we went to bed, we headed up the steep hill to Sacre-Coeur to join in the local youth culture. We finished our bottle of rosé on the hill while watching the lights of the city center blink for a couple hours. On Sunday, we saw Mona (and many other paintings) at the Louvre, climbed Saint Chappelle, took pictures on the famous Love Lock Bridge, saw Notre Dame, toured the Pantheon, and lounged in the gardens of Luxembourg. Luckily, we also bought sunscreen that day, as our skin felt the intense sun that never seems to reach Dublin. We ended the evening with another banana and Nutella crepe as well as experiencing the best view I have ever seen: Paris from the Arc de Triomphe.
On Monday, we shopped in the morning, toured the inside of Notre Dame, and headed back over the Eiffel Tower to make an outrageous climb: almost 700 steps to the second level (we assumed that cancelled out the pastries we snacked on all weekend). French culture and customs are noticeably different than what I’ve experienced in Ireland and the U.K. While trying not to look like awful tourists, Rose and I tried to learn the metro system and spent time walking around the neighborhoods away from the main attractions. The weekend in Paris was one of the first times I was unaware of the kind of city that I was going to step into, and it was a liberating experience to realize how completely far I was from home, my own culture, and language. I couldn’t read the street signs, nor could I have a full conversation with most store clerks. It was terrifying to relinquish control of the world around me in that way, but just as rewarding. I have noticed a world of diversity around me on the metro; I was surrounded by foods from cultures I’ve never been a part of. Although jarring, this realization has made me feel more connected to the world. It’s so easy to get ‘plugged into’ your own world and forget to celebrate the people around the world. It can be scary to acknowledge or immerse yourself in a new culture, but I encourage anyone who has the chance to do so – you can learn so much about yourself in the process!