Paris - City of Lights

What I Know

Paris always represented a very romantic ideal for me.  When I received an invitation to teach yoga there, I jumped at the opportunity.

What I learned (in a rather non sequitur format)

French culture is very unique and distinctly different from American culture.  It takes years to assimilate into a real friendship with a native French person.  We view this as "cold" and "unwelcoming" but the fact is, the culture is simply different.

The City of Lights was planned out as well as any city in the world.  Each Parisian neighborhood, called arrondissements, conveniently stretch out from the center of the city in a spiral from 1 to 20, much like a flower uncoils from the bud.  The 20 arrondissements are very neatly circumnavigated by le Boulevard Peripherique which, when you cross it, you know that you've left the main city.

The English language apparently contains more similarities to French than it does to German, despite its Germanic roots.  This likely as to do with the historic Colonialist rivalry that the English and French have had since the beginning of Western Civilization.  At any given time, one or the other has colonized nearly half of the world and their boundaries and territories have traded hands many times over.  Thus, words from French often found their way into English colloquialisms throughout the years.  Just think of how many words we use directly from French!

I arrived in Paris with nothing more than 3 outfits and my camera gear.  I quickly discovered the best way to explore was to get a monthly Navigo mois, or metro pass.  Paris has one of the best subway systems that I have ever explored.  Every place that one would ever want to visit is accessible via le metro.  "Ou se trouve le metro?"

I photographed Paris for over 3 months.  

The essentials.

1.     Photo gear: camera, lenses, tripod, filters, etc.

2.     Navigo mois or Navigo semaine - metro card, weekly or monthly depending upon the length of your stay (formerly carte orange)

3.     A handful of basic French phrases will go a long way.  The French are especially appreciative of efforts to speak their language.  Often, but not always, if your failing miserably, they will change into English.  Parisians are much more likely to eventually address you in English if you initiate the interaction en francais.  If you want to meet the friendliest of Parisians, approach people of color.  Arabs and Blacks, while still French, embody more of their traditional African and Middle Eastern customs when it comes to strangers and hospitality.  Black Parisians, in particular, tend to speak at least 3 languages and some speak many more.  The nations that the French colonized in Africa have developed into remarkably linguistic cultures whose inhabitants grew up learning, French, Arabic, English, Spanish and multiple local dialects.  I befriended one gentleman in particular from Senegal who spoke 9 languages.  His English was as good any one I ran into in France.


What not to miss when you go to Paris, apart from the obvious but first:

...and foremost, if you want to beat the crowds, do a little research.  Find out when a site opens to the public and be the first one there.  You can nibble a baguette while you wait at the gate for it to open.  

1.     Les Catacombes - Deep beneath the city lay the remnants of the many bodies that perished during the time of the plague.  It later became the secret headquarters of the resistance during the French Revolution.  A very ominous yet essential visit to make while in Paris.  Bring your tripods to stabilize your camera  as there is very little light down there.  I also brought a flashlight and literally painted in light while making long exposures (see images below).

2.     Sainte Chapelle - Located on the Ile de la Cite in the center of Paris, The Glass Chapel is a monumental Gothic reliquary.  It was constructed for Louis IX in the 13th Century and once housed his personal collection of relics including the Crown of Thorns and a piece of the True Cross.  The Ile de la Cite is an island in the middle of the Seine; it is also where the famous Notre Dame cathedral is located so you can visit both consecutively.

3.     Montmartre - Reserve an entire day to explore Montmartre in the 18th.  Montmartre is to Paris what San Blas is to Cusco; what the Village is to Manhattan; Kensington Market to Toronto; Haight Ashbury to San get the point (though, I should note that I am also quite fond of Place Saint-Michel and the surrounding area as well).  It was here that I lived, in the 18th arrondissement, in a shared apartment with the only other vegetarian in the entire country.  My flat was a ten-minute walk away from this magical little village that was once the creative locale of some of the greatest artist of 20th Century.  After taking a tour of Le Sacre Coeur, wander South-West through the Place du Tertre towards the Esapace Dali to see one of the largest collections of the Surrealist's sculptures and engravings.  Take a walk down the spiral staircase that descends far below the mount, all the way down to the Metro (even if you have to take the Funiculaire back up afterwards (the Funiculaire is a motorized tram-car that transports people up and down the steep hill).  It is one of the coolest collaborative graffiti walls in the city and it has evolved into many different things over the years.  

Final note:  Stop at a patisserie and have my favorite French pastry called opera, and yes, you will want to sing after it.  Have one for me...please?

           The story continues. Each image below reveals a moment in time, a story unto itself.  Mobile viewers can access the captions by clicking the (.) in the lower right corner.

What I Saw