Paris, the City of Lights at its Brightest – July 15th
Our visit to Paris has been perfectly timed, though unwittingly so. The French national holiday, Bastille Day, takes place on July 14th, the day after our arrival. Though we will miss most of the festivities, as our plans take us to Normandy on the 14th, the city is abuzz with excitement. The feeling is palpable as we get off the train from Switzerland, with locals calling to each other with shouts of patriotism. The celebration also coincides with the finale of the World Cup soccer championship, and there is an atmosphere of gaiety in the air.
On this our first day in Paris, we hop around the city with abandon, visiting popular sites and strolling down narrow streets crammed with charming shops and bakeries, soaking up the Parisian culture. The city does not have its customary laid-back ease, as stages and venues are being set up all over the city for the next day’s celebrations, but the feeling of expectation is intoxicating. The only damper is the off-and-on rain showers that persist, driving people under every available covered space. This is old hat for Phillip and I, as we have been in the rain for the past week and now own a constant feeling of dampness. We happily crowd in with the others and wait it out between each stop.
The Eiffel Tower, Paris’s best-known attraction, is famously lit with sparkling lights each night and is beloved by tourists. However, on this special celebration day, there is a special fireworks display planned. As we arrive back at our hotel from our visit to Normandy, we head immediately to the rooftop terrace to watch the show. There is no shouting or singing, but rather a respectful silence as the onlookers gaze over their half-finished glasses of wine at the bursts of light around their city’s crown jewel. There is a sense of pride in their homeland that is almost tangible in every Parisian, and it weighs heavily tonight in the wake of Bastille Day.
The next day, life returns to normal, everyone returning to work, caring for their families, going out with friends. I marvel at the differences in daily life between Paris and my own home – the regular use of public transportation, shopping each day for meals in the street markets, the long lingering over meals well into the night. Parisians seem to live life with no sense of hurry or stress, but rather enjoy the simple things. Even the food, while exquisite, is kept very simple. I’ve heard it said that you could live in Paris on nothing but the bread and cheese, and I must say I agree.
As we rush for the train to London, the disparity is even more clear to me. While it can be frustrating to adjust to the slower pace and lack of urgency, the city is best enjoyed if this is embraced. Parisians savor life as it comes, and I think we can learn from that. As a traveler, I truly believe that life is to be lived fully in the present, not waiting for opportunities that may never come. I have come to realize that this belief should be applied, not only to “life” as a gray concept, but to daily life, in the small things. Every blessing and act of grace should be recognized and appreciated as such, rather than taken for granted. As I gaze out the window of my seat on the Eurostar to London, I am seized by a new feeling of gratitude, and I am thankful to Paris for opening my eyes to the unknown callousness of my own heart.
It is truly the City of Lights, and it sheds enlightenment on all who visit here. I also believe that travel is a great way to learn new things about one’s self. Who knows what Paris may be waiting to teach you….?