Paris: Midnights, Mornings, and Afternoons
When I flew into Orly-Sud Airport, it was close to sunset. In almost an annoyingly picturesque way, the sky was locked in a pink sunset. I saw the light of the Eiffel Tower from my plane -- it's beams shining from the top like some lighthouse, calling me home to dreams from my early teen-hood. I departed to Paris the weekend before several essay due dates around the corner. But the strangest thing about studying abroad is the way it shifts around priorities. Dedicating time to pursue these sights was as important as studying Donne's poetry or Shelley's Frankenstein. It was to me.
The unique quality about dreaming about a city for so long is that these fantasies are connected to your old self. I think Middle School Misha would have been really proud of what Modern Misha did that weekend in November. I could write an obscene amount about my lovely weekend in Paris, but I will instead limit myself to three particular sights that are extremely close to my heart.
FRIDAY. THE LOUVRE.
I rushed from airport to hostel to the metro, trying to get to the Louvre as quickly as possible. It was not my first time at the legendary museum. At the age of thirteen, I had gone to Paris with my mother and brother -- knowing virtually nothing about art or French history but being drawn to it all anyway. I laughed when I entered the expansive entrance hall -- it was exactly how I left it. I felt a strong sense of familiarity. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and rushed towards the marble staircase to see her: Nike of Samothrace.
I was transfixed by this sculpture at the age of thirteen. I knew nothing about it -- I didn't know it was a Hellenistic masterpiece, that it was meant to be at the prow of a ship, that it was a representation of victory. I could only sense how spectacular she was. Her outstretched wings and the flowing drapery, forever blown away by ancient winds. I loved her the moment I saw her.
The second time I saw Nike, she was a miniature in Corinth, Greece. It was one of my last days on that European trip with my family, in that weird summer between the end of high school and the beginning of college. It wasn't very long ago but I had millions of things to learn about myself, small and big hurtles to get through before becoming a much better version of myself. I was newly eighteen in Corinth, looking for a souvenir to remember that ancient place. The shops were selling a myriad of sculptures, mini representations of different myths. My instinct was to find Icarus, falling out of the sky with his waxed wings. I couldn't find the right one, but I found Nike -- perfect size, perfect prize. I took her home with me, and for the next two years she sat on my desk. Two years of me building myself up little by little, she was somewhere in the background.
This third and most recent time I saw Nike, I cried. I think I felt so starstruck because I realised I had grown up alongside this beautiful image for so long. I know I am young and I have a million things not learn, but seeing Nike, in all of her glory in that moment and time, felt right. I thought, Of course, victory is a woman with wings. With all of my losses and all of my victories, I finally came back to her.
SATURDAY. LEFT BANK. SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY.
Shakespeare and Company was the final place on my agenda after a day of seeing new sites. While it was my second time in Paris, I dedicated my time to only new monuments. In the morning, I got a view of the Eiffel Tower from The Trocadéro (which I admired again later that night while listening to the soundtrack of Ratatouille - an ideal I had planned since I first heard the song.) I went to the Paris Opera House, I had grieved and celebrated the names engraved upon the Panthéon. By nightfall, I strolled narrow streets to find Shakespeare and Company, an independent book store that I've aways seen pictures of online. Edgy, pretentious, Tumblr-version of early high school Misha would have been ecstatic. Modern Misha was also thrilled.
In a moment of absolute zero self-control, I found myself holding old children's books and books of poetry I could not walk away from. I wandered upstairs to the poetry section, where there was live music and a black cat wandering about. This cat snuggled up to me in this cozy loft by the anthologies, and there was this large wall where people left small messages. The one that got me all teary had a drawing of a pink rose, which read, "I never thought I would be here; in Paris, with a brave heart and with freedom in my hands."
I loved this so much. I don't think I could have written something that captured my gratitude for my time. By November of 2017, I had become my bravest self. This courage was fostered slowly throughout the year -- which came to its peak with every flight and train ride taken alone. My bravery grew incrementally with every phone call and text message sent to all of my loved ones five thousands miles away. And in this bravery, I had found freedom to walk through these boulevards, to see the lights and hear the music.
SUNDAY. ÎLE DE LA CITḖ. SAINT CHAPELLE.
My final day in Paris was a whirlwind. Again, I practiced that delicate balance between rushing through museums so I can see the next amazing thing, but also taking the time to slow down and ~let the art *move* me~.
I began early in the morning at Musée de l'Orangerie, indulging myself in Les Nymphéas. Musee d'Orsay was next, where I ran from room to room to see all of the paintings that I had studied since I was sixteen (the final two were Manet's Olympia and Courbet's Le Origine du Monde). My final destination was Saint Chapelle -- a brilliantly coloured, intimately small, stained glass masterpiece. It was a Rayonnant Gothic church my crazy art history teacher yelled about when I was in high school. It was a dark time of my educational past, but a lesson that shaped what I wanted to witness the next time I was in Paris.
After my museum marathon, I walked along the Seine to find this long awaited church. My 5:30 flight urged me to leave to the apart two hours prior. However, that afternoon, I was quickly running out of time: I got lost on the way there, my phone and navigational resources were dying, and it is difficult to rush a walk along the Seine, especially on a beautiful autumn day. I questioned staying in the long line even though looming flight made me doubt if I still had the time.
I stayed and somehow made it. The chapel itself was small, but the intricate colours of the glass made the stress of the afternoon worth it. It was one of those images you let your eyes feast upon. It is something that slows you down in your past, forces you to look heavenward. Somehow, more than seven hundred years ago, someone designed every inch of this window -- so that some girl from a small suburban town can come to it and pray inside. (I am sure that the medieval designer never had that in mind, but I am thankful that someone in the 1300s laboured over this so I can enjoy it in the 2010's.)
I gave myself fifteen minutes to stand in the colourful light -- fifteen minutes which seemed like a gift of a grace given in an afternoon with very little time. I prayed. I thanked God and all of my lucky stars for letting me be in right place and time. I was thankful for all of those small dreams my younger self conjured, so that my present moment in time would be so much sweeter.
P.S. Biggest thanks for my lovely future roommate for showing me Paris at night, making me dinner, and just being the kindest. Also shout out to my new friend (also a UCI student!) for taking me to the Eiffel Tower at night and getting crepes with me. Unexpected company made for my favourite weekend away from Edinburgh. I felt so blessed.