Paris: Poems & Pictures

(Can we all just pause for a moment and bask in the alliterative glory of that title? Okay, thanks.) 

So two weeks ago we visited Paris. It was entirely spontaneous, and I’m still kind of reeling from the fact that it actually happened. I was going to do a big picture & general itinerary post for it like I did with London and Scotland, but while there, my thoughts kept running off to deep pools of metaphysical musings. Maybe the spontaneity shook up my linear thinking or it’s just the effect of Paris. For whatever reason, I’m glad, and I figured I’d share some of those thoughts with you. Whether they all constitute poetry or not you can decide. And never fear, I included plenty of photos as well. I couldn’t resist. =D As always, click on one photo in the slideshow to see them all bigger. 


The Trip Itself

We were planning on visiting Paris

 

But then we found out that train tickets for seven people 

__Were way too expensive

____And we figured that London was more than enough

 

But then my mom was reading a book about the Impressionists

__And she mentioned to my dad how sad she was

____That she wouldn’t get to see their paintings in person

 

So then my dad started thinking that trains aren’t the only way to go places

__And how maybe driving for six hours would be worth it

____And we could stay at a cheap military hotel

 

And then my dad remembered that he had a long weekend

__And our plan-a-year-in-advance mom suggested

____Why don’t we go this weekend?

 

And just like that

All of a sudden

We’re going to Paris!

 

There is so much about my life right now that hurts,

So many dreams in little piles of ash around the perimeter of these past two years,

But don’t let me forget this,

That we can just drive—

To Paris!

* * * 

Giverny

Before heading into the city itself, we stop at Giverny, the home of the famous Impressionist painter Claude Monet. We’ve been here before, nine or ten years ago when we were living in Germany for the first time. We took photos of my mom on the green bridge in his Japanese garden––you know, the bridge that’s the subject of his most famous painting. The bridge over the water lily pond. My mom loves that painting so much she has a tapestry of it. So anyway, we uploaded those precious photos onto the computer and then–– you guessed it––the computer crashed. We couldn’t salvage anything, and all the Paris and Giverny photos disappeared into the void of irretrievable computer data.

But now we’re back, this unexpected gift, and the sun is shining on this late April day. Tulip season is almost over, but there are many, many more flowers in Monet’s gardens than tulips. I’m snapping pictures madly, feeling that familiar frustration of not being able to capture what my eyes see. I want to remember—but if that whole losing-the-photos fiasco from last time taught me anything, it’s that you can remember without any pictures. Still, I rush around to record what I can. Photos may not be necessary for memory, but they sure do enhance it. And this time, we’ll back them up in iCloud. 

In Monet’s house, we step into the room where he painted many of his works. I get a little chill, inhabiting the same space he did as he brushed into being such masterpieces. Maybe some spark of his genius and creativity still resides in these walls. Maybe some of it will rub off on me.

Back in the gardens, the sun is bright and the colors brighter, and I grab my phone to record the words spinning around in my head. A riot. A riot of—of color, of beauty. A riot of life. A celebration of life. I’ve been to many gardens in Europe but I’ve never seen any like Monet’s. There is something special here, in the long rows laden with flowers upon flowers of all different kinds. It was like he couldn’t get enough, like he just kept tossing seeds, wanting more. More color, more variety, more beauty, more life. I keep coming back to that word riot. And the word celebration. Something not quite tame and certainly not prim and proper.

I tap onto my phone: exuberant, not taming nature but doing just enough to bring out its fullest potential. If I ever have a garden, I wanted to be like this: Nothing manicured or pruned to perfection. I want my hand be barely visible. I want the plants to dance together in this wild way. Exuberant. Joyous.

* * * 

Musée du Louvre

At the Louvre I walk around and look at all the paintings. Duh. Of course. What else do you look at in an art gallery?

Ah, well, there’s the question. I find myself looking at far more than paintings. My attention keeps getting drawn away from the people in the portraits to the people in this present moment, pressing around me. Sometimes, I’m aware of them because of how they annoy me. I mean, you are at least six feet tall, what on earth would possess you to stand in front of the pygmies like me?? If you stood behind me, you’d be able to see the painting just fine. And so would I.

But other times, when I’m tucked away in a corner and safely out of reach of bumping bodies, I feel kinder. I notice their faces, I notice who is in a group and who is alone. I try to notice, at least. It’s hard to truly notice anything.

Forget the mysteries behind Mona’s smile and the backstory to that crumbling statue over there. What I want to know is:

Which paintings catch your eye?

Why do you stop at the pieces you do and what do you see there? 

How will what you see here change you, inspire you? 

What other pieces of art will be birthed from this experience? 

How will you remember this place? 

What kind of mark will it leave on you? Will it leave a mark at all?

I want to know the story behind every closer look, behind every brisk gait, behind all the glazed tourist eyes, the rapt expressions, the bored-to-tears slouches. I want to know what you will do when you leave this place, out to a nearby café, back to your hotel room or house, into the coming years.

I want to know if any of this matters. I want to know how these smears of oil and chunks of rock touch living beings and invisible souls. I want to know what it means to leave a legacy, to change the world, to live abundantly.

I keep looking.

* * *  

Dôme des Invalides 

It is starting to drizzle when we enter the lofty church that houses Napoleon’s tomb. Inside, it is like most cathedrals—a soaring dome, grand pillars, smooth marble floors, a gold-encrusted alter at the back. But right beneath the highest point of the dome in the very center, where ordinarily rows of pews would sit, the floor gapes open.

We lean against the railing and peer down into a large circular pit, a well from which you can draw not water but history and legend. In the center of the crypt is a huge wooden coffin on a granite dias, all of it probably more than twice my height. The tiles around it are painted to look like a laurel wreath, and twelve tall statues of Grecian-looking figures face the coffin with somber, reverent faces.

I’m not prepared for how massive the coffin is, for how massive all of it is. Four huge, winding pillars of blue and white marble that looks like foam tossed on a windy sea surround the altar in the back, gold gleaming from their tops and bases. It’s just so…much. I hadn’t realized how highly the French people still hold him.

My shoes make small noises on the marble floor that get lost quickly in the vast dome above me. The weight of history hangs majestic here in the spaciousness. There is a reason why the Latin word for serious—gravis—also means heavy. We mortals rush about in jeans and sneakers clutching our Nikons and Canons, wondering what makes a human worthy of these tall temples, worthy of remembering in this way, worthy of remembering at all.

Napoleon is still very much remembered. Will he still be in 500 years? Does he deserve to be? Do I want to be remembered like this? Will there even be 500 more years?

We long for splendor, for legends, for heroes. I do not think those are wrong desires. But we also long to be gods. To be God. Do we know when we have crossed the line?

We exit the hushed solemnity, crawling like ants under the looming doors. No one pressed about the wall staring into the crypt notices us leave. Outside, rain stains the streets, and we hurry to catch the metro to have dinner with some friends who happen to be staying here for a while. They are studying the language to be missionaries here. We talk about what it’s like to live overseas and how God has a habit of disrupting our plans, to our discomfort—and to his glory.

Maybe Napoleon was glorious, but even he could not weave the fate of the world into a banner that displays his glory forever.

13 comments

  1. Beautifully written..and some wonderful clicks out there.. I too was in Paris with my family very recently and We just loved the vibes there.. I have shared our whole Paris experience along with lots of photographs that we clicked here in Paris in the form of a blog mentioned below . And by the time you gonna end reading this write up, you will be in even deeper love with Paris,I guarantee ! 🙂
    #MinimumText #MaximumPhotographs #JustGoogle : #InsideOutwithRahulYuvi
    https://the-passport-souls.travel.blog/2018/07/06/paris-among-the-most-loved-tourist-city-for-a-reason-europe-travel-series-blog-1/

    Like

  2. How did I never comment on this. e.e I absolutely love this post––the fact that you guys even went, the gorgeous photos, and then the beautiful glimpses you give us into your thoughts and experiences. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. OK, Paris may be lovely, but look at that gorgeous garden at Giverny! I actually let out a gasp when I reached those photos. So many flowers, so much color, such bright greens – and that willow tree over the pond! It must have been magical to have walked through it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is such a beautiful post! I loved your thoughts on Monet and the flowers and Napoleon and being gods; it was so wonderful to hear your thoughts and really deliberate on them and how they relate to myself. All I could think about with the flowers was connecting your description of them to people living. I just wonder what it would be like if we lived joyously, exuberantly? In “a celebration of life,” like the garden. Anyways, I really enjoyed this post and I’m glad your Paris trip was fun 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Grace! Oh wow, that is such a good connection to life. “What it would be like if we lived joyously, exuberantly?” I love that. It’s something I need to ponder more—I don’t think I often live like that. But I think as Christians, of all people, we should because we have something to actually be joyous about. Thank you so much for your thoughts—I love thinking more deeply about things. =D

      Like

  5. This post makes me so happy! I’m glad you were able to go… sounds like you had an absolutely WONDERFUL time. The pictures are insanely beautiful. I’ve never been outside of the U.S., so this is definitely making me long even more to travel 😂 Thanks for sharing!
    – Maddie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw, thank you, and I’m so glad it made you happy! I love when blessings multiply to other people. ❤ I'm sure you'll get out of the country and travel someday, but until then at least you can live vicariously through other people. =P You're quite welcome!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. OH MY WORD
    Thank you for this feast for my eyes wow this was all so gorgeous. <3<3 all the flowerssss and the buildingsssss and the macaronssss x)
    That's just really awesome ok
    (-also allow me a small fangirl moment that the tree-line picture is in the trailer for the new mission impossible-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yayyyy I’m glad and you’re welcome and yeah, it was awesome and macarons are the bomb. I actually told my family after I ate them that macarons are proof of God’s existence. XD And really?? *goes and watches* Heyy, a lot of those places look familiar. That is so cool. =

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  7. Dearest Abby,

    Thank you so much for these pictures and your thoughts. I, too, was amazed at the tomb of Napoleon. I really never realized how much he is revered by the French people. I am so glad your mother had the opportunity to see so much of Monet because I know how much she adores him. She would have enjoyed the documentary we saw of him. I am so glad that the entire family had the chance for this trip to Paris.

    All my love,

    Grammy

    Liked by 1 person

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