I’ve only been to Paris once, but it was a glorious experience. A friend of mine kept an apartment there at the time; he invited me to come and enjoy it since he was usually off traveling for work. Lucky, I know! The previous couple of years had been difficult ones for me, clouded by tragic and unexpected loss. I was ready to spread my wings at work, but craved an earnest break before attempting new adventures. So, I said yes.
My temporary home, much like many European apartment buildings, hid a charming center courtyard lined with lush potted plants behind thick wooden doors. As I wandered the centuries old streets during my stay, I dreamt of what other secrets might lie beyond every door I passed. It was just one of the many mysterious charms of Paris I discovered on that trip.
I wrongly anticipated a snooty reception. Nary a nose was lifted at my presence. Instead, I was greeted with kind smiles and hearty laughs, mostly at my feeble attempts at la langue nationale. From patisserie to boulangerie, marché to magasin, nothing but generosity – in behavior and spirit. All of the clichés were stunningly true: l’esprit de corps, la vie est belle, savoir faire, joie de vivre, raison d’être, bien fait!
Though I enjoyed every single art museum and historic site I managed to squeeze into my all too short visit – because every visit to Paris is too short, no matter how long it lasts – it is one of my nighttime walks that continues to stand out as one of the highest points. I can’t recall why I set off on foot that evening. Was I on my way home from somewhere, or had I just decided to step out after a modest meal at the flat? I really don’t know, and yet I’m so glad I did.
Mapping it now, I likely traversed Boulevard Henri IV from the Bastille, crossing Pont de Sully to treat myself to an astounding nighttime view of Notre Dame’s flying buttresses up the Seine. I suspect I wandered along Boulevard Saint-Germain, taking in the luxurious window scenes, until veering left somewhere in the 6th. Though I don’t quite know how I got there, I do vividly recall ending up at L’École Militaire, the tremendous military complex dating back to 1750. I walked its circumference, vowing to return my aching feet home afterwards, but I couldn’t resist the lure of the Eiffel Tower and its flickering lights.
Arriving across Place Joffre, I practically walked straight into Le Mur pour la Paix, or the Peace Wall. If you’ve never been, this thirty-foot tall glass and steel structure was built in 2000 for the millennium celebration and is etched with the word “peace” in 32 languages and 12 alphabets. Much like the Eiffel Tower, the structure was intended to be temporary but managed to eke out a permanent home.
Immediately in awe, I stood back and watched the lights twinkle around and shimmer through the words. Le magique!
Thankfully, I had my cheap little instant camera in my pocket. It takes the best low-light photos; though, I never trust it will. I snapped just a few shots, not wanting to waste film on photos I assumed would turn out black, and finally ventured back home with stars still bouncing about in my eyes.
In the years since, I moved to NYC and back to Seattle again. I’ve had many jobs and numerous journeys. Tragedies continue to befall us all, in many different ways, but the world keeps spinning on its axis and circling the sun. Every night that I sleep in my own bed, I sleep under one of the photos I took that night. In my life, it is one of the many little ways in which peace prevails.