Paris: Day 2
Sundays are slow days, and our second day in Paris certainly was one. Upon waking at more or less 9AM (6.42AM for me because a) I am internally middle aged and b) blog!), Joseph and I walked around our neighbourhood before grabbing two Vélib bikes and making our way into the city.
Our first stop was the Centre Pompidou, a modern art museum with an architectural style as eccentric as that of the Fondation Louis Vuitton. In a city that is traditionally — which is often interpreted as ‘objectively’ — deemed beautiful, Parisians seem to enjoy challenging what beauty is. The process is more or less the same each time: someone builds something against the norm, a lot of people claim it to be an eyesore, but over time it becomes an applauded and accepted part of the Parisian space and thus a representation of a constantly evolving society. This was certainly the case with the Eiffel Tower, possibly the Centre Pompidou and the Les Deux Plateaux (which we visited later on in the day). Paris, in this sense, is a city that reflects both the past and the present, new and old, in equal measure, much like Hong Kong.
We didn’t go into the Pompidou, but we spent a while admiring the skeletal structure of the building and the colourful pipes that ran down its side. We then mounted our bikes and headed over to the Notre Dame area, where I finally visited, with my own two feet, eyes, arms, etc, the Shakespeare & Company bookstore.
Over the years, the bookstore has become a personal pilgrimage site of sorts: a few years ago my pen pal visited Paris and got me a copy of Jules Vernes’ Around the World in Eighty Days from Shakespeare & Co, another pen pal sent me typewritten poetry from the same bookstore, and the opening of Before Sunset (wonder why that sounds so familiar) is actually set within the bookstore itself. So it was almost surreal to be in a space I knew, but didn’t know, and to my great delight the bookstore was every inch as poetic and quaint as I imagined it to be. My favourite part had to be the poetry section, nestled snugly against the staircase on the second floor, where I spent a while reading ee cummings and the notes people had pinned onto the walls. The bookstore was pretty crowded, and I did hear someone mutter that it was a shame it had become a tourist attraction (which I did agree with to some extent), but I did walk out feeling the rejuvenation one obtains from beautiful words.
Around lunchtime we walked around the Latin Quarter, had some crepes and sandwiches (and, in Joseph’s case, a super basic flower-shaped ice-cream cone), and finally ended up at the Luxembourg Gardens where we spent a while sketching, writing letters and enjoying the sun. It was all fine and lovely, except for the fact that I had just paid an astonishing 9.8 (!) euros for a measly bag of fruits, which — surprise, surprise — truly and utterly crushed my budget traveler’s soul.
Anyhow, if there was anything that would assuage my anger, it was a Couchsurfing event organised for the afternoon. At 3 o’clock we headed headed over to the Louvre-Rivoli train station and met up with twenty-odd Couchsurfers from countries like Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Spain, Holland, Mexico, Syria, etc, and, being Couchsurfers, many were from an interesting mix of nations (for example, Cecie, the girl from Tanzania, was studying in Ukraine and had just spent a semester in Barcelona). Together we walked around the city on a ‘tour’, and although the tour turned out to be more of a long conversation on foot, we got to see an interesting cross section of the second arrondissement.
Obviously, the best part was saved for last: after three hours of walking in the sun, we bought some picnic food and headed over to the Tuileries Garden for an evening picnic. What would be a strange occurrence in Hong Kong — a picnic at night? What? — was a completely normal activity on this Sunday in Paris, where the sun still shone brightly at ten. For four hours we sat on the grass enjoying each other’s company, and over cheeses and olives we talked about topics ranging from colonialism to the Spanish Flu, from Couchsurfing experiences to great inventions… being with a microcosm of the world meant having a microcosm of all the conversations that could possibly exist on Earth, which was sometimes exhausting but thought-provoking for sure.
At ten, Joseph and I got up to say goodbye — we had a train to catch the next day, and bags to pack. After several promises to visit everyone all over the globe, we rented another pair of Vélibs and cycled our way home. It was certainly bittersweet to realise we were about to leave just as we were beginning to become familiar with the ride back.