This city’s motto, as far as I can tell, is “drive where you can, park where you want”. I’m not kidding. If you want to see the craziest shit on the road, just head to the Arc de Triomphe and watch two hundred people navigate a gigantic, unmarked, and completely uncontrolled roundabout with their bare wits. No lights, no signs, no turn signals, no etiquette. In the words of one Frenchman, “you just drive… and you watch the other people’s eyes to see where they’re going next”. If the city’s cobbled streets weren’t lined with steel fenceposts, drivers would just mount the sidewalk to get around traffic. Enough motorcyclists do it… if cars could fit through I bet they’d try.
Parking… now there’s something even crazier. From what I’ve seen, I’m just going to assume that European cars’ wheels can rotate a full 90º to get in and out of parking spots. Cars are loaded less than an inch apart, bumper to bumper, filling both sides of the street. Over crosswalks, around corners, wherever they can fit; but if you can’t parallel park, don’t even think about it. The great thing about it is that there are SMART cars everywhere; tiny, quiet, and fuel efficient. If everyone in Paris drove one there might even be enough space for people to park normally. Instead, we see these tiny cars taking advantage of situations no mortal man should ever face: parked perpendicular to the sidewalk pushing out no further than those other parallel–park schmucks, fitting into a space you’d expect was once occupied by a motorcycle.
It’s a grand old town though, and it makes you understand why so many people see it as the center of the universe. Wandering around the inner city, through identical streets lined with identical apartments footed by boutique after boutique after boutique, it looks like the French only bother doing commerce with themselves. I know I’ve said the same thing about Koh Samui, but to run through Paris is like running through the streets of Bedrock: the backdrop is on a constant loop… Boulangerie, Pharmacie, Boucherie, Supermarché, Patisserie, and back to the beginning. Meanwhile the CBD, where most cities are at their busiest and most crowded, is way out of the way and probably deserted; walking up the Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe is about as close as you’re ever likely to come if you have no business there.
The Eiffel Tower — now there’s something surprising. You’ve seen its silhouette a thousand times over, and if your TV tells any truth at all it’s visible from every window in Paris (hint: your TV is a jerk), but until you’ve seen it in person and climbed its massive frame with your sore and aching legs you just haven’t experienced it. Here’s a quick game for those of you playing along at home: first, build a mental picture of how large you imagine the tower to be… now triple that. You’re done. Measures of the height and weight of steel and paint used in its construction offer literally nothing for your mind to work with; it’s fucking huge, and it deserves its status amongst the world’s most recognizable landmarks.
Likewise (though not nearly as recognizable from the outside), the Louvre is a monstrous warehouse of sculpture and painting and artifact. We did the Louvre in a day and left a great deal unseen, but I’m willing to accept that defeat with the knowledge that I’ll be back in Paris one day to give the Louvre the attention it deserves. Like every group of tourists, we hit the Mona Lisa as quickly as possible. Sure, we detoured a little to see the Venus de Milo along the way, taking ample time to ogle other da Vincis and Santis and whatnot through the Denon wing (John the Baptist… what a guy), but I’m glad to say I took my sweet–ass time with the Lisa. Having the height advantage over the crowd I could afford to stop and stare while the throng ahead of me took their snapshots and moved on, and it really is an impressive work of art despite everyone’s complaints that it’s “too small”. Well done, Leonardo, way to not be confined by the “recommended” size of the average masterpiece. The pervert in me, like most other people’s pervert, adores Cupid and Psyché. It’s a sexy, sexy sculpture and more than one person I’ve chatted to has labeled it their out–and–out favorite; so I’m willing to do the same. The volume of art this place houses is quite simply ridiculous, and while I saw a hell of a lot of awesome sculpture in its halls I’ll just give Cupid and Psyché the blue ribbon and be done with it… for brevity’s sake.
Notre Dame, the Seine, the Trocadero, it’s all great stuff. We missed a great deal, too —mostly due to time constraints and a desire not to be bankrupted by this city— but as I said: I’ll be back some day. I regret nothing of my time here and have left with a taste for more; even if it’s the last place on Earth I’d ever choose to live. Paris out.