Friday, March 18, 2011

Thank you Pont des Arts

Nothing wears you out in the way that long international air travel does. It's odd. You are sitting, your mind being the only part getting exercise, yet you lose all energy. You're not storing it anywhere, it is just being sucked into the altitudes. I thought that I would just get more and more excited as I got closer to my destination, but the mounting excitement surfaced as lethargy and a sour disposition. What a way to start a trip.

To top off the foul mood, landing at Charles de Gaulle airport was not what I was hoping for. For some reason or another, I imagined landing, well, at the Louvre...not in a cement wasteland. The bullets falling from the sky added to my dreariness. French hail is an experience, rivaled only by Texas hail, I'm sure. Either way, I was in France, and once I heard nothing but French all around me, and saw nothing but Dior ads, and saw people eating croissants...I forgot that I'd been awake for 28 hours.

The train into Paris seemed to take forever. It was crowded with wet people, hot because it was July and smelled bad...because a large percentage of the train's population had never heard of Old Spice or Secret... 'Nuff said?

...But then, I exited the train at Grands Boulevards and the sun came out. There were birds chirping, cafe attendants drying off the wet tables, steam rising from the streets. It was perfect. I dropped my luggage off at my hotel in Montmartre and went exploring.

Having friends already in Paris made the first day feel like I was still home. We picked up right where we left off, but this time it was with a few bottles of wine and Paris all around us.

I was told that we were heading to a place called Pont des Arts. I had no clue what it was, except that it would no doubt be a bridge. It was Bastille Day, so there were already a lot of people out and about, both tourists and Parisians, but when we got to the pont, it was a different world. The Pont des Arts is a wooden foot bridge crossing the Seine, just down river of the Ile de la Cité and Pont Nuef. Although it is a thoroughfare, it's also the most prime picnicking locale in all of Paris...and the Parisians know it. The view from the bridge is spectacular, but the camaraderie is even better.

Before heading to France, I was told by all too many people "oh, the French don't like Americans. Have fun with that." My first evening on the Pont des Arts disproved this often-told lie. We sat with our bottles of wine, our cheeses and baguettes, and me with my watercolors, and soaked in the people around us. Our neighbors all made such strong efforts to welcome us in English. We shared wine with complete strangers. One man gave us lessons on how to pick a good bottle of French wine. He defined the different regions and then explained what you'll get with vin de table vs Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée. He told us about what it's actually like to get to live in Paris... for real.

This was only my first night in the city of lights. What a way to set the stage for the amazing adventures to come.

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