Paris, je t'aime

I am filled up. Life comes in torrents and I am nearly overwhelmed. Last week was melancholy—I cannot remember why. And I cannot remember when this new assault began, though it was probably the early morning we left for Paris. Traveling has moved me.

Things have been dry lately. I have endeavored to form routines so that I may not lose these easy days to idleness. It has been a losing battle. I have misplaced entire seasons, and rather than making an advance upon my tall dreams, I have only succeeded in cutting down those dreams to make them more reachable.

I came to France to sequester myself from the whirligig of my old life. Instead I have severed myself from my friends, family, and countrymen and replaced the city’s loud energy with this town’s eternally ringing bells (and there are many in this former holiest place on earth). I know whom they toll for.

As I say, I am assaulted now, and overflowed, brimming with heady life, and I am a poor carriage for all these charged pinball thoughts. Last week was melancholy, and today is not. I do not know what it is; it may be exaltation. I think perhaps I have seen a greater part of the picture and now I must change or fall back if I am to move.

What am I to make of my new Paris experience? We were there in the winter, and besotted, but we were too fresh from New York to land in another big city. Now we have spent time away and returned in the spring, which, if you are trying not to curse yourself for leaving, is a bad time to visit. We never expected Paris to collect all the sunshine and greenery it presented us.

We get flowers down here, of course, but not vegan Chinese food, falafel stands free of shaved meat, and chocolate soy coffees. We do not have a thousand different perspectives of the astonishingly beautiful Eiffel Tower. We do not even have one view of it here, let alone the magnificent sight of it from atop the Arc de Triomphe.

To visit the Louvre is to realize the paucity of great art available in American museums. Americans had to be the best at film: they had no other art of their own. I am a dozen times thunderstruck by the pieces I saw.

There were the paintings by Leonardo, including La Joconde—or Mona Lisa—which in the Louvre is really a marvel of decorating, because it occupies an entire wall of its own in the middle of the room, so all eyes are directed to that lady’s. She retains her playfulness and mystique; the latter especially because she is first behind thick protective glass, then a wooden barricade, then a pair of roving security men, then another metal barricade, and then a line of sugared school kids who do not regard the painting but proceed to send text messages to each other about the more important matters I cannot remember from my own time as a pubescent. The experience of visiting the Mona Lisa can be replicated by going to a Weezer concert.

I will not describe all the pieces that awed me, but only relate that the experience of seeing the Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace, and especially Michelangelo’s The Dying Slave all in the same hour may have done more to define me than the thousands of hours I have lost to bad television and pointless websites added together. To start, I am committed to learning as much about mythology and the history of art as I can, and no episode of America’s Next Top Model can prompt an equal reaction from me.

Also important in my new mood and direction was the Louvre’s recreation of the apartments of Napoleon III, though I have lost most of those memories, replaced as they were by the next day’s visit to the Palace of Versailles. Napoleon III had terrific taste and a fine sense of grandness, but nothing to match the opulence of Louis XIV and his successors.

To stand in Versailles almost feels like sacrilege. You are a tourist, a scurrying rodent in the most beautiful palace ever built, uninvited and unwelcome by the chateau’s inhabitants, the ghosts of the outsized kings and queens who once ruled a kingdom to match any other. I have stood in the king’s bedroom, and Marie Antoinette’s, and I have felt a mix of awe and shame in doing it.

Surely, Versailles was born out of vanity and greed, and a disregard for the very people the kings were sworn to protect. But look how they lived and see that it was worth it! If ten thousand Frenchmen starved so that one family could live like gods, wasn’t it worth it, if only that now all may see what heaven is? I have seen men eat, but it has never moved me the way the gilded, marbled, and painted rooms of Versailles have. I am renewed, reborn, a man with a destiny. I have made it my goal to live in Versailles, or its equal, for the better part of my life, and to live as the kings lived, until I die. Then I will donate the whole lot to charity, and let it become a Red Cross hospital or something. Then my accounts will be squared.

Ah, Versailles! I have walked its halls and picnicked on its grounds. I have moved freely from one room to another, just as the king did, but I have not really tasted it. I tell you, in publication, that I have sworn to own my own Versailles, and I have cast idleness away. I am motivated, and glad to finally be so. World peace was always a poor inspiration, I see. It is opulence that truly moves people. It is wealth. I shall no longer endeavor to make the world better by wishing. I will make money, then trade that money for stone and gold. I will employ a thousand people and feed another ten thousand, all to build my stately pleasure dome. I will be a philanthropist on the scale of Rockefeller and Carnegie, and I will have my Xanadu to prove it!

I hope the reader sees now the change in me. There were other events in the past few days to modify me, more unhappy ones, such as a romance-fueled knockdown drag-out between my lover and me that nearly left us devastated, and the death last night of a beloved relative whom I should hope to honor in a better manner later, and all supplemented by the aftermath of the terrible massacre in Virginia, another of those tragic public events that have a way of putting the whole universe out of order while at the same time making everything very clear: we are here to love each other, and that only.


Karen said…
Of course the Rockefeller's and Carnegie fortune were built on the backs of so many others. In order for them to have money to give they first destroyed many lives. Giving a fortune away is noble but what does it cost to make that fortune?
Reilly Owens said…
Karen, you can't think that way. Where did your clothing come from? What went into your dinner? And just think of all those young girls starving themselves for your entertainment on America's Next Top Model. We are six billion butterflies flapping our wings and making storms on the other side of the globe. If I have made it my goal to build Versailles, by God, wish me well! You can be a courtier!
River Cougar said…
Do you know the song "California" by Joni Mitchell on the BLUE album? It was my Paris song bcause she talked about the wonder of Paris but the alientation she felt in a new country and city while her country was at war. You should check it out.

As for the Louvre, I mostly enjoyed the tribal art of africa, south america, middle east. The Hammurabi code and Easter Island head were some of my highlights. That museum is just too large for a human to take in. The ancient, ancient roman and greek stuff was wonderful.

I didnt enjoy the paintings as much as the Musee D'Orsay, which i visited twice in a week. What a fantastic place. In fact, I have a new theory on tourism from the Louvre: In order to keep the idiots out of your way and ruining precious paintings with their "scavenger-hunt photo flashes", they picked a painting or sculpture, and made a big a hullabaloo about it just to keep everyone focused on one painting to leave the good stuff alone. That is the purpose of Mona Lisa. I could do without her.

I've recently talked woody into Paris and Provence for a part fo our honeymoon. I cant wait to stand under the notre dame on the bank of the seine with my new husband.... or walk the alleys of Ile st louis. Paris is great.

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