A Hispanophile Explores Paris
By Laurie Meagher, Spanish instructor
I cannot tell a lie. I did not want to go to Paris. The trip was planned as a birthday gift for my partner. Why did I not have any burning desire to see Paris? Although I speak un peu de français and have had my spin with Camus, Beauvoir and the salons of Gertrude Stein, my heart belongs to Spain. I do not enjoy big cities either. I was not interested in seeing a sumptuously golden palace of a king and queen who let the common people “eat cake”, nor did I believe there could be anything remotely charming about a huge iron tower. I am not interested in haute couture nor pastries and creamy cheeses. Having experienced the magic of Granada with the flowing fountains of the Alhambra and the fairy tale Moorish architecture of Andalucía, the green hills of Spain’s northern coasts, the austere majestic mountains of the Sierra Nevada and the incredible beaches of Spain’s Costa Blanca, I did not think the city on both banks of the Seine would enchant me.
But, I was wrong. Very wrong. Paris was exquisite. Every corner I turned had incredibly beautiful and preserved buildings with charming balconies and detailed stone work. I have never been to a city that had so many miles of architecture of the same period. The city was planned in such a way that many beautiful landmarks can be seen from a variety of points. There were enough parks and green serene places to make me forget I was in a city. The bridges across the Seine beckoned to be crossed, all of them each with its own special characteristic. Paris is a city for walking. The numerous cafes offer respite when the feet are weary. There are patisseries, boulangeries, bistros, restaurants, and crêperies where one can sit to refresh and people-watch.
The Eiffel Tower was actually one of my favorite spots. I thought the illumination would seem tacky and too glitzy but it was actually quite magical standing at the top looking out onto the city of lights. From there one can see the Notre Dame, the Louvre, L’Hospital des Invalides and the myriad palaces. La Rue Mouffetard in the Latin Quarter had at least twenty restaurants with a wonderful market at the bottom of the hill. The Latin Quarter is the student quarter because many colleges are located there. I also spent hours reading and relaxing in the shadow of the Notre Dame on the Ile de la Cite. Also in the Latin Quarter is the Pantheon. It is very special because some of the world’s greatest thinkers are buried there: Rousseau, Voltaire, Hugo and Marie Curie, to mention just a few.
Another highlight for me was the Saint Chapelle, Marie Antoinette’s personal chapel. It has a variety of stained glass windows that take your breath away. The main level has a Moorish feel to it… that may explain why it was my favorite. I realize that the predominant architecture in Spain was built in the Middle Ages when Spain was an empire and the influence of the Moors had left its linguistic and architectural mark. Paris has less of the Aladdin magical fairy tale tone because it flourished in the Sun King’s 17th century and the 18th century of Enlightenment. The latter century fostered freedom and social improvement and was instrumental in helping the United States with its own freedom. The unity and good planning of the city show the reflection of the Reason that century was known for. A side trip five hours away to Mont St. Michel in Normandy was also special. Mont St. Michel, named after St. Michael, is an abbey which rises from the pinnacle of a rock surrounded by strong tides, quicksand and howling winds. It was built in 708 and is accessible only at low tide. This gigantic structure with many towers, belfries and labyrinthine passageways was truly enchanting.
The people were warm and friendly, especially the students who enjoyed practicing their English and who were very patient with the tourists’ French. The wine, of course, was wonderful and as it turns out, those creamy cheeses and pastries were divine!
So, faced with a choice of a free trip to Paris or Madrid, would I have a difficulty in choosing? Absolutely. Yet, choosing between Spain and France? A hispanophile, I remain.