27 October 2015
It’s no wonder. Paris is full of people in love. In love with the old Parisian buildings, cobblestone streets and corner cafés. The magnificent monuments, the penchant for history, beautiful art and a beautiful language. Yet as I begin my stay in Paris, where I will be for almost two full months, I immediately began to also see the Paris of daily life. Tunnels and tunnels of commuter trains running over 4 full floors underground, hundreds of stairs and walkways between transfers. A literal labyrinth of the complex and masterful foresight of French urbanization that in actuality was first implemented in Paris beginning in 1900 and is referred to as “Le Métropolitain“. The design and structure is forefather to what we now consider all urban transportation in major cities throughout the world. This Paris is very different from the scene under the Eiffel Tower where there is an abundance of tourists welding selfie sticks galore, gawking at the iconic symbol that in most foreigners minds has come to symbolize a sense of mystique, European culture and a nod to something almost otherworldly. Yet in the truest sense this city is a bustling, full tilt, densely populated metropolitan area and to miss this madness would be a shame. Visit an arrondissement that is at least two train rides away from where you’re staying and take time to view the subway train maps inside the stations and allow yourself time to find your way through this labyrinth and you will allow yourself to experience this city like a true Parisian. Making your way through the city as Parisians do is a good and inexpensive way to discover all of these famous streets and grande monuments, like the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.
Paris as a city is truly dynamic. To view the history as well as the chaos of modern city life is enchanting and disturbing all at once. When using the trains you rarely wait more than 2-3 minutes as they run constantly, so you can briskly and rather easily make your way across the city. And yet, a number of areas of the city are so full of debris and discarded items that it literally makes you question the inhabitants. Tourists flock here and yet the many who live here, from all different cultures, seem to take the city for granted. There is a lack of respect for this old city that is very much apparent. It makes for interesting day to day living.
A few months before heading to Europe a good friend gave me a book called ‘How Paris became Paris‘ by author Joan DeJean. It was a wonderful book for me to read just before I was going to spend an extended amount of time in Paris. The history of the city including royalty and common people who’s thinking shaped this city and brought it from a medieval city to a modern city starting in the 17th century with widened streets, at first candle lit by shop merchants and then lit with street lamps so that the city became the first of it’s kind to be safer for people to walk and enjoy and conduct business in, even after dark.
The history of the bridges in the city that crossed the Seine River and allowed royalty and commoners alike to stroll the streets and enjoy the vibrance of this city as it was growing and changing is an important one. Paris was becoming a city of happenings and everyone wanted a place to bear witness. These bridges became their places of pastime.
From the decree of kings over the centuries many monuments were built. So much history is evident in France and to view these is to appreciate the process. Paris first began to prosper as a bustling city, thanks in part to the construction of the Pont Neuf, which means ‘new bridge’. This new bridge was built to ease strain and overload on the Pont Notre-Dame. Pont Neuf became a place to see and be seen, to watch street performers and also feel the thrill of opportunists who were looking to pickpocket and cause ruckus. There were gangs and murderers hiding in and around the bridge even before it was finished being built and it had it’s own set of gallows as well. And of course there was a lively trade of prostitution. The Pont Neuf bridge was known as the center of Paris life for many years.
As inhabitants began to enjoy the city as a means of entertainment as well as living, Paris prospered. Others began to travel to Paris because of their growth in textiles and fashion so they could partake in the aura it began to embody. This and many other aspects have lead to medieval Paris becoming present day Paris. To watch Parisians going about their every day lives and yet to know how many have come before them is a delight to take in. When you find yourself amongst a throng of tourists, continue to walk. Get a ways away from the chaos and look back at it from a less crowded perspective. Then you really see the sights in all their glory. And I will continue to observe them myself and enjoy for a while longer.