Articles By Gord
As I see it... Paris, France

May 2005 issue of Vibrant Magazine, view the actual article (including images).

The way I see it... Paris, France

If when reading this column, I don't make you feel as if you want to climb into my suitcase and escape, then I have failed.

Let's start with my favourite—Paris. No, not Ontario but it's nice too—Paris, France.

I had my eyesight when I first visited Paris. It was the fall of ‘77. I arrived at the train station Gare de Nord, a backpack, bewildered and armed with Grade ten French. I fell in love immediately with the people, their language, their food, their wine—their city.

I stood atop the Eiffel Tower and in silence gazed out over the lights. From Sacre Cour off to my right, clearly visible seated on its hill top, watching over the city, as if challenging the Tower for supremacy, to the Arc de Triumphe before me. I envision the Arc as some sort of traffic cop conducting the crush of vehicles that swirl about him. They burst away down broad boulevards in every direction.

I look down, way down to the river Seine, where tour boats, festooned with glowing lights and choked with every nationality, slowly make their way towards Notre Dame Cathedral. That was my view in 1977.

Since losing my sight I have returned many times to Paris, to the tower. The images appear just as strong, but now they are enhanced by the smells and sounds that embrace me. It is the ever present hum of traffic, the unmistakable wail of French police sirens, the steady breeze that plays about me, the excitement of people surveying the view for the first time, and in every language it sounds like WOW.

To fully appreciate Paris you must take in the view from the top at night, after all it is called the City of Lights. (It's not like you're gawking at Hamilton coming down the 403).

On this trip, like in so many others, my wife Catherine finally pulls me away. No, not from the edge, but from the Tower, it's time to eat. Of course it is, it's night time, nearly nine o'clock, we're early. Our first night meal is always in the Latin Quarter.

It's a maze of narrow streets with every type of restaurant from Chinese to Greek - you may even find the occasional French!

Smiling restauranteurs beckon from their doorways; “Ah, Canadian, we love Canadians, I have a brother in Burford, maybe you know him?”

There are just too many restaurants to choose from. “Have we been down this lane?” “Smells like we have Cath”. “Ah, my Canadian friends, you come back.” Regardless of our choice, they'll have wine, so all is well.

We catch the metro back to our hotel. It's the best way to get around Paris - and it is not complicated. I repeat, it is not complicated.

At first glance your metro map will look like a strange version of Snakes and Ladders - or so Catherine tells me. For me, it is the familiar gush of hot air as I descend the steps, the wide range of entertainment, mostly musical, a hat or open guitar case to accept your appreciation. (It's not a good idea to disturb the hat with the tip of your white cane.)

The smell of the metro is unique - a blend of foods, perfumes and body odour, all way past their expiry dates. Maybe not a desired close to your first night meal but an honest reflection of life.

There is every type of accommodation, you can even sleep in the Metro if you want. Spend a little, or if you have access to the Liberal Sponsorship Fund, spend a lot.

We stay in a modest little hotel nearby the Opera. The proprietor Monsieur Ben, and his never changing staff, are always glad to welcome us. It's here I make my first attempts at speaking French , to which I always get the same response, “Please Mr. Gordon, you speak English!”

A winding staircase and a single person elevator (it's either you or your luggage) take you to a large, comfortable room. We seldom bother with the T.V. preferring instead to open the balcony doors and listen to the city.

In the morning over a bowl of café au lait and a fresh croissant we make our plans for the day. Our favourite haunts —a trip to Montmarte and Sacre Cour, you can take an elevator to the top but I insist that we climb the steps.

We stop frequently - not because we're out of breath or not in shape (yeah right!) We stop to listen to the sounds of children playing, of meals being prepared behind open curtained windows, leaves rustling in the trees above us that line either side of the stairs.

I want to experience everything - there is abundance of life far beyond the tourist pamphlet.

We hop the Metro and voila, we're at Notre Dame. I sit in one of the straight back hard chairs while Catherine wanders off—searching for a fridge magnet or a bathroom, I don't care—it's like a moment of reflection for me. I'm swallowed up in the life of the cathedral, of the thousands of souls that have passed through. I think of those who have prayed, begged, pleaded, cried— rejoiced. The cathedral, its columns, its windows, its history—it has that kind of spiritual power.

A picnic lunch by the Seine, we try to make ourselves look French, not easily done with freckles and curly red hair. I even attempt to twist my ball cap into the shape of a beret.

Catherine insisted we go to the Louvre. I stood in front of the Mona Lisa for 15 minutes—did nothing for me—maybe my other senses weren't working that day. Other places like the Rodin museum let me feel the sculptures - unfortunately, I was not afforded the same luxury at the Moulin Rouge!

My wife asked me how am I going to wrap this column up before it becomes a book, there are so many things to mention about Paris—a stroll down the Champs Elysees, time at the Arc de Triumph, shopping at Galleries Lafayette, outdoor cafes, and cafes and cafes. I breathe in, taste, touch, listen to the life of Paris.

So now when you visit Paris I hope you do more than “see” it.

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