Les Enfants du Paradis

Dear Reader,

I went to the Opera Garnier to watch a ballet-- Les Enfants du Paradis. It was simply astounding. I remember walking up the famous steps in order to enter the theater, with my nervous expectations for what everything would be like. I was escorted to my seat and the ballet began almost immediately-- from the very first, I was absorbed. The dancers told their story with grace, elegance, and simplicity and yet they were able to capture every audience member's attention. Although the ballet was three hours long, it did not feel this way-- I could have continued watching. The choreography was wonderful and original as well. Each danser played his/her character well, only enhancing the story. The ballet recounted the story of a mime who falls in love with a lady, only to lose her to other men-- it is a ballet describing the very trials of love. At the commencement of the intermission, hundreds of paper flyers were dropped from the ceiling by the dancers and an informal scene from Othello was perfomed on the famous stairway between a pair of the dancers. They were so graceful that it was hard to believe that they were human-- they could have been fairies or other-wordly creatures, simply because of the beauty and agility of their movements which seemed almost impossible and incredible to me--someone who is not a ballet dancer.

Luxembourg and the Latin Quarter

Dear Reader,

The Luxembourg gardens were beautiful, though they are not as well-known as the Tuilleries or Versailles' gardens.  There were many people sunbathing, lying in the grass and amongst the flowers. There were also many people reading newspapers and novels, enjoying a relaxing hour in the garden. There was a set of tables in one corner of the garden where people gather to play chess, each absorbed intensely in their game. I visited the Orangerie of the Senat at the Luxembourg gardens. The current exhibition at the Orangerie features artists from Guadeloupe, Martinique and Guyane. The works were very interesting-- the kind that makes you pause and think in an attempt to disect the artist's mind, striving to find his motivations and guiding forces. After leaving the exhibit I walked about the Latin Quarter and wandered into a few bookstores-- there were big sales and so I was able to buy a few french literature books for cheap prices. I bought Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and On ne badine pas avec l'amour by Alfred Musset.

A Parade on the Champs Elysees

Dear Reader,

The Champs Elysees was soo crowded, the entire street filled with drummers and dancers dressed in outrageously colorful costumes-- feathers, sparkles, glitter, gowns, lingerie. The theme seemed to embrace African culture and heritage in France and so many of the costumes resembled traditional African clothing. The drum beats performed by the numerous band groups were infectious, convincing the whole crowd of spectators to flow with the rhythm, swaying and dancing and keeping to the beat. I walked along the Champs Elysees, pausing here and there to catch a glimpse of the different dance and drum groups. It was so strange to see the main highway so empty-- no cars or traffic or pedestrian crossings-- just group after group in costume, performing. The sky was blue and the sun was scorching and so it was the perfect summer day for a parade and ice cream or crepes. I met my friend at the Tuilleries after the parade and we went to the carnival that was taking place there, amidst the crowd fron the carnival and the general crowd that always seems to be about Paris. We went on a swing ride, enabling us to catch a glimpse of Paris from the rooftops, the warm, summer breeze engulfing us. It was sooo much fun. We could see the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower and all of the other confusion occuring below us. Before we knew it, night was already approaching and we decided to go to a brasserie and order a drink, later going to the Banana Cafe in the Chatalet-les Halles area as well. This would be my last week in Paris and I felt nostalgic already. I could not believe that six weeks had gone by so quickly-- my time in Paris was quickly dissapearing and I did not want it to end. I am not ready to go home yet. At around midnight we made the spontaneous decision to go back to the Champs Elysees and spend the night at Queen, a night club located just along the main road. The music was wonderful, a good mix of french techno music and popular pop songs by Rihanna and Britney Spears. We left the club at around five and had breakfast at a Pomme de Pain just a few stores away from the club-- it was still dark outside but it slowly got lighter as we ate, the sun gradually rising. I will miss these nights. I will miss ordering drinks as I wont be able to do this once I am home again.


Dear Reader,

I was only able to spend a day at the Louvre and so my time there was nowhere near enough to see everything. Indeed, I am sure that it could take up to a month to see the Louvre's vast collection of paintings, sculptures, and ancient artifacts. My favorite experience at the Louvre was seeing the sculptures, looking at the movement and flow of each piece and reading the story behind each of these works of art. Some of my favorite compositions depicted Greek and Roman mythological characters in graceful, dancer-like poses. It was beautiful. The architecture of the Louvre itself is astounding, along with the beautiful works of art on the ceilings of many of its rooms.

Catacombes de Paris

Dear Reader,

I made the mistake of going to the catacombs alone on a rather dreary, rainy day. It was eerie to explore the dimly-lit underground pathways by myself-- reading quotes about death and seeing the piles of bones arranged in certain designs, each skull barely representing what was once alive, once human. The pathways were sometimes narrow and water would leak from the ceiling , adding dampness to the dreary quality that the catacombs already possessed. Nevertheless, it was an interesting experience-- all I could think about as I walked past the piles of human remains was Edgar Allan Poe's Cask of Amontillado, a terrifying short story that I had to read in the eighth grade for English class. The story spoke of the narrator's desire to kill a man who had insulted him, luring him into one of the catacombs of Italy and sealing him alive within one of the catacomb's innermost vaults. It has been a long time since I read this story, but I can still remember the tension that develops throughout the story as the narrator gradually lures his ignorant victim to the depths of the catacombs, his desire for revenge increasing with each step that they take. As a result, navigating the catacombs of Paris suddenly became much more terrifying for me than ever before and the skulls and bones began to seem more irksome and depressing the longer I remained within the depths of the catacombs--  being surrounded by death for two hours. It is important to feel alive again after leaving the catacombs and I spent a few hours in the Parc de Sceaux near campus-- the clouds and rain had finally ended and the sky was blue once more, though it was still rather windy.

Paris at Dawn

Dear Reader,

We had trouble getting back to campus one morning-- it was 5:30 and one of the train lines was temporarily closed, which meant a walk from the Tuilleries to Notre Dame-- a walk beside the Seine river at sunrise. The view was beautiful and the streets were empty, hardly many people in sight. The sun was just rising and the sky was a pale blue-- not a hint of clouds. The walk was delightful, though rather tiring. The water glissened in the morning sun and the buildings came to life as the sunlight reached them, presenting them with hues of gold. The statues adorning the bridges and buildings sprang to life once more and the streets themselves seemed to sparkle.

Gay Pride in Paris

Dear Reader,

Walking in the area surrounding Notre Dame prooved to be a new discovery. The narrow streets  were filled with brasseries, cafes, and bars that were decorated with rainbows-- a sea of violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. The streets were crowded as hundreds of people walked and marched and hung about as part of the 2011 gay pride event held in Paris this week. Indeed, the event has attracted thousands to Paris from all around the world for this special celebration. A series of parties and club events were also held for the weekend.

It was so much fun watching the parade, the crowds of people drinking large beers in front of the bars and clubs, the scantily-clad dancers, and musicians playing jazz on the streets. It was the perfect place to just sit and watch and keep watching, moving from bar to bar, from cafe to cafe.

La Chapelle

Dear Reader,

La Chapelle is simply astounding-- a medieval church that encloses you within a forest of stain glass windows. The colors are brilliant and I found it impossible to hold my attention on one piece for too long-- being in the chapel is like swimming in a sea of color, too much color, soo much color that it is almost impossible to concentrate, impossible to think clearly when you are first hit by this amazing view.

I only wish that my camera could have caught all the beautiful effects that the sunlight played upon the stained glass-- unfortunately, the pictures are nowhere near a close representation of the actual chapel itself. It is something you must see with your very own eyes.

Opera Garnier

Dear Reader,

I spent a day at the Opera Garnier. The dimly lit interior and the intricate design and decoration of the main entrance area, as well as the opera house's famous staircases merely emphasizes the dramatic nature of the opera house. This is the very opera house that played such an important role in Gaston Leroux's novel, The Phantom of the Opera, later inspiring a broadway musical and movie. It was so easy to imagine scenes from the Phantom of the Opera musical at the Opera Garnier-- a masquerade ball on the famed stairscases; numerous theater-goers conducting conversations in the grand hall beside the beautiful balcony overlooking Paris. The opera house is even situated over a small river, a segment travelling from the Seine river itself, just as the novel and the musical present.

The stage itself was extremely impressive, as well as the theater boxes and plush, red-velvet seats. My favorite part of the interior was Chagall's ceiling painting, filled with scenes of Paris and certain opera pieces-- it was soo vibrant and colorful and full of movement. While taking the guided tour of the opera house, we were shown the box used by the emperor and the famed box that was rumored to belong to the phantom, as angry voices were sometimes heard coming from that box in the past.

I bought a music box at the Opera Garnier. It is small and old fashioned and plays me a tune from Mozart's Magic Flute when I wind the tiny device. It makes me soo happy.

Notre Dame

Dear Reader,

I hadn't planned to spend my whole day at Notre Dame, yet that was what ended up happening. There is something so spiritual about the cathedral that one feels obligated to whisper, to keep still, to be quiet and simply admire the broad archways and beautiful stained-glass windows. I don't consider myself extremely religious, but I still felt obligated to sit on a bench and simply meditate for a few minutes.

There is so much detail to pay attention to and it is hard to catch every sculpture, every painting, every piece of art that resides within Notre Dame's vast interior. I took a free, guided tour of the cathedral and learned so much about its great history and a few more interesting details that I would otherwise have never learned of. The time seemed to just slip away as I walked about the cathedral-- there are no words to describe my sentiments.


Dear Reader,

We stopped to buy food from a local baker in the morning in order to take to Versailles so that we could avoid buying the expensive food sold there. The train ride to the palace was mostly uneventful, except for a phrase of grafitti that I noticed at one of the stations:

" La terre est a tous. Les frontieres sont dans nos tetes."
" The earth is for everyone. The frontiers are in our heads."

The very first thing that I noticed upon arriving at Versailles were the crowds-- masses and swarms of crowds at the front of the palace waiting for their opportunity to see the famed hall of mirrors and the vast gardens. The crowds were diverse, coming from a variety of different countries and speaking a multitude of different languages that I could not recognize.

The palace itself was beautiful, filled with tapestries and sculptures and paintings and highly adorned ceilings. Everyone had to crane their heads in order to continuously admire the intricate ceiling paintings, the hard labour of so many craftsmen. While walking about the castle and seeing its many luxuries, I began to understand why Marie Antoinette and her family were so brutally executed-- they were living in this splendor while the common people were starving-- it is so hard for me to imagine that nobility once lived such a lavish lifestyle.

The gardens were lovely, especially when the fountains were activated and a delicate mist could be felt with the hot, summer air. I took great pleasure in eating an ice cream and exploring the vast gardens, sometimes feeding the ducks by the fountain with pieces from my ice cream cone.

Musee d'Orsay

Dear Reader,

Tuesday. A rainy day. No sun. Just dreary, grey skies. The perfect day for a museum-- except most museums in Paris are closed on Tuesdays-- except for the musee d'Orsay. The line was quite long though-- it seemed as though everyone seemed to have the same bright idea for that rainy Tuesday.

I waited in the hour-long line-- people watching seemed to be the only thing to do at that point. The line was filled with couples, families, and large student groups-- everyone waiting patiently. The street vendors beside the lines advertised their merchandize--reproductions of paintings, water bottles, food. Paris always seems to be alive-- at all times of day and night.

Entering the museum itself filled me with awe and wonder-- the museum had once been a train station in the early 20th century and its large dome roof gave it a sense of grandeur and spaciousness. I could hear the pitter-patter of the rain outside, glad that I was no longer stuck outside and had made it in just before it began to pour.

The paintings were astounding-- a variety of impressionistic pieces by Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, Chagall, Seurat, Cezanne, Matisse, Degas, and numerous other brilliant artists. It is so easy to get lost inside the paintings, wondering about the expressions of the subjects or the mood of the artist as he was painting a certain scene...

Shakespeare and Company

Dear Reader,

It is absolutely necessary for all bookworms in Paris to visit Shakespeare and Company. The bookstore definitely seems like something out of a Harry Potter book, with its narrow corridors that are piled with books and tiny ladders that reach the very tops of the shelves. It is small and cozy and always crowded and that is what I like best about it.

I remember passing a small band playing popular tunes just before entering the store-- they were watched attentively by a tiny crowd that always seems to hang about Shakespeare and Company. It was so wonderful to see English books again after these few, passing weeks-- I didn't realize how much I missed reading English until I stepped into the bookstore. I read a chapter of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, an autobiographical piece detailing his visit to Paris-- the name of the chapter was Shakespeare and Company. It was so interesting to read about Paris from his perspective, learning of places that he visited and people that he met while in Paris.

I automatically gravitated towards the French Literature section of the bookstore and was not dissapointed, for Shakespeare and Company was well stocked with the English translations of Francoise Sagan's works. I had read Bonjour Tristesse and was looking for names of other works that she had written. Currently, reading the actual French version of Bonjour Tristesse is prooving to be quite a challenge for me.

Locks Of Love

Dear Reader,
The goal of the day was to see the famous Opera Garnier. That failed miserably. We took the wrong metro stop and saw the Opera Bastille instead, which does not quite have the same historical significance or grandeur and beauty. However, I found that walking aimlessly in Paris sometimes helps you discover the most amazing things. We discovered some sort of a sky walk very close to the Opera Bastille-- an elevated pathway that was actually a garden, enabling us to see the rooftops and astounding architecture of the Parisian buildings while walking through rose gardens and tree-lined pathways covered with vines. The view was astounding and beautiful.

After some navigating, we found the Cinematheque Francaise and attended a Stanley Kubric exposition that was extremely interesting, watching clips of his movies and understanding the significance and impact of his great films. I now have a whole new list of films that I absolutely have to see. We left the exposition extremely hungry and discovered an Italian restaurant just across the Cinematheque Francaise. I spoke some French to the waiters, who each had thick Italian accents-- yet somehow we seemed to understand each other well and the food was delicious. My first real meal in a few days-- I had been living off cereal and fruits for some time.

We had promised to meet the others on a bridge by the Louvre, a bridge covered with locks of love-- each year, pairs of lovers write their names on locks and seal their promise to each other by placing the locks on the bridge and throwing the keys into Seine river. It is soo romantic. We watched the sunset from the bridge-- ths sky lit with hues of yellow, orange, red, and even pink-- the water sparkling. It was a perfect day.


Dear Reader,
There is a side street quite close to Moulin Rouge called Rue Lepic. If you happen to travel up this street, passing a variety of colorful cafes and brasseries, fruit venders and tourism sales, you will stumble upon Les Deux Moulins-- the very cafe that was featured in Amelie-- the French film starring Audrey Tautou. As a fanatic for the film, having watched it about 20 times, I obviously had to make a pilgrimage to the brasserie. It was wonderful to sit at a small table in the corner and watch the other customers and the waiters, taking note of events in the movie and seeing the actual cafe where it all happened. The cafe is very much the same, with its small tables and chairs and bar at the entrance to the cafe. It is even somewhat bigger than what I had seen in the movie, more spacious with large glass doors and windows that allow the sun to enter at all times of the day. I will have to stop by again some other time to have some coffee.

Paris in the Dark

Dear Reader,

It was on a Thursday night that we decided to go to Montparnasse as a large group-- the name of the club was Mix. There is usually free admission for international students on Thursday nights-- it was the best time to go.

The wait to enter the building was somewhat long and you could hear the loud music blaring inside-- there was a sense of tense expectation as everyone in  line shuffled their feet, waiting. The club was filled with dim, red light and the music gradually grew louder and louder as I descended the long stairs and made my way towards the floor and the bar. The hall was crowded, packed with groups of people dancing to the latest songs-- mostly English songs.

There was a sense of confusion about everything that night, from the flashing lights to the loud music to the blasts of fog and the pushing and shoving of the dancers, drinks in hand. I love to dance. I love to dance without stopping-- continously, endlessly, all the time. Time seemed to flow and before long it was already four in the morning. It was time to leave, time to say last goodbyes.

We caught a bus headed towards Antony, towards the campus. Home-- to soft beds and long showers, to class the next morning... or rather that very same morning.

Les Chateaux

Dear Reader,

I have been visiting castles, many castles, the castles of the Loire Valley. They are all grand, with their ornate decorations, their winding staircases, their narrow towers, their neatly arranged gardens. They are beautiful, in all their splendor and richness. However, I must confess that I have one favorite-- Chambord.

I was immediately struck by the castle's spiralling towers, its gargoyles and statues and twisted, winding staircases. It is in this castle where I can imagine a sleeping beauty resting at the highest tower, with a fiery dragon guarding the surrounding area-- the castle's vast  grounds, decorated with rows of trees and symmetric gardens.

There is something mysterious about this castle, which can be so haunting, so fleeting, and yet so concrete at the same time. The paintings and gargoyles come to life when I turn my back to them-- I can feel their eyes spying upon me as I walk down the sweeping hallways and great halls of the castle. Perhaps it is simply my imagination.

This is the castle where Moliere first performed Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. I am astounded to be standing within the very theater that this great playwright must have stood, waiting anxiously for the king's aprooval and the aprooval of the court.

The fireplaces still smell of ash and dust, perhaps the sole proof  that people once lived in such grandeur-- sleeping in large, well-furnished beds with colorful sheets and  eating feasts with other members of the court, seated at large tables and served with fine silverware. The life of royalty.


Dear Reader,

I suppose that I should start at the very beginning-- with giving you all the little details about my first day here and then my second and then my third-- each mundane event of every day. However, I do not want to start at the beginning. I want to start at the dome of the Sacred Heart church-- Le Sacre Coeur. This was where I first felt truly alive, fully realizing that I was actually in Paris-- the city that I had dreamed of visiting ever since I can remember.

The view was astounding-- colorful buildings, shops, boutiques, cafes, the Eiffel tower, Champs Elysees, blue skies, a light breeze. I remember walking about the dome in an attempt to absorb everything around me, from the view outside the church to the church itself, as well as the numerous graffitti carved by previous visitors who had also stopped to enjoy the scenery. I remember being particularly interested in a rhyme etched onto the stone seating in black marker:

"La vie est belle et vous etes comme elle."
"Life is beautiful and you are like her."

This was the exact moment when I realized what Paris meant to me-- this opportunity, this view, this very point in my life. I knew then that I would make the most of it. I would do everything that I wanted to do. There would be no limits. There was something in the breeze that day, something in the air of Montmarte, something about standing at the very top of the Sacre Coeur, something about reading that line of grafitti, that made me feel strong, even independent.

My letters to you, whoever you might be, will strive to express each of those little moments that are unforgettable, those unique, nontraditional, odd moments that are fleeting but everlasting.