HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – December 31, 2017 – 12:00am
Since I stepped out of the plane at the Charles de Gaulle Airport more than a week ago, I have been singing the song I Love Paris by Cole Porter which the world first heard in 1953.
The last time I was in Paris was in the late ’80s. APO was touring Europe then. Paris was one of the places where we performed. We arrived on a Friday, did the concert the next day, had a free day on Sunday and left on a Monday. I hardly saw anything. I saw the Eiffel Tower but only from a distance. I spent an afternoon at Versailles. That’s about all l can remember.
I am writing this now from Paris more than 27 years since I last visited. We arrived last Dec. 20 to visit our daughter Erica who is now based here. We brought along her daughter Ananda to be with her this Christmas. And yes, we are all having a wonderful time.
I hardly connected with Paris the last time I was here. I was just too busy then since the time we had was way too short. Everything then was about the concert we were going to do. Paris hardly made an impression then.
This time around I am falling in love with the city, its sights, people and everything else it has to offer. From all indications, it seems like a serious love affair.
These past five days, we have been doing so much walking around and eating out. Paris has endless monuments, restaurants, beautiful buildings, statues, shopping boutiques and metro stops. On our first day here, we took about four Metro rides, and walked 212,000 steps in 230 minutes. We went to Montmartre and visited the Sacré-Coeur Basilica. We also went to the tinier St. Pierre Church which was the church where St. Ignatius of Loyola took his vows as a priest. It all began in that little church for the Jesuits.
We also enjoyed a meal at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (or the Robuchon, for short), a Michelin-star restaurant where Erica worked for awhile after finishing a culinary course at Le Cordon Bleu.
It was pretty steep but well worth the price. During parts of the meal, we would all stop eating just to savor and discuss how sumptuously delicious the food was.
We have been around the past three days. But there is so much to see. In the next few days, I will experience so much more of Paris. Right now I am enjoying this wonderful city in a way I could not before. I was 39 years old then. I was not as curious then as I am now about French culture, cuisine, art, language, history.
A city with a history that spans centuries has much more to offer its visitors than many other destinations.
Through the centuries, Paris has been one of the world’s major players, affecting much of history. The Bastille was where the French Revolution began and the revolutionary cry of “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” shaped the values of liberal democracy everywhere. In its streets, cafés and universities, France’s philosophers, artists and thinkers contributed much to the art and intellectual movements that influenced Europe and the rest of the world.
As a Filipino I am so proud at the thought that Rizal lived here and that Juan Luna showed the French a thing or two about art by winning contests here.
A few days ago, I went to a cemetery close to us to visit the grave of Jean Paul Sartre, a leading philosopher who died in 1980. I remember reading him in college. It is amazing that people still visit his tomb, which he shares with his partner Simone de Beauvoir, to leave letters and flowers. I will also be visiting the graves of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf in Père Lachaise Cemetery in another part of Paris.
My wife Lydia and I are currently staying at a flat which we booked through Airbnb. It is a typical one-bedroom apartment in Paris. We sometimes cook but mostly go out to eat. In some ways, we are living as Parisians do.
We also hang around my daughter Erica’s flat which she shares with her boyfriend Cyrille. A few nights ago, we spent Christmas Eve there together with Cyrille’s brother Alex and their mother Dyna.
Today, we saw the Seine, the Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, Jardin des Tuileries, and a few more sights. I was in awe! Beauty was ever-present and inescapable. I was so enthralled at the beauty and art that seemed to ooze out of everywhere. In the cold of winter, I felt a thrill and a giddiness, a warm glow of appreciation for everything I could see.
Every day, Erica takes us to experience something new. I love discovering new destinations, trying new food, and learning how Parisians live. Cyrille and I talk about history a lot. He is quite well-versed on the French Revolution, Napoleon’s impact on the history of Paris, and France during and after World War 2. It is interesting to know that the main entrance to Paris, the Arc De Triomphe, was widened by Napoleon to make sure the military would not be blocked in this once-narrow street by people throwing furniture out of their apartments. He also built much of Paris’s sewage system which works to this day.
n Paris, the past and the present live side by side.
As much as Paris is an old city, it is also home to the new and the cutting edge. It is still bursting with life, old and new art, and its artists and intellectuals continue to contribute to the world of ideas.
Every time I walk its streets of cobblestones, I think of all the great writers and artists who have spent part of their lives here. Victor Hugo, Jules Verne, Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Marc Chagall, Yves Saint Laurent, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Pablo Picasso, Jose Rizal, Juan Luna, Moliere and many more who breathed its air, enjoyed French cuisine, marveled at the city and its people, and imbibed and enjoyed its rich culture. And I am thrilled at the thought that I am doing the same even if only in very small measure.
Maybe someday I will come back and be able to afford to actually Iive in Paris, even for just two years. I am an old soul. Otherwise, how do I explain my lifetime curiosity and love affair with history and museums? Hopefully the Muse or the spirit that moved and inspired these artists to be great and prolific will work on me, too.