On Life, Universe and… Paris
It only took a few hundred meters and a view of the Arc de Triomphe in the night lights to remind me what a fascinating place Paris is.
A few days ago, on my way back from Spain, I stayed for two days in Paris, waiting for my connection further on. It wasn’t actually waiting, as I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to revisit the city that in the past years I frequently used to change trains and planes, but only decently saw whole 11 years ago.
Back in 2003 I had a whole week in Paris, thanks to the gap between the tournaments in Cappelle and Cannes. I remember I would go out in the morning and roam the city until late at night, spending time on activities like searching for the location of the famous Café de la Regence or visiting the Montparnasse cemetery for the graves of Alekhine and Polugaevsky. Needless to say I went to all the important places, from the Louvre to the Invalides and Eiffel to the Monmartre up north and everything in between. It was an inspirational stay as my list of world cities I came to know closely grew steadily.
This time I had only two days so I decided to go for “the basics.” The Louvre was the first one, for two reasons. The obvious one was Mona Lisa. I could still remember the hypnotising effect her eyes had on me. Nothing changed since the last time I saw her, the moment I set my eyes on her I was lost for the hordes of tourists around me and the deeper I looked the deeper I got lost in those eyes. I could just stay there for ever, looking in her eyes. It took a strong conscious effort to break free from her look and move on, but even then I had to fight the desire to go back and look again.
The second reason was my favourite sculpture. It’s Hercules fighting Achelous, by Francois-Joseph Bosio.
I am no big connoiseur of art and I didn’t know this sculpture existed before I saw it in 2003. But when I saw it I was thoroughly captivated. It was the expression on Hercules’s face, that rooted, steely, inner conviction, he simply knowshe will kill the beast.
There is no emotion on his face, as if he’s doing a task and not performing a heroic deed and yet he is focused and determined. I used to recall this image as a way of inspiration before games. But I write all this from memory, as this time I was unlucky – the sculpture wasn’t there! I only found an empty postament with the information that the sculpture is in Portland, USA. Tough luck.
The Louvre is a vast place and I spent the whole of day one there. The rest was left for day two.
My flight on day 2 was at 9pm, so I had time until 6pm when I had a bus to the airport. After breakfast I set afoot for the Notre Dame. The reason for this was that back in 2003 the church was under reconstruction so I couldn’t see it in all its magnificence. Now I could. I love going to churches. They have this effect on me as after a meditation. After the usual walk-around I usually sit in the middle of the church and then just sit there. The feeling of tranquility comes naturally and I sit for a very long time. It’s very difficult to leave, in fact, it’s very difficult to get up from the chair! But as I didn’t have much time, I forced myself to – I exited the church as I exit all the churches I have visited: peaceful and calm.
The third stop, for yet another hypnotising experience, was the Eiffel Tower. The architectural marvel, visible from pretty much everywhere in Paris (unless your view is blocked by a building), mesmerises me with the curved shape that starts from the four “legs” and goes upwards until the top. It’s difficult to explain why I find this curve so fascinating, but as with the Mona Lisa and Hercules, I can watch it for a very long time.
As I queued for the tickets I read that the top had been closed for visitors. Tough luck, I thought again, as I could go all the way up to the top in 2003, but by the time my turn came I was informed that the top had been reopened and I could go there. Finally some compensation for Hercules and I was happy to go all the way up and watch the city around and beneath me.
I like going to high places and observe the surrounding terrain. “I am a monarch of all I survey” is what comes to mind at those moments. It is the first verse of a poem I studied back in University (William Cowper’s The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk – Alexander Selkirk was the real life Robinson Crusoe and Defoe’s work was based on his life), but most probably I remember it from Thoreau, an author I very much liked (especially his Walden). So the Eiffel Tower is a wonderful high ground from where I could monarch all I surveyed, the whole Paris itself.
By the time I was down to earth it was high time to go flying and I had to rush back to the hotel to grab my suitcase and go to the airport. The trip was smooth and I arrived safe and sound.
Paris is still wonderful after 11 years. Even though this time it was just a short visit, it was one that reminded me of the spirit and the splendour of the city of light.
The Universe stood still and Life moved on while I was in Paris. For me the most important thing when visiting a place is to feel its spirit. All places have different spirits and feeling them makes me feel vibrant and alive. Just like the Universe.