Rikki Li is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2016, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An English Writing and Psychology major at the University of Pittsburgh, she is studying abroad in London this semester.
This week, Rikki takes us to Paris.
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I can still clearly remember the day my friends and I decided to study abroad together in London for the spring semester. We were sitting in philosophy class, waiting for the professor to start her lecture on Plato and his abstract realm of forms.
“…and Buckingham Palace! Abbey Road! Harry Potter Studios!” Sammi was counting landmarks off on her fingers, each one sounding more imperative than the last.
“We could go to Paris on Valentine’s Day,” Jack said, as if the idea had just struck him with its brilliance. “Guys, imagine. Valentine’s Day, in Paris.”
Six months later, we did just that.
I had been to Paris only once before to accompany my dad on one of his business trips. I was fresh out of 8th grade, having taken a year of awfully rudimentary French. My knowledge consisted primarily of greetings, colors, and miscellaneous fruit names, which wasn’t exactly helpful. Most of my memories of that trip are just fuzzy snapshots now, but I can still remember certain lovely moments. Street musicians playing a duet on the Pont Marie. A small pot full of slow-roasted meat and herbs. Fairy lights on a restaurant patio. The sunset over the Seine.
My friends and I found that the cheapest and most efficient route to Paris would be to take a 10 hour red-eye bus ride on Friday night, which would land us in France at 7am Saturday morning. We would sightsee for a day, return to our hostel for a dead-to-the-world slumber, and then start bright and early on Sunday morning to tango under the Eiffel Tower (in honor of Valentine’s Day), before catching our flight home at 2pm.
The dream, of course, was that the weather would stay beautiful and sunny for the entire weekend. However, as we pulled into Paris Saturday morning, stiff and exhausted, we saw nothing but rain. It could have easily been disheartening, but we found that, even awash in gray, Paris was elegant. In the early hours of the weekend, the streets were quiet and ancient. The city seemed taller than London somehow, fuller and more decorative. Everywhere, there was the impervious fragrance of baked bread, and the steady presence of local grocers wheeling out their carts, boasting colorful squashes and tulips moistened with dew.
We spent the day jumping through puddles and taking shortcuts through narrow side streets, passing by significant landmarks on the way like the Louvre and Notre Dame. I thought it was actually nicer this way, to not be lured in by the tourist traps and glossy souvenir shops—it felt as though we were getting a truer experience of France. A one point, we stopped to buy a box of macarons from a patisserie, and found that, as long as you tried to speak French, the shop owners were very kind and helpful. I don’t blame them; if in America we expect everyone to know basic English, shouldn’t we extend the same courtesy when the tables are turned?
There was, however, one slipup. Looking to escape the rain for a while, we ducked into a small church near the Notre Dame called St-Gervais-et-St-Protais, which was relatively empty but nonetheless beautiful with its sloping ceilings and stained glass windows. Instead of pews, there were rows and rows of stools, which we used to set down our wet coats and bags as we walked around. Handfuls of lit candles flickered beside stone carvings of Saints, where some people had their heads bowed in silent prayer. A lonely man was eating his lunch in the very back of the church, the scraping of his fork the only sound in the immediate vicinity.
By the time we returned to our bags, my wallet was gone. The man that had been eating his lunch was also gone, having left his plastic container of paella at the scene of the crime. We rushed to the police station after that, but all they could do was offer a stolen item report. At the very least, the man had been kind enough to leave my passport, phone, and camera intact.
I hope you put my 60 euros to good use, little thief.
Come Sunday morning, physically and mentally renewed, we set out for the Eiffel Tower for our obligatory Valentine’s Day tango. To our surprise, the moment we reached the base of the Tower, teeming with visitors, the sky cleared and brought a full hour of warm and sweet sunshine. We shed our coats (in plain sight this time) and turned up the music on our iPhones, laughing and twirling in the still-wet grass of the Champ de Mars. There were no roses in sight, but we stole a few yellow flowers from the bushes nearby and held them in our mouths. I don’t think I’ve felt so carefree in a long, long time. Perhaps, in light of the previous day’s events, I was just glad to have still been able to enjoy myself.
It certainly wasn’t a traditional Valentine’s Day weekend as one would expect, but I still say it was one of the best I’ve ever had. In spite of its hiccups, I got to spend it with the people that I loved in a city known for love—and isn’t that something to be grateful for?
Rikki's journey continues every Tuesday so stay tuned.