Rodin's "The Thinker" is probably the world's best known
da Vinci's "Mona Lisa," the woman with the enigmatic
smile, is possibly the
world's most famous painting. What's the pondering man thinking
why is Mona Lisa smiling?
Rodin's The Thinker
During a visit to Paris, a Frenchman told me that they're reflecting,
their distinct male and female styles, on the night they spent together.
I spent a week of nights in Paris thinking about Rodin, smiling at
and viewing an encyclopedia's worth of cultural icons usually seen
textbooks. Include the Eiffel Tower at night, the Seine River, Notre-Dame,
Impressionist art at the d'Orsay Museum, the Arc de Triomphe, Napoleon's
Tomb, Sacre Coeur, grand boulevards like the Champs-Elysees lined
outdoor cafes, the disarming beauty of Venus de Milo, and it's
understandable why Parisian thoughts take a romantic bent.
Arc de Triomphe
Looking toward the Eiffel Tower
John Steinbeck, the Nobel Prize winning novelist, called Parisians
luckiest people in the world." I was lucky enough to reconfirm
observations while spending week in Paris, a place I'd visited a few
earlier. My previous stay, spent at a friend of a friend's friend
flat, was in the summer. Smog muddied views from the Eiffel Tower
city's streets, museums. Other of the city's populated sights were
suffocated with wall-to-wall crowds of gawking tourists, me included.
Paris is a city for walking, and on my fall visit I trekked several
daily, sometimes purposely aiming for destinations, other times simply
wandering and, more than I'd like to admit, discombobulatingly wondering
where the heck I was. No worries. Paris is also a city also deftly
its Metro, a spidery underground network of stations and trains. When
hopelessly befuddled, I searched out the nearest Metro station, studied
maps, jumped aboard, made the necessary connections and emerged wherever
needed to be.
Where I often needed to be were places with food. And what food. I
McDonald's, TGI-Friday and Hard Rock Cafe, where many Americans seemingly
seek the safety of familiarity. Instead I preferred eateries with
French and waiters with a disdain for English, places where even
point-and-choose guesses were rewarded with dizzyingly delicious feasts.
easiest and cheapest meals were from the everywhere crepe vendors.
weren't petite pastry crepes, but meal-sized pancakes stuffed with
possibilities. I favored those filled with cheeses and lamb and, for
dessert, crepes slathered in chocolate. The best dinners were in
neighborhood restaurants, sometimes alone, occasionally with new friends.
It's no secret that the French love their wine, and there's good reason,
an amazing array of choices. After ordering a meal, I've learned to
waiters what they recommend. I've yet to be disappointed.
I've yet to be disappointed on places to visit in Paris. As always,
were many places I wanted to be. A museum pass gained me entry
places the Louvre, home of the Mona Lisa and the statuesque
with the d'Orsay, Napoleon's Tomb, Conciergerie, Sainte-Chapelle
delights, including the mind-altering Museum of Modern Art, eclectic
Museum and monumental Rodin Museum.
Les Invalides, Napoleon's Tomb
After the crowds and thick smog of my previous, I hadn't planned to
up the Eiffel Tower. During that summer day, the line was long, the
walkways, elevators and observation tower were all uncomfortably crowded.
But on a clear night when we had no other plans, a friend who never
there and I rode the Metro to the nearest stop. What a difference.
from below and atop of the Eiffel Tower was grandiose, a 360-degree
panoramic vista of the "City of Lights." From up top in
the evening light,
the city sparkled like a massive tiara of diamonds.
View over Paris
Oddly, even more memorable was an organ concert in Notre-Dame, the
church that owes its survival to Victor Hugo's novel, "The Hunchback
Notre Dame." Hundreds of us filled benches in the massive cathedral.
pieces, by Olivier Messiaen and Johann Sebastian Bach, were pleasing,
the selections by Jehan Alain and Knut Nystedt were electrifying
thundering organ caused the walls and floors, and my emotions, to
and vibrate. The performance ended with Louis Vierne's "Carillon
Westminster," a piece as calming as a bubble bath after a long
Paris is like that, a city of explosive crescendos and soothing adagios,
places that offer rollicking excitement and refuges for reflection.
Leonardo's painting and Rodin's sculpture suggest, it is a city for
Or, lacking that, Paris is a place to think, and hope, about romance.