1. Louvre Rivoli.
The unsettlingly polite radio on the right side is crooning at Frenchies, Indians and dinosaurs alike as our plush underground bogie pulls up beside a station that looks like it’s been picked right out of a historic horror flick.
I scramble for my earphones; I do not want to hear that woman again. I break the wall of heads with my arm and look for a green cap. The owner shakes his head at me, mouthing the word “Next stop”, doing cartwheel with his wrist. Relieved and comfortable, I collapse back on the plush chair and start lip-syncing to Mockingbird.
Now I’m no Guru when it comes to travelling, heck I’m still getting cold feet at the thought of living in a hostel next year on, but I’m being honest when I say that it really was worth throwing my sleep to the croissant-dense winds, if the reward was a city as charming and homelike as Paris. Moving out of the metro station and into the cloudy, damp domesticity of the Place Charles de Gaulle, we’re immediately overwhelmed by a profound sense of patriotism as an India-Gate replica looms in front of us on the street opposite. It looks exactly like the one back home, yay!
I’m just beginning to ask Savita Ma’am about the confusion, when I notice stuff that makes me go “Oh, no no no.” For inscribed on the elaborate arch of said monument are intricate Christian sculptures that depict the French portrayal of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.” I’m not saying India doesn’t accommodate Christians; India’s the most secular, democratic, happy model in the world (read: I don’t wanna die) but it’ll be a long shot, to say the least, before one of us makes as much as an attempt to put a pencilled Cross on the monument in Delhi. Psst. No disrespect. I love you guys.
That monument, as we learn after a couple of horde photos and screwing around with the pedestrian signal button, is actually the Arc de Triompe that’s been erected to celebrate the success of the French revolution. There’s the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier below the towering arch and a bunch of exquisite french artwork on its sides (no graffiti, *weak laugh*) that’s basically a jubilant nod to all the heroes that made a free Paris possible. The visit is rewarding, albeit fleeting, so I leave the arch with a lingering mist of wonder but not nearly enough to hold on to, and join my squad across the street. After playing how-long-can-I-punch-you-in-a-minute with the signal button. Indians.
We walk a little, take a dozen-or-so selfies, and just when we’re beginning to scramble around in each other’s bags for leftovers, the silhouette of Hogwarts peekaboos us from round the corner.
You’re a Frenchie, Harry.
I made that up. The best thing about this hugely religious, astoundingly famous structure is not its religious importance as much as its sheer aesthetic appeal. Right from the captivating arches to the all-embracing atrium, the Church is “give and forgive” personified. Or monumentified. I don’t know.
Notre Dame, or Notre Dame de Paris, is one of the most ancient cathedrals in Paris. Hugged by enchanting depictions of major biblical episodes from right, left and above, the paintings and statues are beautiful enough to garner the attention of tourists from impossible corners of the planet. I stroll around with the fascinated languor of a lost traveler, amazed but truly at sea with the enormous pantheon of godly figures that’s Christianity. I regret not knowing many of the stories, and the trip provides a sure catalyst for me to get that pocket Bible from the sovenir shop outside. Something to carry in my heart and my jeans forever.
3. Yes macha, it is the Eiffel!
“Where is the Eiffel?” Yogesh Sir laughs a little and runs up the flight. He sure can put my teeth on edge. In a good way. Bolting up the metro stairs for the fifth time, we’re a little eager to see the fabled tower to say the least. He’s walking ahead along with Mayuresh Sir and we’re following them, me fiddling with my phone camera. Getting the Night Mode on and sliding the left side of my bag up my shoulder, I sigh-smirk as they turn and disappear round the corner. Why do the best surprises always have to be round the corner? I’m waiting for the Eiffel to slide into view, not quite sure what to expect. We’re gonna, as Mayuresh said, “view it from afar”, and I’m not enlightened as to just how far. None of us is. We turn, walk a few steps and look straight.
And our breaths get knocked out.
Standing in front of us, a towering sentinel that withstood the terrible attacks on its motherland not half a year ago, crying, smiling, knowing a thousand people are watching it from the ledge opposite, stands the imposing yet disarming monument that spurred us to get up at five in the morning. The Eiffel Tower is literally breathtaking. We’re watching it from what, a hundred feet and it looks majestic as hell from here. Those tiny people by the foot of the tower must be dying.
The visit is amazing. We sit there, we talk, we whip out our cameras whenever a weird bird shoots past us in the swiftly dimming Paris eve, and basically have a ton of lazy fun for an hour. I actually hear a couple Gujaratis behind us fighting over a last piece of Chakli. Can you believe that? Gujaratis in Paris! We’re literally overflowing! At ten o’ clock, the whole tower lights up like a million buzzing fireflies, putting on a jig for its glassy-eyed tourists, doing its version of a showoff pirouette against the backdrop of twisting lanes and hilariously dwarfed telephone towers. My battery is literally down to one, and I thankfully get a ten-second video of the glimmering wonder before my Kamera goes kaputt. Here it is, the Eiffel in action:
The three-hour visit to the second floor of the Eiffel is worth mentioning everytime someone asks me about my fondest memories from Europe. I cosily recollect my initial sense of utter disbelief as I take in the width of the monument, embracing a neat playground for shops and oldies and toddlers while they wait for the tedious security process to get done with. I recall me rapping Mockingbird with Vidhya as we wait for the queue to thin, masking our frustration under that of the Insane rapper. I remember me going up that classic Baby’s Day Out elevator, and out into a jutting ledge that overlooked every crooked bylane of the romantic paradise. The two-euro telescopes placed at regular intervals actually work awesome, so you can have a zoom-in on your crush who’s studying at the International School of Paris while you wink at her from the clouds. Aww. No. That’s really creepy. The pics tho! Everything a photographer would love. I’m a terrible photographer, but here you are:
Zoom in, sweeties.
The backyard of the Eiffel.
Don’t know what it’s called.
*Insert really twisty French name*
The descent from the Eiffel tower is also a descent from joy to bleakness, from rain-clouds to drought-prone Earth, from experience to nostalgia. For that glorious stairway marks our final tourist spot in the thirteen-day Europe visit we were privy to. It means the end of all we’ve laughed through, all that we’ve enjoyed, all that we’ve suffered. I can almost taste the salt in the air as we bid goodbye to a monument we’ve touched the skies in and a city that’s snuggled somewhere in our minds for eternity.
Paris est toujours.