The tour of Paris started at Bastille, the site of the 1789 French revolution. Today there was no hint of unrest or disquiet. The sky was overcast but there were no storm clouds gathered or thunder approaching. We were safe, the mob mentality dispelled, the anger that shouts within our mind suddenly quiet.
I walked onwards. The Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Paris sat on the bank of the river Seine. It was a gothic splendour. Unfortunately some of this splendour was diminished; its façade covered in scaffolding. I wished those responsible for these refurbishments could have been slightly more organised and made sure all the scaffolding was down before my arrival.
But who was I to complain and who would listen?
‘Perhaps if I had an angry mob of tourists behind me’ I thought.
From the Cathedrale it was a short walk to the Palais du Louvre and the Musee du Louvre. An imperial building surrounded a courtyard on three of its sides. In the middle of the courtyard sat a large glass triangular structure. This was the modern day entry into the Musee du Louvre, a museum which housed a famous painting of some woman attempting a futile smile.
Sometime during that day I had a larger than normal frown upon my face. I needed to relieve myself and I wasn’t anywhere near a public toilet. Eventually I found one of these conveniences and trotted down the stairs to find a cleaning lady at a counter requesting a payment of French francs.
I tried to assure her I would not pee on the floor and I would put the seat down once I had finished. But given she spoke no English and I spoke no French it was a protest to no avail.
She still wanted payment.
I was not about to break the habit of a life time and pay to use the toilet. I tried to explain that I thought it was clearly a city’s duty to provide free public amenities to its citizens and tourists.
But I was running out of time.
I painfully walked back up the stairs and found a quite corner in the Jardin des Tuileries to relieve myself for free. It was my own private protest, my own small revolution.
The Jardin des Tuileries was a garden with a pale, yellow, gritty walkway surrounded by green grass, statues and trees on either side. The Place de la Concorde sat enticingly in the distance.
While Bastille had been the site of the start of the French revolution, the Place de la Concorde was the site of a more advanced chapter in the historic developments of the power of the people. It was where, in 1793, King Louis XVI had literally faced the chop. Over the next two years another 1,343 people had been guillotined. I could nearly visualise the carnage, the yells for more blood, the anger and murder in the minds of the possessed.
The tour then proceeded along the Champ Elysees, which led towards the Arc de Triomphe. Stylish shops stood along the Champ Elysees. It was a street famous throughout the world. For me it was famous as the place John had blown all his savings on stylish beer before his arrival into London. He was now one of the poor people in a city where there had been no comparable revolution. Perhaps when I get back …
From the Arc de Triomphe I crossed the Sienne to the left bank and walked to the Tour Eiffel. I satisfied myself with the tangible feeling of touching it. The sun was setting, its fading light falling through a gap in the clouds. Darkness was gathering, clouds were rumbling in the distance but still the iconic image stood strong; the symbol of an unapologetic nation.
Gardens, parks and green fields were everywhere in the tourist centre of Paris. They almost matched the number of historic sites, some of which I still have not mentioned. Do you want me to bore you with the details?
I will tell you the next day I did leave the centre of the tourist district and visited the Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise. The cemetery housed such famous names as Chopin, Wilde and the more recently departed Jim Morrison; he who died in a bathtub in Paris in 1971.
Jim Morrison was a revolutionary of sorts. He was a cult figure for the questioning mind of the young - till we grow old and find ourselves one step from the grave. Beside his headstone a group of young Spanish tourists were taking photos, smoking cigarettes in the make believe they were joints.
Where was the answer?
It was my last night in Paris; the end of my current tour. I shouted myself a beer from a vending machine and started to dwell on my impressions of Europe and my understanding of money.
Europe was a continent where money was old compared to the relatively new money of North America. Europe was money kept in the family, passed down from one generation to the next, children growing up on their parent’s wealth and titles. Money in the United States was new, born from the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship.
I felt it is freedom from the umbilical cord of past generations and the hunger to earn one’s own way in the world that separated North American money from that of Europe.
The beer was disgusting. I went to my room and tried to get some sleep. A South Korean male entered the room and started spouting about how Paris didn’t compare to his country’s major city, Soul. He continued on to tell us how Soul had a river much more impressive than the Seine.
Maybe that was true but it was approaching midnight and I didn’t really care for his opinion.
“Well, at least Paris doesn’t have the northern half of its once united country pointing bombs at it; unlike Soul” I said.
With that there was silence and it was goodnight to you all.