Behind Parisian Doors
"When you see an open door in Paris, walk through."
The tour guide waved his hand toward the slightly ajar gate, and the group reluctantly entered the empty corridor. Above the gate, a tiny mosaic Space Invader smiled.
"It's reminding us to look up."
Our heavy footsteps provided a percussion soundtrack to the endless passage, and after walking miles through a dilapidated neighborhood the mood swirled into a cocktail of excitement and anxiety. We pressed on, until a voice behind a rusted door finally broke the silence.
The door swung open into a beautiful, modern coffee shop. Sharp, angular beams replaced the Gothic columns that carried the city's most frequented destinations, forming a frame around delicate, wooden tables. The tour guide begged us to keep it a secret. This was his place of respite.
Light poured through an opening in the furthermost wall, and I spotted another door left ajar. I pushed it open into a sea of green. A garden.
"You won't find many of these here."
Of all the cities I have been to, Paris stands alone in its appreciation for beauty. The eternal buildings are impeccably well kept. The slender people are impeccably well dressed.
Couples sit side by side under striped café awnings for hours, chatting frivolously while fixing their eyes on cobblestone roads that long predate their existence. The cafés sit side by side too - you can almost hear Café de Flore cackle at its old rival Les Deux Magots whenever the wind pushes it front door open.
The Parisian wind whispers love and leisure, as opposed to the urgent wind that carries us through daily life in America. I might have sipped espresso all day long had Agnes Obel's gentle voice not crept through the café's speakers.
"To the town we’ll go..."
I made an effort to get lost, but continuously found myself ensnared by the Louvre's gravitational pull. Its mammoth doorways guarded sweeping gallery walls and angelic ceilings graced with centuries of human achievement. Upon arriving at the swarm of selfies surrounding Da Vinci's most famous masterpiece, my audio guide crackled.
"Mona Lisa's smile still remains one of art's greatest mysteries."
Today, she smiles for the cameras, though no less brilliantly. I followed the flashes through the underground catacombs' nondescript entrance, where they illuminated the bones of Parisians long gone. The poems sharing their musty home invited us to ponder life while embarking on a long spiral journey upward to another unassuming door. I wrestled with it until it finally revealed its treasure. Daylight.
Whether alone or accompanied by my sister, the day's hours were mostly spent on foot, guiding us from the halls of Notre Dame to the gates of Versailles. For all of the latter landmark's man-made beauty, Louis XIV's greatest prize rested in its shadow. The tour guide was right - while gardens in Paris are few and far between, they are always spectacular.
Versailles' gardens were arranged in precise, perpendicular lines, trading natural chaos for narrow pathways that seemed to stretch on forever. The rows of tall trees completely obstructed the Sun King's lavish home, and despite my own short stature, I relished feeling so small.
My last daytime excursion toured the 11th Arrondisment's spray painted streets, where contemporary rebellious themes formed a powerful juxtaposition with their ancient, concrete canvases. The street artist guide shared his philosophy.
"We put our mark on these buildings that are supposed to last forever to bring them into the present. It's 2014. We are living."
I followed him to the surreal passage atop Parc du Belleville’s peak, a series of illustrated columns depicting children drifting through portals to the sky. Although it lacked the bravado of its sibling Montmartre's door to Sacré-Cœur, it was equally affecting.
When the sun left the sky, the stars gave the circular neighborhoods a new kind of life. I let the energetic young voices guide me through the streets, into late night cafés, pastry shops, and bars, but on my last night they sent me to a road that seemed entirely deserted. I walked briskly, until a bright glimmer in the corner of my eye caught my attention. While the rest of the street slept, a sole bar danced.
The bar's door creaked open and voices poured out in four different languages. A man emerged sporting a menu and a British accent.
"Hey buddy, are you hungry?"
He held the door, and the escaped light revealed a tiny mosaic Space Invader smiling above. I smiled back, and with a nod, walked through.