Timeless by Anisha Johnson
My friend leaned over and whispered in my ear so as to be heard over the sneaker-squeaks and touristy gasps of awe emanating from the jostling crowds all around us. “That’s the face you make when you step on a Lego.”
I snorted with laughter, staring at the statue in front of us - a boy with his foot raised in the air, the beginnings of a grimace stealing over his lips.
It was, undeniably, a beautiful work, as were all the other masterpieces of art and sculpture contained in the Musée D’Orsay. But many of them seemed to urge their viewers to survey them with a little irreverence - a smile or perhaps a chuckle as one wondered what the artist had been thinking as he worked.
My family progressed through the museum with my friend in tow. She had been here before; in fact, she lived in Paris herself. I, however, had not. This was my first time in Paris, and I felt as though, after fourteen long years of wishing I could come here, I had finally clawed my way into my most desperately wished-for daydream.
We left the museum after a few hours - more than enough time for my friend and I to concoct several art memes together, while simultaneously admiring every lifelike sculpture or beautifully twisted brushstroke that caught our eye. A good metaphor for Paris: modern amusements layered over all of history’s hopes and dreams, built sturdily enough to last. Like true Parisians, or at least like what tourists expect of Parisians, we ate a simple repast of baguette, cheese, and grapes on a bench overlooking the Seine. Clouds shuffled through the sky above us like barbe à papa - Papa’s beard, or, as English-speakers refer to it in far less interesting terms, cotton candy. The Grand Palais loomed in the distance, the Eiffel Tower soared to our left, and the Jardin des Tuileries swayed invitingly ahead as the Seine tiptoed along before us, swooping into the shadows of bridges and re-emerging into glittery sunlight. It was a scene of perfect serenity… or perhaps I just felt content because I knew what was on the menu for dessert: an overabundance of chouquettes, small puff pastries topped with pearl sugar.
That was not the only day I had occasion to eat near the Seine. I once ate Berthillon ice cream (both overpriced and overrated) along its gentle banks, and I also ate a hearty lunch near the Square de l'Île-de-France, located at the rear end of Notre Dame where the tip of l'île de la Cité meets the Seine (the hearty lunch was a welcome blessing: we had just walked up 387 spiraling steps to reach the top of the cathedral, although the climb was made worthwhile by the breathtaking view that welcomed us at the top).
The Seine, in fact, seemed a constant, all-pervading presence during my trip, although I could not always see it. Its cheerful burble was like the song of the city, a gentle reminder that all the wonders around me sprang from the sustenance that the river granted the simple folk who lived here hundreds and thousands of years ago. Like the Seine, I noticed, other aspects of the city’s grand and glorious history indubitably find ways to make themselves known, to pull aside the curtains of centuries gone past and watch the modern world roll by. The rough bricks of Ancient Rome still lie untouched in the crypts of Notre Dame, so eerie and still that you can almost imagine them hanging on your every word. Perhaps walls really do have ears. The old Roman amphitheater in the heart of the Latin Quarter, the Arènes de Lutèce, still slumbers placidly on even though the local children now employ it as a makeshift stadium for games such as football. Père Lachaise, the time-worn cemetery at the edge of Paris, still holds the bones of renowned twelfth-century lovers Héloïse and Abelard, and ancient relics of French history such as the sword of Charlemagne live on within the palatial confines of the Louvre. History is everywhere, if you know where to look.
And yet Paris is alive at all times with the rumble and bustle of modern-day invention: the plaintive wails of car horns, the lilting hum of conversations in muted French, the low drone of the Bateaux-Mouches gliding through the Seine with awestruck tourists crowding atop them, the jingling of the cheap Tour Eiffel keychains sold by vendors all over the city. Paris seems young and old and timeless all at once; crumbling and ancient, yet immortal. I got to eat ice cream while staring at buildings that have lingered for centuries; I listened to electronic music while skipping through streets that have borne the weight of too many years and footsteps to count… so who says it's impossible to travel through time?