Free Man in Paris: Part Two

Words and photographs from day three of my solo trip to Paris, France in November of 2021

I’ve been at a standstill writing this series, which isn’t much of a series since I’ve only written the first part.

And then, this week, while walking outside, I felt a breeze. It was short, but it was powerful: it gave me chills, but as I kept walking, the sun warmed my back. For a moment, I felt like I was back in France, in the middle of November, walking out of the metro and into the harsh greyness of the city. I was reminded of this, quickly, and though it escaped my body immediately, it didn’t leave my mind. Since then, the trip has been scattered about in my hard drive of a mind — hence my instant inspiration to continue writing about the trip.

(If you haven’t read part one, you may read it here.)

Following my first real creme brûlée, I walked back to the hostel with a full stomach and a more optimistic mindset. I figured out timing regarding the next day’s plans, and then I slept.

I had scheduled a tour at the Louvre on Airbnb for 2:00. I was happy to be able to sleep in and take a shower that morning without rushing, like I had the previous morning before the bike tour.

I took my time getting to the museum, and, of course, once I walked out of the grand metro station, it began to rain. My clothes grew slightly damp, but I didn’t really mind as I knew I’d be inside for the next few hours. Plus, to complain about rain while in a place as beautiful as Paris just seemed wrong.

I walked around the grounds surrounding the museum, stopping at a little stand for a Nutella crepe — my first one since I’d arrived. It warmed me up and made the spitting sky a little easier to endure. I found a bench to eat on and people-watched for a while, eventually calling my friend Brooke for some company.

It’s always strange calling back home from abroad. It was super early back in Boston, where Brooke was at the time, while I had been up for a few hours. My day looked so much different than hers, and a part of me wished she — or, frankly, anyone — were there with me. This desire slowly dwindled as the trip went on, though, and I ended it glad that I had gone alone.

I signed up for a tour of the museum mostly I am an auditory learner, and I knew that if I was going to visit the Louvre, I was going to leave having learned something. I’m simply no good at reading and retaining things on museum plaques, so I knew some sort of tour was necessary for such an important experience.

This was the tour I did, which highlighted the can’t-miss masterpieces of the museum. The guide, Sylvanie, was fantastic. I was the first to arrive at the meeting spot, so we talked a little bit, and it turns out she went to school in Rome for her master’s degree! One by one, other group members joined us, and once everyone had made it, we all made our way into the museum.

You really can’t understand how big this place is until you visit. This tour only scratched the surface, which I’m glad for, but it made me certain that I need to visit again to see the many works I missed.

I have so many photos, but here are just some of my favorites:

Venus de Milo, 150 BC

This one was discovered in 1820 by a random farmer in Greece. Imagine just casually coming across this in your yard! If you look closely in person, you can see slight cracks where it’s been attached since it wasn’t found in one piece.

Sleeping Hermaphroditus, 1620

I love pretty much everything by Bernini, but this has to be one of my favorites. The marble mattress is incredible, and as you walk around the whole thing, you realize why it’s called Hermaphroditus.

Galerie d’Apollon

As I entered this room, I made the internal decision that I need to come back — to everything: to France, to Paris, and to the Louvre itself. I had no idea this room existed; honestly, the only thing I knew about the Louvre was that the Mona Lisa lived there. The fact that there are probably millions of beautiful, unforgettable things within it — and within the city alone — that I’ll likely never see both overwhelmed me and reminded me of why I love travel so much.

La Belle Ferronnière

An underrated da Vinci masterpiece. Sylvanie explained that this one is oil painted on wood, and you can actually see the wooden texture if you look at it closely.

Mona Lisa

Alas, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Here she is, in all her glory. The Mona Lisa. I knew she was smaller in real life, but I didn’t realize she’d be that small. I was slightly underwhelmed, but still very excited.

My tour group decided to wait in line to take photos and see it up close. It actually went by much quicker than I expected, and Sylvanie kept us entertained by spitting a million facts about the painting. Long story short, I left the Louvre loving art history more than I ever have. That’s when you know you had a good tour guide.

Me & Mona.

Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss

A lovely marble sculpture by Canova. We quickly passed by this one on our way out, but it ended up being one of my favorite things I saw that day.

Once the tour ended, Sylvanie explained that our tickets were still valid and that we could continue exploring the museum if we wanted. I decided to end there, because I knew if I continued I’d get burnt out, and I wanted my last moments at the Louvre to be good ones.

We all said goodbye, and I, being a gift shop connoisseur, naturally made my way towards the shopping area. I bought a few souvenirs and Christmas presents for friends and family and then headed to the metro where I rode back to the hostel.

Riding back to Belleville, I remember standing up, holding my bag of souvenirs, and staring back at my reflection in the train’s window. I was both tired from the day’s activities thus far, and slightly nervous for the evening ahead. It felt weird to me to have so much freedom — I could easily cancel my plans, since nobody was in my way to stop me from doing so.

But instead of letting my nerves get in the way, I embraced the freedom: the freedom I had longed for for as long as I could remember. It’s weird how we desire certain things so much, and then once we’ve got them, they scare the hell out of us.

Once I got back to the hostel, I changed clothes and relaxed for a few minutes. I hadn’t decided on a place to eat dinner, but I didn’t have too much time, so I asked the girls in my room if they knew any good places in the neighborhood. One of them, who was an American living in Istanbul, recommended the pho restaurant that I’d walked past every day on my way to the hostel, so I decided to check it out.

The view from my window seat at Pho 168. The sky had darkened, and I ate pho légumes with some hot tea that evening. It was warm and delicious, and the staff was especially kind. The restaurant wasn’t busy at all — I barely had any neighbors, which was lonely but oddly soothing as I listened to only a few voices echo through the quiet dining room.

When I finished, I went up to the counter to pay before using the bathroom. Then, I ventured out into the cold and rainy night to see Sébastian Tellier — a musician who is absolutely worth enduring shitty weather for.

I hopped on a train and put in my headphones. I traveled for nearly 30 minutes, slightly anxious every time it made a stop for fear that I’d miss mine.

These flowers were the first thing I saw upon exiting the metro. I walked a few blocks and finally arrived at the Salle Pleyel. This performance was part of Pitchfork Paris, and I think it was the final show of the festival.

I arrived just on time and found my seat on the balcony. I was slightly early, but enjoyed watching people on the floor as they mingled, maskless (an odd sight for November of 2021) with drinks in hand.

Right before the show started, “Hard Drive” by Cassandra Jenkins began to play over the speakers. She had performed at the festival the night before, and I’d discovered her just a month prior via that song. It is true poetry, and Pitchfork says it much better than I can in their review:

“As Jenkins figures things out, her band—featuring Stuart Bogie on saxophone, Eric Biondo on drums, and Josh Kaufman on guitar, keys, and fretless bass—settles into a glassy, sophisti-pop groove that glides like a slow journey uphill.” 

It’s hard to explain, but I’ve found that certain songs have the power illuminate parts of my mind, even if I’ve listened to them a million times before. Sometimes, they come to me at just the right time, allowing for some sort of realization or epiphany. This evening, that happened twice: the first was during this song, which I could just barely make out over clinking glasses and muffled, incomprehensible words coming from my neighbors.

But still, I felt it in all its glory, like I’d finally made it up that “slow journey uphill” myself. Sitting there, in the middle of a random theater in Paris, I sunk into my seat and closed my eyes briefly. I was proud of myself for making it here, and for making this evening happen. I clung tight to the moment, trying extra hard to store it inside my own personal hard drive.

The show itself was merveilleux. It was also the first indoor concert I’d attended since 2019. The lighting was simple but super cool and colorful, much like Tellier himself. And I’ll never forget is his stage presence: he is the first performer I’ve ever seen smoke a cigarette during multiple numbers. His slow, near-stumbling movements were quite entertaining to watch over a loud, eccentric, synthpop adventure.

Then, when the show began to wind down, I knew what was coming: “La ritournelle.” It’s his most popular song, but it’s my favorite of his, and it’s also one of my favorite songs ever. I love everything about it, even down to the name: la ritournelle is such a beautiful word (in Italian, it’s ritornello, which fittingly rhymes with bello).

Like “Hard Drive,” I’d listened to it a million times before, but I think seeing it live will live in my “Best Concert Memories of All Time” mental list forever. It is a song that transports me every time I listen to it. It’s an escape from reality, only this time, I realized that it was the soundtrack to my reality. I was living “La ritournelle”: I could hear every breath and beat and note that existed and danced around me for a whole seven-and-a-half minutes. It was magic, and I hope I never forget it.

I left right after the show ended and decided to Uber back to the hostel, since it was late and I didn’t feel like being on the metro for another half-hour. As I sat in the back of the car, I remember feeling very small watching the city fly by. It was a good kind of small, though; it was one that reminded me of all the other magic moments I had yet to experience.

Stay tuned for the next few parts of this series, where I’ll share more photos and stories from the rest of my trip!