“But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.” -Ernest Hemingway

It feels strange to be young in an old city.  I never noticed it in Philadelphia, even among the colonial houses by Penn’s Landing, but the thread of history is so short there (no offense Ben Franklin, Betsy Ross, and co) compared to Paris, which is mythically, fantastically old.  Sometimes walking among these buildings can make you feel more alive.  Other times you feel like you’re inside a memorial, a museum.  Dostoevsky said that Europe was a graveyard and maybe it is.  But you always feel like the city knows something that you don’t know, that there have been so many people here walking these streets that somehow all that experience must have accumulated into wisdom and maybe even one stone in an old building in Paris knows more about the human race than you do.  I’m glad that you, Hemingway (can I call you Hem?), share my sentiments.  You know and I know that youth sometimes leads us to believe that life is simple, but in Paris everything is complicated.  We’re always just walking on the surface of something deeper.  Almost everything in Paris used to be something else.  Take Place de la Concorde, for instance.  It was first built as Place Louis XV and there was a statue of the king riding a horse in the center.  This symbol of the monarchy was then renamed Place de la Revolution and the guillotine took the place of the statue, along with a different statue, this time of Liberty, and when Madame Roland was executed there she looked up at it and said “O Liberty, how many crimes are committed in thy name.”  Later, out of distaste for the memory of the Revolution, the name was changed to Place de la Concorde, the place of harmony, which everyone knows is only an image projected over the surface of its bloody history.

This is a perfect place to insert a photo of Place de la Concorde.  Unfortunately, I don’t have one.  But I do have pictures of this other stuff:

Inside the Reims Cathedral, where nearly all the French kings were crowned. Yes, that's right, all these photos are going to be unrelated to this post.

Outside the Reims Cathedral.

In Saint Remi, also in Reims

Me in front of a giant wine barrel at Madame Pommery's Champagne cave, in Reims

We went down into the underground caves where they let the champagne age, aka the Chamber of Secrets.

Arts et Metiers, the coolest metro station in Paris!

At metro stop Arts et Metiers along the walls they have these portholes with cool artifacts, replicas, and pictures.

Ile St Louis in Paris, close to Notre Dame

A boat by Notre Dame

Notre Dame as seen through some tree branches.

A model of Notre Dame, inside Notre Dame.

Purple boat on the Seine.

This is for all the Russians out there. It's right across the street from my school.

Obligatory Eiffel Tower shot.

Anyway…back to what I was saying.  Maybe the fact that Paris is so old and complicated and has changed so much contributes to the way Parisians see life.  They seem to appreciate that there is more than what’s on the surface, that there can be more than one “truth.”  My French grammar professor instructed us to write essays in which we  do not argue a point, or even state our own opinion, but instead just “reflect upon” both sides of an issue.  We are supposed to “create a debate within ourselves.”  Basically, it’s good to be indecisive and to weigh both sides without declaring a winner.  Now this is good news for me, as a person who takes an hour to decide what to eat for dinner.  However, it’s very different from the usual American college essay-writing style, in which you argue a point to the bitter end.  You’re trying to prove that what you’re saying is right, that you have found the “truth” or the solution to whatever issue is at stake.  Perhaps this is because Americans like to get things done, to go from point A to point B, to solve problems.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But I like just reflecting on something for its own sake, without solving anything.  Perhaps their lack of a need for solutions is what makes the French so interested in politics (I kid), which is a huge part of everyday life and frequently the subject of debate.  As evidence I present to you the following dinner-table conversation:

“I prefer Barack Obama to Sarkozy.”


“Sarkozy says he will lower taxes but he raises them.  If Obama says he will lower taxes, he lowers taxes.  Also, Obama is nicer.”          -Anthony, Parisian child, age 7

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8 Responses to “But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.” -Ernest Hemingway

  1. Dan says:

    Do you remember the last story in “I, Robot”? Asimov wrote that Europe was basically in retirement while the rest of the world was discovering unspent natural resources. Do you think Europe is actually moving towards this kind of future? I always though that the formation of the E.U. was a desperate attempt to resist an inevitable slide into obscurity for these tiny countries that once ruled the world.

    Sorry but that’s what I think about when you write about how old Paris feels.

  2. Mr. T says:

    That was actually the most intelligent reason I’ve heard for preferring one politician over another in a LONG time! Great post, especially the graphical description of the layers of the city. You’ve been trained well with illustrative writing!

  3. Mr. T says:

    P.S. do they allow tasting at that giant barrel? 😉

  4. Pat Hansbury says:

    What wonderful observations, Anna. I agree with so much of what you wrote. I think Europeans in general have an entirely different feel for history than Americans do. I certainly noticed it when I taught in the U.K. However, your description of the walk through Paris and the life under the surface creates a wonderful image. It makes you realize how new America is. But, Paris…Paris you share with its ghosts.

  5. Yulia says:

    I love the quotes with which you start every entry! And you’re reading “A Moveable Feast”! Your pictures are really beautiful – it really makes me want to come visit.
    I don’t know if I could write an essay about two sides of a point without picking a side – that’s really hard to do, but I think you’re right – we weren’t ever really asked or taught to do that…anyways, keep writing!

  6. Dmitriy says:

    It is very right description. All Paris it is kind of Place de La Concorde and practically most of Europe is. That’s why Europeans look so liberal they are got enough.
    Anna you were in The Champaign Country and nothing about Dom Perenion or Madam Cliko? It is a big history too.
    Obama lowered taxes on all people including milliners and somebody will pay. It will be meddle class to pay.

  7. Elizabeth V says:

    When I was younger I wanted to make everybody to accept my point of view, to agree with me (American way). But now I find the concept of multiple truths much more interesting and right (French way). Does it mean that I am wiser now or just tired from proving myself? I don’t know. probably both. Anyway you made a good observation about younger American nation and older French nation. Keep writing! Each enrty is very informative and well written!

  8. Dmitriy says:

    Is that Isaac Newton sad that I am so great because I stay on shoulders of giants. Yes America is great but it stills a teenager who stays on shoulders of European civilization and I believe we have to remember that.

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