This is a continuing post about my travel to Europe, that began with Travel Notes-Europe 2008. The next leg of our journey took us to Paris, home to a vast collection of preserved examples of the best and worst of human behavior. It goes without saying that Paris is one of the most beautiful cities on the planet. How it got that way, is reflected in it's history, born out of absolute monarchy where the whims of kings grace the landscape. It is significant that on another warm summer day, thirteen years after the American Declaration of Independence,What Hath Jefferson Wrought? stated that, All men are created equal, that France began it's own tumultuous transition to democracy.
The French Revolution began with the establishment of the National Assembly, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. But soon inflamed passions led to the Reign of Terror, warfare involving every other major European power and Napoléon I. France struggled through two returns to monarchy, two more revolutions and two world wars over the next two centuries before becoming the France we now know.
Today, Paris awakens your senses as soon as you arrive. The melodic tone of the customs inspector as he stamps your passport and bids you, accueil chaleureux to France, notes that you are no longer among familiar English speakers. The Metro, like London' Tube is efficient, and crammed with natives of France and her former colonies. Our hotel was in the Cambronne district, and a short walk brought the Eiffel Tower as seen from the École Militaire into view. This remarkable example of achievement was built by a common man and towers over the monuments and palaces, built by those who for a time, stood on the stooped shoulders of common men.
Walking under the wide spread legs of the tower, one notes that among the throngs were foreign tourists, and French families taking their children to absorb the grandeur that represents France to the world. Carefully watching, and mingling among the crowds, were French soldiers, armed and in combat gear, a sign that amid this peaceful tableau, danger lurks. Not wanting to wait in the long lines for an elevator, we elected to climb as far as we could up the open legs of the tower.
The climb, became ever daunting as the crowds below became smaller and smaller as we wheezed up 719 steeps to the second level. The view, not as distant as that gained by going to the top, was closer to the city and offered a panorama of what awaited our discovery. The trip back down. challenged your sense of vertigo as the switch-back stairs wound down the narrow leg as it plunged to the ground.
Walking through the Champ de Mars on our way back to our hotel we observed dozens of Vietnamese wedding parties alighting from limousines followed by friends in BMW's and Mercedes, to take up station across the park, as photographers posed them to claim their posterity in film. The image of so many gaining middle class status was not lost on us, who have seen the success of our own immigrants from Vietnam in assimilating the culture of their host country.
The next day, found us traveling on the metro to visit the sites of Paris. The Louvre the most visited art museum in the world began as a fortress in 1190 AD. Today it houses almost 35,000 pieces of art, from the Mona Lisa to Venus De Milo. Beyond the obvious examples noted, the thousands of art works are a link to our shared past and should give us a marker to pause and think of the person who took the time to create that expression, and gave themselves a sliver of immortality.