In the Shadows of Giants

June 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Notre Dame. The Eiffel Tower. The Colosseum. The Vatican. St. Peter’s Basilica. Ponte Vecchio. The Duomo. All of these are humbling places. Each has such history, such magnitude in every sense of the word. Each one makes you reconsider the world.

Notre Dame at sunset.

The last three weeks have been nearly indescribable. I have been so happy, so awed, so overwhelmed, and so blessed that there really is no possible way for me to begin to express any fraction of it. But I will try.

Notre Dame

Less than three weeks ago, I was going to work every day and barely registering that soon I would be jetting off to another part of the world. Today, I’m back in my apartment, getting resettled and prepared for returning to my typical life, and already it barely registers with me that yesterday I was in England (albeit briefly). It is astonishing how quickly we forget. It is also astonishing how much can happen in one short period of time. I traveled across an entire ocean; I visited five cities in three countries and countless historical and cultural landmarks; I experienced near-constant revelations (about history, about culture, about human action and interaction, about love, about life); I lost myself in space and in time; I found myself in different places and times; and I somehow made it back from this wonderful fantasy and landed squarely back in reality with little evidence of any of it. How is it possible? How can it be that the only outward change is my sun-browned skin?

A pensive gargoyle at Notre Dame.

I have the sense that I have learned vast, improbable lessons, but I also have the distinct impression that they will not be clear to me for a long time to come. So maybe I haven’t learned them yet so much as discovered that they exist to be learned. How much can one minute change you? And how quickly do you change? You can only know in retrospect, but we’re never really at a terminus when it comes to retrospect.

Candles inside Notre Dame.

Do I have a point? I’m not really sure.

A fountain in the Place de la Concorde.

I intend to write a few posts about the trip, about specific activities and events, but I can’t seem to write about the trip in broader terms without getting deeply philosophical. So maybe I’ll simply start by writing about the most wonderful afternoon in Paris.

The roof of Notre Dame overlooking the Seine.

After touring the towers of Notre Dame in the morning, L. and I planned to procure a picnic for ourselves and take it to Versailles. Our plan began to slip when we purchased the necessary food and decided we were too hungry to wait until we’d gotten to Versailles to eat. We wandered around Notre Dame until we found a small park just across the river from it. We picked a spot on the top of a very small rise where we could lean against an old stone fence of sorts and admire Notre Dame. We ate an entire loaf of bread and most of a block of cheese along with a package of Serrano ham (yes, we know it’s Spanish, but we also know we like it). We also drank a bottle of wine. Everything was delicious and made more so by our improvised utensils and appropriated hotel glassware.

I presciently took this photograph from the tower of Notre Dame in the morning before our picnic. This is the park where we sat, and you can see the exact spot where we dined in the lower right (just to the right of the purplish tree there is a low stone fence against which we leaned).

Imagine yourself sitting in a grassy park, gazing up at Notre Dame, sipping wine, and basking the French sunlight. It’s probably as delightful as life can be. Of course an entire bottle of wine was too much for just the two of us, so we spent a long time laughing in that park. When we finally did rouse ourselves from that haven, it was much too late to visit Versailles. To console ourselves, we drank glasses of wine at sidewalk brasseries and laughed quite a bit more. It was a very simple afternoon, but it is one that I doubt I’ll forget. It was peaceful and happy, and there’s nothing greater than that.

Another sunset view of Notre Dame.

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