In a past life, many years ago, I was a ballerina. My instructor was a lean, muscular, cigarette-toting Russian man. He was fabulous. He used to call me “cool one,” because I showed up in sunglasses to each rehearsal. Though he wasn’t French, to me he seemed remarkably Parisian, at least based on my many screenings of the film “Madeline.”
I’m not sure I agree with his designation of me, but I never stopped wearing sunglasses at inappropriate times. Nevertheless, the dream began. I would land one day in France.
Last Monday, I arrived in Paris with tan, oval-shaped sunglasses perched on the tip of my nose. My ballet instructor’s thick accent permeated my skull once again — “cool one,” he said. I smiled, unable to control the upward curve in the corners of my lips. I had arrived in Paris, the dream realized.
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A few days later, I sat in a long boat as it cruised down the River Seine. As we floated along the banks, Édith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” began to play, or perhaps I just heard it in my head. The romantic, magical feeling of Paris intoxicated me as I gazed at the city from its life source.
I sat near friends on the boat, but no one near us spoke English. The city was full of differences, differences that immerse you in the world and widen your perspective on its vastness. I was simply one of many millions in awe of the city of love. In English, the words the tour guide spoke will stay with me forever: “Enjoy — an eternal Paris, a romantic Paris.”
Far in the distance, you could see Montmartre, a village situated atop the largest hill in Paris. I had walked through Montmartre not hardly 24 hours prior. The streets in Montmartre are cobblestone and charming. The vineyards are barren for the winter, but flowers grow along the outskirts of the gardens. A young couple stood on the steps of the Basilica on Montmartre. They embraced and kissed. He spoke to her in a language I could not understand. But I understood somehow. It’s the kind of thing that makes you believe in love, in life.
I gazed at Montmartre from the Seine. It was high above me. That moment will always be high above me. For now, I try to clutch the memory tight to my chest, imprinting it upon my heart.
I looked at the beautiful buildings, the iron spire balconies where the locals hang their laundry and arrange their flowerpots. The craftsmanship of the monuments and the apartment buildings are alluring, dream-like. They are relics of centuries past, testaments to the longevity of a city so vast and passionately maintained. The charm of the cobblestone streets, the Parisians along the banks of the Seine under the willow trees, and La Vie en Rose are ingrained in me for a lifetime.
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I have fallen in love with the city. “An eternal Paris, a romantic Paris.” Next time I come, I will see the ballet. An homage.
The Seine was serene and peaceful, the epitome of the romanticism inherent in Paris. But unrest unfolded on its banks.
Days ago, President Emmanuel Macron decided to pass a controversial pension reform without a parliamentary vote, according to Reuters. The new overhaul raises France’s state pension age from 62 to 64.
The Parisians, most French voters and unions are unhappy. Extremely unhappy.
“Resign, Macron!” The chants ring out across the Seine.
Protestors clashed with riot police in the Place de Concorde days after I left the city. Days after I stood in that same square where the bloodshed of the French Revolution took place long ago.
Trash is piled high in the streets following national strikes. Place de la Concorde is just outside of Parliamentary offices. The government can hear loud unrest from the streets below. And that is the point.
It’s easy to romanticize Paris, to juxtapose its beauty with the unrest unfolding on the streets.
But those who sit under the willow trees on the banks of the Seine fight for their worthy cause with unrivaled spirit and tenacity. They won’t be giving up soon.
Audrey Vonderahe (she/her) is a sophomore studying journalism and criminal Justice. She is very jet lagged today.