Memories for sale, €5


The sun rises over nasty weather and I awake with an even nastier head cold. Determined not to let it get the best of me, I head to the catacombs to spend some time in the City of the Dead.

It is wet and even colder beneath the ground. Water occasionally drips from the limestone and down my neck. I greatly enjoy places like this. They offer solace from the bustling city, and they challenge me to contemplate my own mortality. They force me to assess my goals, to evaluate whether I’m accomplishing what needs to be accomplished.

The sheer number of of bones and skulls is comforting in the fact that many have died before me, and many more will after I’m gone. Death is natural, and everyone experiences it at some point. Though I initially saw it as gruesome and grotesque, I enjoy how the bones are displayed openly, not buried and hidden away from view.

The Catacombs

The Catacombs

Once above ground, we head toward Sacre Coeur and encounter the most belligerent people. They offer to braid a necklace or bracelet for however many euros, and if he is refused, he follows in pursuit. One man puts a hand on my shoulder, asking “Pourquoi pas? Pourquoi pas?” He walks alongside me until I stare him down and shout, “Va t’en!!!!!!!!” I have no idea if it makes grammatical sense, but it works!

At the top of the hill, we find a fabulous little street market full of vendors from the Périgord region of France. Just about every vendor has its own version of foie gras (a specialty of the region), so I try some. Several times. Well, maybe more like a dozen times. I never knew duck guts could be so delicious… I buy a small tin for €7 from the friendliest vendor (they were all friendly, but Alain Gonzalez was absolutely delightful to practice my French with). I also pick up a bottle of Bergerac Rosé from Château du Rooy and a jar of crème de marrons extra (super sweet and delicious chestnut jelly) from Périgord Limousin, some apples and strawberries.

These guys (and their foie gras) are so awesome!

These guys (and their foie gras) are so awesome!

Sacre Coeur is beautiful, as expected, but the pilgrimmage queue winding around the pews and past the relics terminates with a gift shop, not unlike the end of a ride at Disney.

Back in the throng of people below the church, I am surrounded by tchotchkies and the very same souvenirs sold at all the other landmarks: berets, shot glasses and tee shirts. I stop for a crêpe and John strikes up a conversation while he makes it. He speaks English fluently, but I insist that he speak French. So, we end up having a bilingual chat.

He has lived in many places – including Brazil, Egypt and New York – and yet he says he dislikes Paris. “There’s no soul here,” he explains. His revelation perplexes me; Paris has been home to so many great thinkers and has been the site of so much rich history. However, I can see how he might come to such a conclusion, seeing how his crêperie has a panoramic window and a front row ticket to all the ways in which Paris has sold out to tourism. Take it from me, I live in Orlando.

I’m glad that when it’s time to return to my temporary home, I can escape the pushy tourists, the tchotchkies and the aggressive con men. I can have breakfast, take my time and have a real conversation with a stranger, not having to just grab something and make way for the 20 or so people behind me. My lingually confused conversation with John has helped me understand how valuable my time here is. Studying abroad is such a drastically different experience than taking the three-hour tour on a double-decker bus.


2 Responses to “Memories for sale, €5”

  1. 1 Travis
    June 14, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    Va t’en works, Allez vous en is a little more polite 🙂 I know the people you’re talking about though. I did the same thing when they wouldn’t leave a classmate alone.

    • 2 Amanda R. Moore
      June 15, 2009 at 8:03 am

      You’re absolutely right, “vous” is nicer. But to be truthful, I wasn’t in a very friendly mood, and he didn’t seem too concerned with etiquette, either 😉

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