Sometimes the most beautiful sights are the ones right outside your own door — a Belleville belvedere.
Today begins with success: waking up at a reasonable hour. While it takes a full thirty minutes to get out of bed, I still make it down to the lobby by 8. I go ahead and bite the bullet and buy breakfast (coffee, fresh orange juice, pain au chocolat, and as much bread and jam as I can eat), but only because I want to squirrel away some food to prevent myself from completely Hulking out later this afternoon. In hindsight, this may be the best decision I make all trip.
Even the water fountains are beautiful.
Seeing as I have returned to the hostel early every day since my arrival, I make it my mission to explore the Belleville neighborhood before distending into the bowels of Hell (a.k.a. the Pyrenees metro station) and traveling to Pigalle. The weather is agreeable for the first time this trip. I walk through the serpentine streets with all of the children on their way to school. It’s nice to pretend like I’m on a commute, too. I walk through Le Parc de Belleville, managing all two hundred steps and wishing the water features were on this time of year, until I’m at the top of the belvedere looking out over the city. This is one of the occasions where you have to completely unplug and take in the sounds of the world around you. For a moment, I am a part of a living city. When I’m done admiring everything, I get to do the thing I’ve loved to do on this solo adventure: leave when I want to. I fill up my water bottle from a public fountain, and set my sights on the Gustave Moreau museum.
Of course, I overshoot how long it will take me to travel. I’m walking into Moreau’s home the second the doors open, which is apparently not a common occurrence because the exhibits are still being set-up. There’s nothing of particular note here–I’m not as up-to-date on my Symbolist painters as some others might be. A large collection of his work is in the gallery where he once painted. The pieces are larger than life, a good deal of them remaining unfinished. It’s always an honor to be in the space where an artist sacrificed so much of their soul to their craft.
Montmartre calls for me. There are a few things on my list that I don’t actually get to on the way because they aren’t open, and for once I don’t stress over it. I’m learning how to roll with the punches and not get my way. I find the Moulin Rouge, which is dirty and touristy, and walk down a street that is probably the closest thing to New Orleans that Paris has to offer. I’m talking: sex shop, sex shop, strip club, grocery store, porno theater, sex shop, Indian restaurant, sex shop, etc. There’s a place advertising poppers; like, what does that even mean? Are they selling ecstasy? Is this legal? Should I buy some?
The solemn majesty of a crypt.
Of course I don’t, and instead eat my lunch on a bench in the Wall of Love park. I sit far away from the crowds and take time to feed the birds (that’s right, birdies, sing for your benevolent god) before trying to find the entrance to a nearby graveyard. I’ll admit that cemeteries are a weird place to laugh; but how I could not when the whole place is teeming with cats? The way a few of them are sitting in the middle of the road make me think about how cats are seen as guardians of the Underworld in many cultures. There’s this one that leads me through rows of tombs, disappearing and reappearing in different places so quickly that I can’t help but think it’s from that ghostly realm. I’m glad no one is around to see me being silly, but I’m really feeling myself and my own joie de vivre. I like to think that if the dead are watching, they would enjoy to see such an expression of life.
Feeling grateful for my joyful spirit, I thank the cats at the gate and write in a nearby park where many other Parisians are enjoying a quick bite. The weather is perfect, the breeze enough to have me wrap my scarf tighter around my neck. When I finish a chapter, I walk up some large hills to a Montmartre museum dedicated to The Paris School and their work. I’m not really interested, but the history of the area is fascinating. From a farming community to a thriving artistic community. How would I have learned that if I didn’t go somewhere not on my interest list? Adventure and exploration are the name of the game.
Isn’t this insane? Large photos are for winning backgrounds.
The other name of the game? Don’t go into a beautiful landmark because the crowd is insane and you’re really not about it. Thanks for the views, Sacré-Cœur, but I’m not interested in getting my pockets picked. Seriously, we’re still doing the ball and cup grift in this day and age? Let’s at least step it up to some low-level cyber theft. Something about the the seediness of it all sets my teeth on edge, so I head back to the hostel for a power nap. When I wake up, I decide to finish my tour of the Belleville in Le Parc de Buttes Chaumont, which is an enormous green space that I straight up am not expecting. The sun is starting to set, and something about the way it dips beneath the city skyline brings tears to my eyes. Everyone is lounging with their friends or lover. I admit that I feel lonely. I do not let this sink my spirit.
To see a city is to know it only somewhat.
Instead I enjoy the majesty of my surroundings and climb to the top of the mountain that sits in the middle of a moat. It is a hard walk because I’m tired and my ankles hurt, but I do it anyway. I’ve been pushing myself to do that a lot lately. I say to myself, “I’m proud of you, kid.” There’s something really poignant in the triumphant over small things, like doing something I want for the sake of bucolic beauty. I’m learning something wonderful about myself here, it’s just taking more time than expected. But isn’t that what life is? Eventually I’ll be as indomitable as this mountain I climbed.