Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Different Paris Every Night

 She's the hard-to-get woman no one can have. Each lover is offered only a part, one magnificent part of her beauty. It's the reason she continues to entice millions of tourists generation after generation. You see, Paris has mastered the art of intrigue. How many painters have become lost in her eyes, how many writers get tangled in her soul. Each visitor to Paris will have known a different Paris, for she is ever-changing, ever-elusive. She never reveals herself in the same way, and so, continues to perplex us, making us hungry for more.

But this weekend I had one of those rare occasions where I stayed close by, watching her every move, and not missing a step in her game. Oh how she likes to play games, slipping in and out of her costumes like a broadway star (foreshadowing!!). Here's how I spent the weekend with a different Paris every night.

Friday: The Hipster in the Bar

I started my night by attending a soiree at a small art gallery sponsored by a local church. Contemporary art installations were set up in several different rooms, creating a visual journey as you walked through the gallery. Everything was themed to celebrate the birth of the Christ-child. In the final destination, everyone was seated on pillows and cushions on the floor of a chapel hollowed of its pews. We watched performances by a ensemble of classical musicians, with more "ethnic" artists mingled in (a soulful folk singer, a light-footed danseur, a vexed poet, and a mariachi--yes in full costume). The combinations were like a Pierre Hermé macarron: complex, bizarre, and enticing.

This eclectic sensory experience was immediately followed with something a bit more authentic to the Parisian palette. My French friend Cecile had invited me to hang out with some of her friends at a bar called Café Chéri(e) in the 19th. As we got off the metro, Cecile drew my attention to the many Chinese girls standing nearby. "Prostitutes," she murmered soberly. We had entered the red light district of Paris.

Now before some of you readers are about to hyperventilate, imagining me walking into the very gates of hell, sit down, grab a brown paper bag, and let me finish. First, Cecile told me that the 19th isn't very popular to tourist because it has an abundance of poverty. A lack of blinking eiffel towers and berets makes it a growing hotspot for the hip crowd in the city. As she and her friends put it, "C'est est vrai Paris." This is real Paris.

It was also important for me to see these Chinese girls lined up like cattle for appraisal. Many of them come to Paris on false pretenses, promised that they will find work here. In reality, they are syphoned through the very sinister, very real prostitution rungs ran by gangs in Paris. No, I wasn't "taken." No, I wasn't followed. I was with people who know the city and know where not to be at night. But I saw enough to know my heart is still very much alive with the desire to bring freedom to those trafficked Chinese women. Those humans, those everlasting souls. (Tucking this one away for some soul-searching and self-discovery later.)

Café Chéri(e) was filled with Parisians, not a tourist to be seen. I was the only person there not rooted in the city (and I knew this because the whole bar knew each other). You know that feeling where you finally have made it? Well, I didn't have it, but I pretended to for good measure. Fake it 'til you make it, right? Because I was in a Parisian bar with Parisian hipsters grooving to Parisian tunes (until an American song came on, THEN I OWNED IT). Parisians party a little differently too. No one is tromping around in hooker heels and skintight dresses. (Actually, all the girls I was with were rocking crew neck sweaters). No one was really drunk. Everyone was just cool. But there was smoking. Lots of smoking. This was Paris on her young, hip nights, and we were just chillin'.

Saturday: The Culturalist

Oh those lovely, luxurious lazy Saturday mornings. Rolling out of bed, enjoying a slow breakfast of croissants, baguette, confiture, tea, and fresh squeezed orange juice with Cecile... The French really do breakfast well. The rain that started the night before had not let up, so it was a long, frozen bus ride home. Note to self: buy boots with actual soles next time, not the $7 pair at Sears. (But boy, what a steal!)

After defrosting in my apartment, I trudged back out to meet up with my friend Reagan at a working cafe near Invalides. Cafes like this with plenty of work space and electrical outlets for everyone's laptop are hard to come by, so this place was a gem! Reagan and I plotted out our winter travel adventures together and sipped some pour-over house blend that was so jacked with... something... that we were both buzzing by the bottom of the glass. But hey, we also conquered the world in an hour and a half. More to come on our exciting February adventures later....

Saturday night found me sitting with my friend Lu in the tippy top seats at Theatre-Chatelet to see the musical "An American in Paris." I know, I know, how cliche can this girl get? But the set design was smart, the delivery strong, and the dancing superb. The show was in English, with French subtitles projected above the stage--never mind that I was the only one guffawing at the jokes. And even though the view may not have been everything..

I managed to see a broadway show in Paris for 11€. Will be doing this again. (And next time, Lu, we are totally going to break into the first floor during intermission.) This Paris put on her jewels even if she was sitting in the cheap seats. Because she's gonna look good and get some culture, even if no one is watching.

Sunday: The Melting Pot 

Every Sunday morning in the States you would find me front and center at my church's front door; I was that lady who knocks you out with her smile as you try to sneak in for the first time (or first time in a while) to church and tried to learn your name and your family's entire history before you could walk through the door. Yeah, I know. And I'm proud of it.  Volunteering at church really does wonders for your insides as you offer people the first smile of the day (or perhaps week, when you're in Paris). It also gives you a sense of belonging that goes deeper than just hanging out with your friends. So I volunteered to serve on the welcome committee at Hillsong Paris. I could handle "bonjour" and "bievenue," right?

The leaders of the welcome team are a ministry couple just returned from the United States. She is from Africa, he is from Holland, and they've been married for 16 years. What a fun, fun couple to inspire me to yearn for a solid, loving Christian marriage. (Oh please, grab your paper sack and take a seat; no one's proposing or anything.) I also met the rest of my team, from Nigeria, Romania, and the Caribbean. As our team and the rest of the volunteers prayed before the service, I looked around and marveled at how many nations were represented in the group. Just a taste of God's vision to see the whole world come to know Him. What a treat to serve with these men and women, whose sole desire is for people to come into that theater and feel peace and receive kindness for the first time all week.

After church and speaking plenty of bad French, I met up with some girlfriends (English-speaking, whew!) for some my next authentic cuisine experience. Now, ever since watching Harrison Ford try to shovel Ethiopian food into his mouth with his hands while sporting in a pristine tuxedo in my favorite movie Sabrina, I made it my goal while in Paris to find a place like the one Julia Ormond describes to him. And did we ever!

Walking into Godjo, the place looks like a typical hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Paris: tiny chairs and tables, some themed decor, and an open kitchen. The secret resides downstairs, where there are low couches covered in animal skin rugs, native paintings hanging from the cave walls, and African music filling the air, transporting you to another continent. After a bit of awkwardness with the server (apparently sharing plates is just not done in Paris...), we got a steaming platter of beef, spinach, and lentil mousse.

The lentil mousse was something I would never have ordered on my own, but that's the beauty of eating out with friends! It was by far the best thing on the plate. We wolfed it down. I highly recommend you visit the place for a truly out-of-the-ordinary dining experience. (Paris 5eme, Métro: Maubert Mutualité) And so it was I dined with the uncouth Paris who licked her fingers and didn't mind borrowing from her neighbors in Africa.

So many faces within the same city. And I find it is not such a foreign mystery. For I am convinced more now than ever that I am Paris. As are you. As is each human being. Multi-faceted, with a wealth of discoveries, if only we give way to a little exploration and look long enough to see the costume changes. The more I see of Paris, the more I like, but also the more I question its contradictions. The more I wonder how two opposites can coexist. So it is within.

What about you? What cities change on you from visit to visit? Or do you find yourself one person one day, and someone completely different the next. Don't worry, you're not alone ;) Tell me about in the comments below.

Paris, I will pursue you deeper still, but for now, with Christmas just days away, my eyes are momentarily averted to your sister.... London, here I come!

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