By Wes Koseki
When I told my friends that I was going to Paris, I was met with squealing voices that rivaled a child’s first Christmas. I got responses along the lines of “Oh my gosh, Paris is beautiful,” “You’re going to love it” and “I wish I could live there.” They set my standards high raving about the food, the places and the culture.
I should have known it was too good to be true because, hate to break it to you, I did not fall in love with Paris.
As my mom, aunt and older sister boarded the Paris metro for the first time, we became incredibly friendly with the locals. The entire city had decided to haze the incoming Americans by making our metro car do its best impression of a can of sardines. My aunt held her neck at a 45-degree angle away from a man’s armpit hair that reached out to welcome her. My sister began to resemble a character from “Avatar” while she held her breath. I opted to smell myself instead by pulling my shirt over my nose and mouth. These all became minor problems when I heard my mom cry out from somewhere in the midst of the crowd, “WATCH YOUR BAG!”, however.
As she stood in the car, she felt someone fumbling around in her purse. Upon quickly realizing that both of her hands were nowhere near her purse, she looked down to see she had somehow sprouted a third hand, attached to a young pregnant woman. Panicked, the woman pulled her hand out of my mom’s bag and disappeared into the streets of Paris at the next stop. My mom was the first to lose respect for Paris, and she wouldn’t be the only one.
My aunt’s love for World War II history drew her to France. Because of her love, we spent a day traveling out to Normandy.
As we traveled, she read us facts about D-Day and Omaha Beach out of various tour books. She was excited without admitting it. The tour took us down each of the Allied beaches. We saw broken bunkers that overlooked the cliffs and out to sea where the remains of the makeshift port are still visible above the water. All these were stops leading up to the well-known Omaha Beach, the site of D-Day.
As we stepped closer to the beach, it was clear that Omaha Beach was not receiving the respect we anticipated. Where thousands of American soldiers gave their lives to turn the tide of the Second World War, a small hotel displayed a green and white sign that read “D-Day House” and across the street was “L’Omaha Restaurant.”
Although an enormous memorial stood in the sand, families sat in their bathing suits around it while their children climbed it.
My aunt didn’t outwardly display her excitement to visit Normandy. She also didn’t outwardly display her disappointment at seeing that Omaha Beach was not exactly sacred ground. It was only apparent when she couldn’t bring herself to take a single photo.
My older sister and I have a shared interest in photography. We both agreed that getting shots of the Eiffel Tower, not only in the day, but lit up at night was a must. As the sun went down, she and I ventured to the Eiffel Tower.
It stood as an orange beacon in the distance. We stopped for a moment to start taking pictures. My sister sat down on a nearby bench when, off in the distance, I began to hear someone yelling in French.
A man was walking down the same crowded path we had taken toward the Eiffel Tower wielding a long metal pole. As an aspiring Spanish minor in a French-speaking country, I could only guess that he was telling us how he excited he was about finding this pole. That was until he violently brought the pole down less than a foot away from my sister. Whether he was aiming for my sister or not, we scrambled through the crowd, took our pictures quickly and left, but not before my sister said “Dude, fuck this city.”
As I sat on the train back to London, I wondered if I had missed something in Paris that was supposed to make me fall in love with the city.
Perhaps it was supposed to happen while having wine and cheese or when that French Zooey Deschanel look-a-like caught my eye on the metro, or when I saw the Eiffel Tower in real life. But all I felt was overwhelming relief that I was heading back to London.
When I returned to the U.S. after Paris, I was again met with squealing voices telling me again how much they loved it there. When I told them my dislike for Paris, they looked like I’d just shattered their dreams.
My mom said it best when we came home, “Glad I went, glad I left.” I was glad to have the opportunity to visit and photograph the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre. Unfortunately, to really love Paris requires a French speaker or a local to show the city and life that lies beyond the tourist sites. Everyone has their place in this world; I now know that Paris is not mine.