Coming Home for One Paris Traveler
When I was young, I wanted to travel the world and believed that I would never get tired of exploring new destinations. Now, in my fifties, I haven’t lost that spirit. Like most people, I have my bucket list stored in my head, and it contains all the places that I want to visit someday. But there is another element in my wanderlust that I don’t recall from my youth and that only grows in importance as I get older; I want to return to places where I have collected happy memories. That is especially true for Paris.
I can’t be the only one that has added favorite places onto a second list, the counterpart of the bucket list. Yet, I never hear anyone talking about it. For lack of a better name, let’s call it my “favorites list”; it is filled with cities and natural wildlife areas that I hope to revisit forever. I have already traveled to each of these places in different phases of my life. What distinguishes them from anywhere else is that I instantly feel at home once I return; they have somehow become part of who I am. That is especially true for Paris, a city near the top of my favorites list. Not only have I visited it many times over many decades, but it’s also a unique city with its beauty, charm, and endless sites to discover. I love the many types of restaurants and cafes with their characteristic round and polished marble top tables that crowd the terraces as people lean in to hear their conversations. But I feel another element that makes it unique: the city is always there exactly the way I left it the last time, making me feel like I am coming home again each time I visit Paris.
I wonder if other people will recognize this feeling. It makes the “We’ll always have Paris”-line of Casablanca stand for more than a romance between two lovers in black and white; all of us will always have Paris.
My oldest memory of visiting Paris is from a holiday with my parents. I must have been about twelve years old. Apart from visiting the Eiffel Tower, I recall my first experience of visiting a museum called the ‘Jeu de Paume’ located in the Tuileries gardens near the Palais du Louvres. I remember enjoying some of the world’s most famous impressionist paintings there. I brought two posters home; a Van Gogh and a Gauguin that I had seen there. More than 40 years later, I wonder why I picked those two post-impressionist paintings since there must have been many other posters depicting masterworks of Monet and (less well known in the late ’70s) a painter named ‘Caillebotte’. Their choice of themes included railway stations and city infrastructure, which must have been more engaging for a boy of my age, who was fond of model railways rather than the searching souls of the painters Van Gogh and Gaugin.
Upon returning home; I pinned up the blueish self-portrait of Van Gogh above my bed, an art icon that I suppose any Dutch kid at twelve years old would instantly recognize. Vincent’s life is part of our national heritage. However, I doubt whether my knowledge about his remarkable life and works went much further than the dramatic ‘cut-of-ear,’ ‘the suicide,’ or ‘his reported visions and madness.’ I suppose this instant recognition made me pick this particular poster.
The other poster was a detail of Gauguin’s ‘Arearea’ a dreamy enchanted paradise he partly found and that he partly created in his mind and on the canvas while living in Tahiti.Why I picked that image as the second one to take home intrigues me. Was it the exotic setting? The different choice of colors? Or perhaps his modern style came somehow closer than the others to the comic books like Hergé’s Tintin I loved to read. Looking back, my fondness of Hergé’s bold colors and clean lines may have influenced me and my early fascination with ‘Arearea.’ I wonder if Gaugin’s distinct style influenced Hergé? Both art forms found inspiration in Japanese wood-block prints that were influential to both artists. Whatever had triggered my interest in this painting I can trace back some of the first seeds of a lifelong fascination for impressionism, travel, and tropical islands to this image. Later that year, I got my first art book on the history of impressionism, and some of those paintings also belong on my’ favorites list,’ joining the many cities and places I enjoy revisiting.
Last month, I was briefly back in Paris. I jokingly told a friend that I would make a stop in Paris to check if it was still there (that was two years ago) so I enjoyed (once again) strolling the familiar streets on the left bank. There is something special about sitting on a Parisian ‘terrasse’ with a coffee and a ‘pain au chocolat’ and just watching the people and the noisy, chaotic traffic in the streets. There is always much to discover in Paris, but on this visit, I decided to go back to the paintings I admired as a young boy. Like the classic images of Paris, those famous impressionist paintings have become part of me. Just like the friends or family that you want to see once in a while, by walking through familiar streets, eating at the same places, and viewing the same paintings you can recharge your batteries.
The Musée d’Orsay is just an easy walk from the excellent Le Narcisse Blanc Hôtel & Spa, a beautiful boutique retreat in one of my beloved parts of the city. The museum houses much more than paintings; during this visit, I took some time to see the fascinating art nouveau furniture and some of the first photos and movies. But for me the main attraction is still my old love for the impressionist and post-impressionist painters like Manet, Monet, Degas, Caillebotte, Renoir, Seurat, Sisley, Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin.
But the one thing that did change in Paris, was me. Of course, I still feel a bit of the fascination of the 12-year old, but I know so much more by now, and I regret that I am no longer able to view those paintings the same way as when I saw them the first time. The original post-impressionist works that hang as poster souvenirs in my bedroom are still there on the museum walls.
Of course, they are, since (we) will always have memories of Paris, and the city preserves those memories for your next return.
*The Musee d’Orsay opened with much fanfare in 1986 in the old Train Station built for the Universal Exhibition in 1900. There you can see the original clock and structure that made the building a distinctive and elegant style of the Early 19th century by architect Victor Laloux.
Traveler’s Note: Check the Covid-19 Requirements
Due to Covid-19 Rules in Paris, we suggest checking with all authorities prior to making your trip to the Museums within the city limits, as new restrictions are currently in place until further notice.
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