I love to travel. I love road trips, stopping along the way for snacks and drinks, laughing and joking and bonding in a tiny vehicle; I love seeing new places and people; learning of new cultures; trying new foods. The whole experience makes for a happy me. Recently, I've been reading Long Way Down, by Ewan McGregor (yes, Obi Wan Kenobi) and his friend, Charley Boorman. Basically, the two friends take off from the top of Sctoland on two BMW motorbikes and travel down, through Africa, until they hit the tip: Capetown. It speaks of culture and people at once different, terrifying, and beautiful. It has made me a bit nostalgic over a trip I took once.
I had the great opportunity to go to London and Paris while in high school, and although I found London to be a bit more aggressive than Paris, I adored Paris. We did all of the tourist-y things, visited castles and the Eiffel Tower, went down the Thames in a boat, walked around Stonehenge, and so on. But I remember one moment in time that has stuck with me through the blur of sleep deprivation, tight schedules, and time away.
The night was so dark it was hard to see, except for the brilliance of the Eiffel Tower, which lit up the square beneath with what seemed like thousands of tiny lights. Still, it was pretty dark. Venders were walking around, trying their best to get money off the tourists. One group in particular seemed to be working together. . .or maybe they were rivals. They were the darkest people I had ever seen, skin like ebony, like the night in which we wandered, taking in the sights. When the sellers were far away, they were nearly invisible, except for their jewelry. They had piercings: labraes, ears, noses; and in these piercings they wore big stones that flashed through a multi-hued light show. Sometimes, all you could see were these light shows flashing by, the people themselves blending with the dark of the night.
In that moment, I was enthralled. This was not the Paris you read about, this was something different. A subculture, a part of the night life, an actual piece of Paris, not a tourist attraction. Sure, they were there to bank on tourists, but they were not an attraction in and of themselves. Just like the street vender who painted beautiful artwork along an alleyway, or the couples holding onto each other and walking down cobbled streets. I wasn't so interested in what the tourists wanted to see; I wanted the real Paris. That day and the night to follow was the closest I got, bartering with the venders and smiling at a beautiful landscape paiting, a universal utterance of appreciation, which had the artist in smiles too. That's what I remember.
Also, trying to spit off the top of the Eiffel Tower, but that's another story involving wind velocity and laws of physics working aginst me. :P