It was my favorite assignment last year in French class. We were studying Paris at the time and we were told to make a large map of Paris consisting of famous avenues and buildings which we had to draw ourselves. We could have a picture in front of us, for example, of the Eiffel Tower, but it was made clear that we were to draw it ourselves.

Though I loved the assignment, I saved all the work until the last possible day and spent four hours bent over my paper trying to get each building to look like the pictures I had found. While I took the ruler and created the lines of the avenue Champs-Elysées, I pictured what the avenue might be like in real life. I smiled and remembered my plan: I was not to go to Paris or France until I could speak French fluently. I honestly thought I would follow along with that plan, too.

As my green colored pencil finished drawing the dome over the Opéra, and my black pencil put the finishing touches on my picture of the Notre Dame, I thought of how rare my chance was to go to Paris. I knew that I would not be going for a while.

When my French teacher this year told us we were going to Paris, I thought I had heard wrong. I waited a while to see if she would repeat it; I didn’t dare to ask her what she said just to find out that I had indeed heard wrong. However, she was serious, and I didn’t think once of my plan of going to Paris only when I could speak the language – I was going!

Today is April 21st and I just got home from a six day trip to Paris. I can not describe to anyone what it was like to finally see the Sacré Coeur on its hill with little streets leading to it. I can’t tell you how majestic Notre Dame looks at night on the island where it sits on the Seine. I finally got to go to the Orsay museum and see works by my favorite artists – Renoir, Monet, Degas, Cezanne and Lautrec. The pyramid of glass outside of the Louvre, the museum where the Mona Lisa sits smiling, is just as fabulous as it looks in the French books I have.

On my first day in Paris I had not forgotten that I was not going to speak any French. I really hate embarrassing myself and I knew that was what I would do if I attempted to speak French. I decided to just speak English instead.

However, my friend Kalle and I got lost our first night in Paris on our way back to the hotel from a cafe. We had left early and left our other friends there; we were tired and just wanted to unpack a bit. We knew that the hotel was on a very small street that was not on the map we had, but we also knew that it was very near to the Notre Dame.

Things were not going well, and though we were using the map, we could tell we were not getting closer to the hotel. So we went into a post office building and I asked which way we would have to go to get to the Seine, the river that travels through Paris. After the guy pointed lazily to his right, we ran to get to the river so that we could follow it home.

We were still far away though and we had been walking all day; my feet were sending me some painful messages. At one point I asked Kalle to stop and check the map. I told him what street we were on and as he looked at the map, I looked around the “City of Light.” I understood why it was called that: huge buildings were lit up all along the river and I was thankful that, if we had to be lost, that we could at least be lost in Paris.

Over Kalle’s right shoulder there was something sparkling, lit with lights all to the top. I strained to see it better. I was convinced that I was just imagining what I was seeing, we couldn’t be that far away from the hotel. I knew from the French class drawing project that if what I was seeing was what I thought it was, it meant that we were going to want to get a taxi or something – I didn’t want to walk all the way home. I took out my glasses and sure enough, it was just what I thought it was.

“Kalle,” I said, “You’re going to want to turn around.” He did and then turned to me and I was smiling just as much as he was. We were looking at the Eiffel Tower, dressed to impress with its blinking lights. We grabbed a taxi (which felt nice, not just for my feet but I thought it was pretty chic of me to be able to order around a taxi driver) and when we finally got back to the hotel, Kalle thanked me for being able to help us get back to the hotel.

“Help? I got lost even more than you did, I’m terrible with directions!”

“Well, you spoke to all those people in French, it’s a good thing you studied before we left.” Ohhh yeah. So, I spoke French after all, and not just a little – all the time! I carried on great conversations with our taxi driver. As we passed buildings, I would ask him what they were, he would tell me and I would translate for my friends…

I love Paris in the springtime…

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“…the origins of speech lie in song, and the origins of song in the need to fill out with sound the overlarge and rather empty human soul.”

~ Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee


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