Week 2: It’s Okay to Be a Tourist

The second week of my journey through Paris has been filled with extreme sightseeing. Tourism could definitely be a sport. Each day I have walked between 4 and 7 miles, in a combination of wanderings with our professor and the absolute need to see anything and everything that Paris has to offer. Each time I am faced with the people of Paris, I find myself fighting the urge to whip out my camera and point it at some monument or building. I am striving to appear as normal and “French” as possible. But one thing I have learned while wandering through the Louvre, climbing the steps of the Eiffel Tower, or simply meandering along the Seine is: It’s okay to be a Tourist.


My camera is nearly an extension of my right hand, and like the hand, it is one of the ways in which I experience and document the world around me. It’s how I keep memories intact, and a way of providing souvenirs that often go beyond the thousands of aluminum Eiffel Towers you are offered by vendors on a daily basis. So I have learned to shrug off the occasional glances and snap the photo anyway. As of right now, I am at about 900 and quietly wondering if I may be more gung-ho about it than I think I am.


This week has been a busy one. I managed to wander into war museums, visited Napoleon’s tomb, ascended the Eiffel Tower by stairs, climbed into the bell towers at Notre Dame, stood under the Arc D’ Triomphe, and much more. Every known tourist attraction is complemented by curious little side streets, endless window shopping, and café after café filled with warm bread and super tiny cups of coffee. While I am joining the hundreds and thousands of tourists that flock these monuments on a daily basis during a Parisian summer, I am also coming to the realization that I know very little about them in comparison to the French, who are rather particular and intimate with their famous structures. There’s history here and—especially after managing a 4-hour walk through part of the enormous Louvre—I am beginning to understand that that is something I will only fully understand through a more prolonged exposure to the culture. Unfortunately, my time here is limited and I have more specific studies to which I need to direct my attention.


One of the things that our course is requiring us to do is to look outside the “purpose” of objects and art and to try to understand their artistic nature solely from the fact of their existence. It’s a hard one for sure, especially when Marcel Duchamp decidedly signed a urinal, called it “Fountain,” and put it on display; yes, it’s a little bit much to grasp at times. But despite the awkward difficulty that this subject sometimes presents, we are keeping in mind the Surrealist movement as a dismantling of concepts, rather than a true attempt at “creating art.” This topic is also granting us the opportunity to look at architecture and modern art with a more critical eye. I have to admit, it’s coloring my experiences in Paris in a unique way.


Overall, I am lucky to be absorbing the city in a very Surrealist fashion, while receiving enough downtime to be a tourist. Having both sides of the coin is more valuable than either one or the other.


On the agenda for next week: Flea markets, escargot (maybe), cathedrals, and a weekend excursion to Scotland. I look forward to telling you about it! Cheers!

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