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Whitmans Words by Julia Claire Piper


It avails not, time nor place - distance avails not,

I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence,

Just as you feel when you look on the river, and sky, so I felt,

Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd

- Walt Whitman

People have always traveled to Paris. They have flocked to its galleries and roamed its boulevards and flooded its cafes for centuries. It is still the top tourist destination in the world and if I were to wander its museums and explore its cathedrals I would be no different from any other tourist. Yet I want something from Paris. I expect something from Paris. I have the gall and audacity to demand something from the Capitol of Europe because I am willing to give it something. Human connection. I ask for the chance to breathe in the presence of the remnants of old and vibrant geniuses. They are the sculptors and the painters and the poets that had as great a role in molding its culture as shaping its history. In return, I will walk and watch and listen and taste and read, and in doing so will, for a moment, bring those of the past back to life, just as Whitman claimed we bring him to life when we read his words and form a very human connection.

To stand on the stones of Paris, that would be a beautiful dream and a type of intellectual lust come true. It is one thing to know of history and art through lectures and films but it is quite another, quite an exhilarating and necessary other, to actually be where those ideas were formed, actually stand on the same stones under the same sky that saw the festivals of the Sun King and the blood of the Reign of Terror.

This type of fantasy knows little palpable structure in my mind but I have a general idea of how I might begin to ``fall in love'' with Paris. I would start with the museums. I began with the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and I would likewise begin with the renown Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris. Then on to the Musée d'Orsay and then a quick skip forward in time to the Musée National Picasso. The two men of all history I would most wish to converse with are Socrates and da Vinci and the two musicians I wish to see perform are Mozart and Chopin. Therefore, nothing could compare with than the Palais de la Découverte, where da Vinci speaks to us through his models, and the Salon Chopin, where Chopin reveals his life behind the notes. In true form I would end with the Louvre, perhaps the most famous museum in the world. Torturously tempting, I leave it for last because if it was the first place I visited...well, lets just say I think this would very likely be the end of my essay.

Then the churches. The Pantheon and the bones of poets. St. Denis and the bones of monarchs. Sainte Chapelle and some of the most famous glass and light in the world. And Notre Dame, heart of Paris. And probably every other church hiding around corners and behind shadows. There is something compelling about cathedrals. Perhaps it is the quiet and reverence, or the history and the power, or simply the overwhelming humanity of it all. Knowing that these stone walls have heard the pleas and prayers, joys and thanks of generations, voices mingling with each other within the arches. Personal connection. Perhaps divine connection. The greatest and the most common, of all times, making some mark I the history of these community buildings. Perhaps that's what cathedrals offer, human connection, independent of not only time but of rank and class. There is something beautiful in that.

Then the cemeteries. Cimetiere Montmartre and Zola. Cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise and Proust. Then jumpstarted back to life with a cabaret at the Moulin Rouge. The Opera Garnier next, of course. Carmen perhaps. Followed by the court at the Jardin des Tuileries and the revolution at the Place de la Concorde. Then nights of strolls down the Champs-Elysees, dinners on the Seine, and jazz clubs in the Latin Quarter. And anything else that caught my eye, any place I've heard of, any place I haven't heard of, anything new or old as long as there's some spark, some promise, some connection and life in it. What it would be like to taste Paris! To nearly consume it.

To contemplate the history of Paris and how that history is molded into every monument, housed in every museum, dormant in every building, and manifested in the music and food and people is almost too much to control. There is that lust for connection, to know things on a level of physical presence, to become part of that history. My secret little dream is that after the museums, after the monuments, after the tours and the festivals and the art, I simply want to walk. To not have things pass by me on a tv screen or someone else's travel slideshow but for me to pass through those things and places. To stroll to a corner café and sit in a wire armed chair, and think and write, with nothing more than the shoppers and trees and my coffee for inspiration. I may not be Einstein at Lapin Agile or Hemingway at Henry's New York Bar but I will have lived for a moment in their city and when I think and write it will be my turn to not simply pass by but pass through and make my own connection.

Whitman was a poet, with the very fiber of his being built through his words. Stones are the foundation of Paris. Only through Whitman's words is he real for us, just as only by walking through it's boulevards and under the shadows of his monuments will Paris be real for me. My mother traveled to Paris and her mother before her and hundreds upon thousands upon millions before them have walked and breathed in that city. I wish to add my breath and my step. I wish to see what they saw and feel what they felt, to connect with those who thought it and built it and colored it, to learn of everyone and everything that came before me and, in doing so, I learn something of myself so that I may be able to help build my own path and whatever is to come.

Julia Claire Piper - Fremont California, United States