I like to imagine how much people could do if they never had to sleep.
My last five or so weeks in Paris has been an overwhelming mixture of sights, introductions, exploration and exhaustion in the absolute best way possible. I’ve found myself returning to my apartment exhausted, full on the day and wishing that my eyes weren’t forcing themselves shut. I dream about where I could go, what I could see, and how much of a factor time was going to be in it all.
Classes have gained their rhythm. We know what we are expected of, and at the Sorbonne, all dates of tests, homework, and quizzes have been laid out since day one. The French seem to have a no-nonsense policy that can be paraphrased into one sentence: “We trust you until you give us a reason not to”. My professor, as bubbly as she is, has been pushing us the past few weeks, and recently I’ve left class with my brain feeling fuzzy.
After class today, I absent-mindlessly began my walk back to my normal metro station. The rhythm from school continued in my head, and my only plans were vague ones to return to my apartment, maybe do this, maybe do that. I stood on the metro, my hand gripping the metal pole so I wouldn’t lose my balance, and looked at the route. Concorde, Tuileries, Palais Royal- Musée du Louvre. I suddenly felt as if I woke up for the day for the second time.
I remembered the Catacombs, and seeing thousands of skulls facing forward, all looking exactly and eerily the same. I remembered walking in long, looping circles, seeing the shapes they made, and the stacks of bones with Latin phrases inscribed on stones below. I remembered a movie I watched over Christmas break called World of Tomorrow. I remember the little girl in the film staring doe-eyed as she was told, “now is the envy of all of the dead”. She stared just like I was staring at the skulls, and how I today stared at that last metro stop: Palais Royal- Musée du Louvre.
How I, in the past six weeks, had only been to the Louvre once made my skin crawl, especially since I passed by it every single day. My head easily fogged on my way home, and I realised how easy it was to have a view out the window and still not look.
I was off at the stop minutes later.
Paris is a city of a million stories, and so many of those stories have found a home in the fortress that is The Louvre. Its size in itself is overwhelming, and my metro took me right into the heart of the Carrousel du Louvre, an area right before the entrance of the museum that houses retail stores, coffee shops, and gift shops with the Mona Lisa plastered over every trinket imaginable. I made my way through the bobbing heads, and heard more English than I had in the past few weeks combined.
An incredible perk of studying abroad is that, when in Paris, you are considered an Art History Student. Which virtually means you are allowed free access into almost every museum. I moved past the lengthly ticket line and presented my ID card to a bored looking woman, who waved me off after a two-second glance.
My stay was restricted as the museum was closing in a few hours. I took a right at the fork in the middle of the lobby, turning into the section titled Denon. In minutes, I found myself in the middle of a hallway, surrounded by a palace of smooth marble stone and tall, arching figures. I had wandered into Greek Art.
There are three characteristics that Greek statues introduce themselves as immediately.
One: For the most part, they’re tall. Very, very tall. They don’t ask, but rather demand your attention, as to make eye contact with them you’re forced to look up.
Second: They’re completely surrounded by their own kind. This meaning that I suddenly felt like a foreigner stepping into the marble lined foyer. All other visitors around me seemed completely out of place standing next to them. I felt as if they were looking down at us, eyes unblinking, guessing our ages as we were guessing theirs.
Third: They seem inevitably inexplainable. Small, postcard sized labels tell us who, what, when, and where they came from, but scarcely why. It’s hard to not wonder about their births, how they were created in someone’s head before they became physical, and why they were the faces picked.
There’s an interesting theory about the faces we see in our dreams. It says that when we dream, our mind cannot create a face, meaning that every face we see if someone we’ve seen in “real life”. This could be a stranger we pass on the street or maybe someone else in the check-out line at the grocery store. Regardless if the theory is true or not, it’s interesting to think that every person who has appeared in our heads at night possibly is, or has been, in our lives at some point. Staring at the stone faces left me feeling numb wondering who these people were and how their faces were originally imagined. I wondered if the person who made them had ever passed them by unknowingly. I wondered where they ended up.
I continued on, circling around and seeing famous works such as Venus of Milo, Sleeping Hermaphroditus, and Athena. I noticed the lengthly lines to get close to them, but finally saw that they were very popular for a very good reason. They were absolutely beautiful; the smooth, white marble was moulded and shaped seemingly perfectly in every way. Athena’s hand was outstretched, her height triple mine. Venus of Milo stood tall, looking above and at the buzzing crowd admiring her. Sleeping Hermaphroditus turned to look at us over her shoulder, eyes narrowed in amusement, as if she was asking us, “What are you looking at?” My head spun and my eyes widened.
The museum announced that it was ten minutes until close, and packs of people began filing out. I hesitated, wanting to get one last look at the stone around me. They looked back, unblinking. There was silence, I realised then that sometimes, there are no words for places like these. I’ve become so used to getting frustrated, angry and upset at my inability to create a coherent sentence to explain the sights I’ve been seeing these past few weeks. They’re big and overwhelming and absolutely beautiful, and I never know what quite to say. My head rushes while my mouth stays silent. But instead, today, I let this sight run through me instead of trying to hold onto it. I was at ease looking up at them, and I recognised myself as doe-eyed, curious, and naïve. I stared as they stared right back, and felt perfectly content saying the only word that came to my mind in that moment:
“Do not lose time on daily trivialities. Do not dwell on petty detail. For all of these things melt away and drift apart within the obscure traffic of time. Live well and live broadly. You are alive and living now. Now is the envy of all of the dead.”
World Of Tomorrow (2015)