This July, the summer before my senior year of college, I found myself alone in Paris. The rest of my family was scattered elsewhere, my parents in Italy, and my younger brother in Montana,
On the morning of my fourth day in the City of Lights, I crossed over the Seine to the Right Bank with every intention of visiting a temporary exhibit featuring photographs of artists’ studios at the Petit Palais. The glass doors I passed through looked out of place on the late 19th-century building surrounding them.
I approached the ticket counter. The dark-haired woman sitting behind it was slightly obscured by a thick pane of glass.
"Bonjour, Madame," I said with quiet courage, "Un billet pour l'exposition de la photographie, s'il vous plaît." (A ticket for the photography exhibition, please.)
The woman frowned.
"This is the Science Museum," she said in perfect English, "You must go back outside and around to the other building."
I could feel the wildfire spreading across my cheeks.
"OK," I said through pursed lips, "I'll have a ticket for here instead."
The woman squinted through the glass as I frantically searched through my purse.
"Are you sure?"
"Y-yes!" I replied, and stretched my face into a smile.
"OK... Here is also a show in the planetarium at three for two euros extra," she explained.
"I'll... I'll do that too."
I shoved my credit card rather forcefully through the payment slot at the base of the window.
"Here you are..."
I grabbed my ticket and credit card. Then, before the woman could say anything more, I was gone, retreating into a world that prided itself on making sense.
For hours, I waded through various seas of knowledge: chemistry, physics, calculus. But being in a French museum, every piece of information, no matter how familiar, seemed slightly distorted, just like the French ticket lady behind her shield of unbreakable glass.
At 2:45, I filed into a dim, circular auditorium with a few dozen other museum goers and found a seat far from them. The countdown to three o'clock began. Snatches of the last three days played like a broken record behind my eyes.
Day one: I decided to visit l'Hôtel des Invalides, Paris' military museum. Century by century, I watched the devolution of destruction. At first, with its golden armor and pearl-handled pistols, it seemed beautiful. Later, grainy footage playing on loop warned the sensitive to avert their eyes. Yet, I was somehow left with the notion that it had been ugly all along.
Day two: I began to perceive a curious veil of silence settle over my world. Besides the phone calls to my parents and the "une baguette, s'il vous plaîts," few words would escape my lips. I wandered aimlessly along ancient streets by day, and shuttered myself inside my apartment with a glass of cheap rosé by night.
Day three: I went to the Panthéon to visit the dead. Instead of mutual silence, I found the crypt to be more alive than deposed. Camera flashes and words bounced violently off the low stone ceiling. Never before had I witnessed such a contradiction. I floated back outside into the sunshine. You know you're truly alone when your world is quieter than that of the dead.
Back in the auditorium, night fell quickly and completely.
"Mesdames et messieurs, au-dessus de vous est le ciel de la nuit parisienne." (Ladies and gentleman, above you is the Parisian night sky.)
The stars appeared faint and few. We sat quietly, unimpressed.
"Maintenant, laissons-nous vers le ciel sans pollution lumineuse." (Now, let us see the sky without light pollution.)
We let out a collective gasp as the heavens unfolded above us; finally all underneath the same brilliant sky.
"Mon Dieu," I whispered, "Mon Dieu..."