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The Most Popular Tourist Destination in the World

Looking out the window of our hotel room as the sun faded–with a view from Montmartre to the Eiffel Tower and all of the great architecture in between–I started to realize how brief just 3 days is in such a place. Being bombarded with cathedrals, food, gardens, paintings, people, sculpture, and everything else that caught me was almost overwhelming, and after 3 days I was ready to either leave or stay for a while.

Parisian Babies

Out of all the people I encountered, I found the Parisians to be the most complicated. It was like they wore a shell that if cracked revealed their soft nature, but if left intact allowed only cold interaction. The times when that shell cracked were when I managed to break out of the economic chains of being a tourist. Nearly every time I exited the Metro, there was someone at the bottom of the stairs struggling with a stroller or a heavy bag. I always scanned the perimeter expecting a pickpocket scheme, but figured it would be hard to hit and run with a stroller, so I secured my money and had some of the most enjoyable times of my trip carrying Parisian babies up stairs.

Torture Chamber Tour Guide Takes it Too Far

I am gazing round me, with the horror that the place inspires, when Goblin clutches me by the wrist, and lays, not her skinny finger, but the handle of a key, upon her lip. She invites me, with a jerk, to follow her. I do so. She leads me out into a room adjoining - a rugged room, with a funnel-shaped, contracting roof, open at the top, to the bright day. I ask her what it is. She folds her arms, leers hideously, and stares. I ask again. She glances round, to see that all the little company are there; sits down upon a mound of stones; throws up her arms, and yells out, like a fiend, ‘La Salle de la Question!’ The Chamber of Torture! And the roof was made of that shape to stifle the victim’s cries! Oh Goblin, Goblin, let us think of this awhile, in silence. Peace, Goblin! Sit with your short arms crossed on your short legs, upon that heap of stones, for only five minutes, and then flame out again.

Charles Dickens, Pictures from Italy, 1845

Dancing Around Morality

That is the cancan. The idea of it is to dance as wildly, as noisily, as furiously as you can; expose yourself as much as possible if you are a woman; and kick as high as you can, no matter which sex you belong to. There is no word of exaggeration in this. Any of the staid, respectable, aged people who were there that night can testify to the truth of that statement. There were a good many such people present. I suppose French morality is not of that straight-laced description which is shocked at trifles.

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, 1869

Paris During World War II

Yes, I wish I could describe Paris just as it is; but I cannot. Let me say, tho, that it appears to have forgotten that a war ever existed, or anything in the whole of life is worth while except ministering to one's own pleasure. Really it's the strangest place on the map. Every virtue can be found here, but for every virtue there are a dozen different sins. Even a Hugo couldn't explain Paris now.

Paul Eliot Green, Selected letters, 1917-1919, 1917

18th Century Fashion - Not Much Has Changed

The French, however, with all their absurdities, preserve a certain ascendancy over us, which is very disgraceful to our nation; and this appears in nothing more than in the article of dress. We are contented to be thought their apes in fashion...

Tobias Smollett, Travels through France and Italy, 1766

Beyond Words

Then the band played the Marseillaise and also the Star Spangled Banner and the little ceremony was over. It was quite impressive nevertheless. With the French and American flags waving all around and the soldiers intermixed like they were friends when if the truth be known, one nationality could not understand a dozen words of the other.

Lloyd Maywood Staley, Letters Home From The War, 1917

19th Century Travel Guide

As the dances are, as a general thing, considered a little loose, it is unnecessary to say the gentleman traveler is not expected, in company with his wife or daughter, to join in the amusement of the dancers, although we see no harm in looking on. It may be that "chilling reserve" is not a characteristic of the ladies who frequent these gardens; still, every thing is conducted with a proper regard for public decency. Recesses, bowers, and groves every where meet the eye, while multitudes of gas-lights twinkle through the grass, or illuminate the Chinese lanterns festooned from the trees. You have also a shooting-gallery, Chinese billard-tables, a cafe and restaurant, where you may enjoy your coffee, beer, wine, or cigars; admission, 2 francs.

W. Pembroke Fetridge, Harper's Hand-book for Travelers in Europe and The East, 1870