The first thing I remember seeing as the plane glided downwards from the sky was a glimpse of bright yellow fields in the distance. The golden tufts of flowers illuminated by the sunrise were carried away with the morning breeze gracefully and suddenly out of my sight. This transient scene passed unnoticed by most of the passengers, still asleep and unaware of the first streaks of daylight pouring in through the fingerprinted windows. But for me, wide eyed and peering through the glass, I greeted this first glimpse of land with a pulse that matched the turbulence of the journey and with a mind ceaselessly growing with wonder.
The plane rumbled as the wheels hit the ground. The rhythmic sound of the fast moving concrete beneath me was a reminder that this was not another daydream; the solid ground under me had removed my head from the clouds.
The next stage of arrival was a blur. A blur garnished with clunky luggage being handed over by attendants speaking in a foreign way, the echo of unknown words sounding over an intercom that enveloped and reverberated off tall glass walls, and groups of international travelers speaking fluently in a myriad of languages. Darting glances between friends revealed our disorientation. Between many bonjours, mercis, and pardons our group made our way from the airport to a bus and from a bus to a subway. Each link felt like an eternity whose sole purpose was to prolong my anticipation and heighten my fascination with the questions that lingered, close but not closely enough, in a city that was still beyond my reach.
The subway car screeched into a stop and the metal doors slid open with a high pitched ding. Stumbling feet hurried out and onto the concrete platform. As heads were counted, mine was turning in every direction attempting to absorb the large French advertisements sprawled against the grey walls and the many people moving in all directions. We made our way through a maze of white tiled hallways. As we moved closer, our view began to flood with natural light pouring in from a stairwell in the distance. Each hurried step up was not fast enough for my curiosity that grew as the light got closer until the darkness of the subway dissolved in the striking light of my surroundings.
My mind slowed as the world around me seemed to accelerate. The cast-iron metro sign, its classic black lettering contrasting its rouge background, opened up the view. My eyes traveled over the distinctly Parisian architecture lining the street, running in every perceptible direction. The brisk mid-April air erupted with the sound of conversation and city traffic. My eyes lit up with the idea that everything around me was real, I was really there. I wished I could pause time and look at each small detail for hours in attempt to grasp the intricacies lying below the surface of the scene.
Our group, ready and eager to explore, were told that we could break off with others and walk around until a set time when we would all meet up. With a map and growing anticipation, we set off into the unknown.
The unknown turned out to be the Latin Quarter of Paris. It was where the cobblestone streets met with the left bank of the Seine River. The Notre Dame resided in all its grandeur and infinite complexities across the vast Seine. The pastel hues of spring flowers crept over the bank separating the cathedral garden from the river. We passed an ancient bridge furnished with intertwined railings and old-fashioned street lights on our left while across the road there was a long strip of quaint shops. I could easily imagine myself inside these picturesque cafés, boutiques, and bookstores that perfectly lined the streets. Each storefront had a façade with paned windows and overflowing flower boxes held back with laced cast iron frames. Placed carefully among these shops were tall antique lights and newly blossoming trees. With a gust of wind, the branches shifted and light pink blossoms flew spiraling down onto the ground. I admired them as they wafted down the stone sidewalk and past my feet.
Along the river bank worn with age, was a stretch of venders. Within the long row of stands, stood a wooden table stacked with shelves of used books. Yellowed pages veiled by faded covers, their fragile spines splitting at the seams. Hundreds of stories, adventures, and secrets within each book, they were elegantly bound but concealed by a language that I could not read. At the next stand there were beautiful paintings, each careful stroke encompassed the past of the anonymous artist who had created it. Old letters and postcards, collected over the years and worn by age, were sold at another kiosk. Authentic messages dating back to the early nineteen hundreds were scrawled in barely decipherable cursive, the individual behind the signature unaware that their sentiments would decades later be for sale.
As I walked my heart started beating faster as I found I was captivated by the world. This image in front of me was tangible; I could feel the centuries old ground beneath my feet and smell the blooming April flowers. My impression was a perfectly entwined array of the pictures, films, and books I had seen and poured my interest into over the years. Every crack in the stone wall along the Seine was another discovery, every hidden alleyway a small detail in a grand masterpiece. All these simple findings were magnified with my enthusiasm.
I soon began to notice that moving through the streets in different directions seemed to be an impenetrable mass of people. As I looked more closely, the lines between their figures softened. There were college students on their way to cafés for a coffee before class, serious looking people in suits rushing to appointments, and parents chasing after their overexcited young children. Each person was consumed within their own world. I watched with interest how some walked down the same street as me, seemingly unaware of everything that I saw.
The question lingered in my head for quite some time. How could two people walk down the same exact street and one react unchanged while the other is overcome by the beauty that is around her? To one person, their surroundings were normal because this was their life. It was the same street they walk down every day of the year; the small details were blended by routine. Then I began to wonder how many times I had failed to acknowledge the simple beauty around me on a regular basis, the beauty that I would normally disregard because it was paled by monotony. Then it occurred to me that the way someone looks at the world determines what they see. Someone could live all their life in the dim light of their mundane routine, never looking past the surface of things deemed ordinary. Their minds would not appreciate the simple beauty of a bare tree’s silhouette against the water colored sky during a November sunset or the way that the afternoon sun sometimes illuminates a single speck of dust slowly floating in the air. I did not need to be in Paris to view an alleyway as a discovery or to regard every river bank as a piece of art. Instead I could change my outlook and always have eyes eagerly searching for beauty in the simplest of places, because the last thing anyone wants is to wake up one day and realize that they slept through their life and were unaware of the beauty of the many fields of golden flowers outside their fingerprinted window.