So you’d like a concise expose on Parisian culture, eh? A brief description of its 20 arrondissements, 150 museums, world renowned historical monuments, innumerable churches, cathedrals and houses of worship, beautiful urban parks, grand halls and theaters, antiquated side streets, treasured works of art, celebrated architectural landmarks, omnipresent cafes and stylish boutiques would be nice, you say? Well move along, my friend, because no such summary exists. This city of French Gaulle roots, named Lutece before the arrival of the Romans, is far too complex and layered a thing to treat so simply. Instead, allow us to propose the most inadequate of synopses for your consideration: just a taste to whet your appetite for one of the greatest cultural epicenters the civilized world has ever known.
Atop the list of obvious must-sees will of course be the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre Museum (Mona Lisa) and Notre Dame Cathedral. After all, these 4 may be listed among the most recognized structures on Earth. You would also do well to climb the stairs of the Montmarte in the north, enjoying both its stunning panoramic view and hill-top basilica (Sacre-Coeur). For those interested in the city’s wealth of final resting places, consider checking out the stately Pantheon (Rousseau, anyone?) , the serene Lachaise Cemetery (“Either these curtains go or I do”), or perhaps the labyrinthine passages of the skull-strewn Catacombs. Venturing outside the city? The Chateau de Versailles (southwest) and Normandy Beaches (west) offer two drastically different accounts of the history of France: one a testament to its lavish decadence, the other a tribute to its profound tragedy.
In reality, however, this is no way to encompass such a history, a people and a culture. Paris, in all its near-mythic grandeur, must be experienced. It is, as one brilliant writer put it, a city for everyone: from the hipster-esque 11th arrodissement to the aristocratic 7th, from the lively Latin quarter to the Jewish rue des Rosiers, from the ultra-modern Centre Pompidou to the cafes of Hugo’s Place des Vosges, from a left bank mobbed with tourists to a right bank stalwartly holding onto the last vestiges of authenticity. There may be a slight air of superiority here, true, but with such a deposit of substantial human thought and accomplishment at your disposal, wouldn’t you be proud too? Have at it.