Reverse culture shock is a beautiful thing. Mike and I left Bangalore on Tuesday night, and spent a jet-lagged Wednesday afternoon in Paris. It is now Thursday evening, and we are getting ready to take the metro over to the Eiffel tower and eat dinner.
Do you know what we’ve done so far? Walked around, mostly. And eaten food (big surprise, right?). I posted a solicitation for suggestions of what to do in Paris on facebook and Google+, but have been deliberately lax about making any concrete plans. We have been marveling at the walkability of this city – the sidewalks are extant, clean, wide, and even; there are myriads of free and beautiful gardens; there are no hordes of honking buses, trucks, and autorickshaws. After spending two months in Bangalore, I am simply refreshed to be in a place that has emission controls, crosswalks, public transportation, potable water.
That’s not to say Bangalore was all bad, though. Not by any means. For one, I dearly miss omnipresent vegetarian food. Last night, in Paris, we went to a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint and ordered a salad and pasta to share. The salad came covered in ham; the tortellini was filled with some kind of meat (though I was assured the cream sauce was meat-free). In India, virtually every restaurant dish is categorized under “veg” and “non-veg” headers, and all packaged products have a universal green or red dot to indicate the same. But in Paris, you’d think nobody had ever seen a vegetarian (or, heaven forfend, a crazy person who eats chicken and fish but not beef and pork and happens to dislike mushrooms). It doesn’t help that the menus are in French.
Yesterday afternoon, though, we had a lovely time exploring the area near our hotel. We are staying at the Hotel Elysa-Luxembourg, near the Latin Quarter. We stumbled upon the Pantheon completely by accident, crossed the Seine, glimpsed Notre Dame, and sampled sublime gelato. This morning, we enjoyed one of the best brunches ever (hot chocolate! omelette with side salad! OJ that was literally squeezed from an orange! pain au chocolat!) and strolled around the Luxembourg Gardens.
It began to rain as we continued walking around the neighborhood, and we ducked into a beautiful old church for lack of a better idea. The distant smell of incense was welcoming and statues depicting various saints were familiar. The hushed silence was palpable as we gazed upon vaulted ceilings. It contrasted strongly with our recent visit to a huge temple in Madurai, where one must go barefoot and endure any number of unpleasant odors amidst a cacophony of sound and oppressive, humid heat. Both structures are gorgeous, magnificent holy sites, manifested in strikingly different ways. To me, these two places of worship really embody their respective cultures.
I suppose that is at the core of this. My experience in India was so vivid, yet so fraught with confusion. Now in Paris, things feel more muted, yet relatively easy to navigate and understand. I lack any grand conclusion, other than to say definitively that Paris is most certainly not India.