Falling In Love With Paris

As I laid in bed, trying my best to fall asleep on a hot night in Paris, my mind was filled with all the beautiful city sights that I had seen since I arrived two weeks earlier. The stuffy air clouded my thoughts, however, so I went to the window, threw it open, and stared out at the collection of burnt orange rooftops before me. In my hand, I held an old black and white photograph of Paris, taken by Eugene Atget in the early 1900s. And while this was way before my time, I couldn’t help but feel a connection with the portrait. Perhaps it was because I was finally here in this beautiful city, rather than simply daydreaming about it from my home in Pennsylvania. Gazing at the aged photograph while the warm summer winds of Paris brushed my cheek, I felt a shiver of anticipation for the adventure that awaited me in the morning.

Earlier that afternoon, my photography professor distributed a Eugene Atget photograph to everyone in the class. On the back was written a street name and an assignment – to recreate the photograph. Having always loved scavenger hunts as a child, I was giddy with excitement about finding the Rue des Ursins, the name of the street on which my particular photograph was taken.

I departed for my adventure shortly after my morning French class the following day, looking like an uber-tourist with my map, camera, and notebook in tow. Although I didn’t really have far to go, my journey lasted several hours, as I was distracted along the way by the beauty of the surrounding area. A couple of wrong turns, a visit to the Notre Dame, and many map consultations later, I finally stumbled upon the Rue des Ursins, and without exaggeration, the sight took my breath away. I stopped short on the steps, knowing full well that I was standing in the exact place Atget stood when he himself took the original photograph many years before, the same photograph that I now clutched in my trembling hand. Glancing back and forth from the photograph to the street before me, I felt like I was experiencing a fusion of the past and the present right before my eyes.

The road, though no longer cobblestone, still wound its way through the same two buildings. The small fenced off area to the right leading from the lamppost back to the tall thin apartment was also still there, but fully in bloom with gorgeous spring foliage. The most striking feature however was the one major difference. What appeared as a small shrub in Atget’s photograph had grown into a large tree. It was so simple, and yet so elegant in a way I can barely describe. The perfect symbol for the passage of time, the tree stood to the right of the road, welcoming me to enjoy this hidden treasure and reminding me of the incredible possibilities I can achieve by simply allowing myself the time to grow.

And that is precisely what happened in that moment. I was growing, gaining knowledge and insight from an experience that was uniquely my own. I’m not really sure why, but my eyes welled up, and I remember fighting the urge to cry. After a few moments though, my breathing slowly returned to its normal pace and my hands found the strength to raise my camera and snap the photograph. And while I’m so thankful to have this photograph, I don’t need it to remember that magical moment, for it was the moment I truly fell in love with Paris.