Now that I live in France full time, going to Paris is less of a tourist’s adventure and more of a necessary pilgrimage for my own wellbeing. I spent the past two days checking in at my favorite spots and consuming as much Starbucks as possible.
Once the sun went down and I’d logged enough hours alternating between coffee and wine, I made my way to Sacré Coeur, Paris’ famous pure-white basilica. By eight o’clock, the street vendors and tourists had given way to hushed quiet. A guard met me at a side door, where I checked in with a nun with a kind face. Sister Jeanne Marie led me to my space for the night, a simple, clean bed and wardrobe in a separate cubicle from about fifteen other identical cubbies. Passing me a temporary card identifying me as a religious pilgrim from inside her crisply starched robe, she left me on my own to settle in.
Sacré Coeur has been a church of perpetual adoration since the 1800s. All day and night, 365 days a year, someone is always praying in the church. Since a few dozen nuns can’t be expected to take on that sort of task themselves, the church allows civilians to spend a night in its safe, clean facilities in exchange for an hour or two of prayer. Though I am not catholic, and have had more than my share of doubts regarding organized religion in general, it seemed like too unique of an experience to miss.
I certainly was not disappointed; stepping into the empty sanctuary at 3 in the morning, lit only by the candles left at each chapel, was a moment I will not soon forget.
The next morning, after an early mass and breakfast, I found Sister Jeanne Marie in a small study room, and we had a nice long chat before I grabbed my backpack and continued on. I walked to the Centre Pompidou, one of my favorite places to sit outside when the weather is nice and the street musicians are playing.
Several hours later, after staring at modern art until I had given myself a headache, I found myself across from Notre Dame, reading in the attic space of Paris’ most famous Anglophone bookshop, Shakespeare and Company. Taking the time to sink into a wonderfully cushy leather armchair and read for a couple hours helped me to detangle all of my thoughts from Montmartre and relax before hopping on the metro for a final time.
A quick 36 hours in Paris is always an exhausting venture, but one that provides the opportunity to break away from the world. Living in a small town means that you are never alone, constantly in danger of being spotted by students or acquaintances. Whenever I find myself all alone in a big city, I take it as a sign to step apart from the crowds around me and meditate on solitude for a while.
I’ve yet to be disappointed.