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Me, a Piano, and Ernest Hemingway

After a long week of midterm papers interspersed with St. Patrick's Day in Dublin (which was absolutely nuts), I have finally had time to sit back and reflect on my final trip of reading week: Paris. After the whirlwind three city excursion of Prague, Budapest, and Vienna, I was starting to get a little weary by my early Friday morning departure from Dublin to Paris. After navigating our way from the small airport in Beauvais to the city of Paris, myself and my friend Julie, also studying at Trinity, were ready for a relaxing weekend of sight seeing in Paris. I've dreamed about going to Paris probably since I read and watched all of the Madeline books and movies as a child. Growing up, my desire to see Paris continued, and I even considered studying abroad there. With all of this build up, my expectations for the weekend were very high. I honestly didn't think it was possible for Paris to exceed my highly anticipatory expectations, but it managed to surpass them farther than I would've ever imagined. The weekend was filled with amazing food, friendly people, wandering the streets and seeing all of the major attractions. Rather than try and recount each incredible part of the four day trip, I've decided to share one particular moment, and include photos from throughout the four days. 

 

On day two of our trip, we embarked to see Musee de Louvre, Musée de l'Orangerie (the museum where Monet's water lilies are exhibited), and the Musée d'Orsay. After we finished up our exploration of the museums we walked around outside Notre Dame, and then set off to find Shakespeare and Company, a famous bookstore that had been a favorite spot of many literary greats throughout the years. The bookstore was famously frequented by Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound, and it was featured in the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris (which happens to be one of my favorites). We had to wait in a queue to get into the store, and when we entered, again, all of my expectations were exceeded. It had a large selection of modern favorites and recently published volumes, as well as an extensive collection of used earlier published works, and a variety of different editions of most of the classics (in particular, probably because of his history with the store, there was a wide variety of different editions of Ernest Hemingway's works). We made our way from the first floor up to the second, during which three clearly American teenagers mistook me for french on my way up the stairs. Already flattered that three people thought I was trendy enough looking to pass as french, I perused the upstairs level which contained a variety of older memorabilia such as typewriters and nicknacks from the older days of the store. The upstairs houses the reading rooms where visitors can pick up a volume and explore its pages during their stay at the store. There is an old reading cubby as well as a variety of areas with beds that have been home to authors who at times over the store's history would stay at Shakespeare and Company during their time in Paris. When we made our way up the stairs and walked into the first reading room lined with shelves around the whole room, I immediately noticed a piano in the corner. I've played piano since I was seven years old and have been composing my own music since approximately the age of 10, and being abroad in Ireland for a little under two months at the time was the longest I have gone without playing the piano in 14 years. I went and asked a youthful, hip looking bookstore worker if people were allowed to play the piano, and she replied that it was open for use. With the encouragement of my friend Julie, I sat down at the piano and began to play a song I recently composed over my stay at home during winter break before my departure to Ireland. Playing the piano for me is like sitting down for a conversation with an old friend--no matter how long its been the sound of the keys churning out melodies I've written and recreated from others has a comforting familiarity. My favorite part about playing is that I very rarely write down my music anymore. I revisit melodies that I've created over my tenure of familiarity with the keys that I can combine and change to form something new every time. That day in Paris I started with a song from winter break, but ended up combining elements of all of my favorite melodies and parts of pieces so that I can now say I've played all of my favorite songs I've written not only in Paris, but in the second home of my literary idols. I'm not sure for how long I played. Once I get going on a melody I go where it takes me, and sometimes what feels like three minutes turns out to be ten minutes of improvisation that I wouldn't be able to recreate fully even if I tried. When I played the last few notes of my conglomeration of quintessential "me" melodies and themes, I turned around to a surprise that made that moment in Shakespeare and Company one of my most treasured memories. What had been an empty room aside from myself and my friend Julie sitting on a couch behind me when I started playing, was now a room packed with people, who upon the completion of my song burst out in applause. I was so surprised I didn't know what to do, so Julie suggested that I play another song. Never really having played for other people before (besides my sister who might have a different reaction to the melodies I constantly repeat at home on my piano throughout the day), it was unbelievable to not only have had people listen, but to have actually enjoyed something that I had created over so many years of playing just as an interlude from daily life. Playing the piano is such an essential part of who I am as a person, and it is hard to put into words what it meant to have people taking time out of their day to listen to what is fundamentally an expression of myself as an individual. I played a second and final song, doing my own take on Florence + the Machine's "Never Let Me Go" an ethereal ballad that is one of my favorite songs. The room was less full, but still had quite a few people there after the second song, and I thanked everyone for listening then made my way around the rest of the upstairs with Julie, still not really believing that had just happened. When we finished perusing the bookstore and made our way out into the brisk Parisian evening, Julie told me when I was playing the room was so packed she could hardly see me even though she was sitting right behind me at times, and that a whole slew of people kept ducking their heads in to see what was going on. 

 

I think this story is reflective of my experience in Paris as a whole. Everything went even better than we had planned, and I can't wait to return to Paris one day and get to relive some of the incredible moments of the trip, including that unreal moment in Shakespeare and Company. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to get to take trips like Paris, although I was very happy to be back in my own bed in Dublin after a week and a half of travel. There is nothing quite like seeing Paris for the first time, especially after long years of anticipation. Paris is everything and more than I could've ever dreamed, a city pulsing with life and culture to which I owe four days of adventure and moments that I won't soon forget.

 

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Julie and I at the Eiffel Tower on our first day. 

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A shot of the Eiffel tower just before sunset.

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Playing the piano in Shakespear and Company.

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The entrance to Shakespear and Company.

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Inside Versailles, one of the stops on our trip.

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A shot from our walk along the Seine on our last day.