By Lupita Franco Peimbert
It is late afternoon and I am at the Jardin du Luxembourg on a perfect Saturday in mid-September. Parisians, expats, and visitors alike take a stroll, sit, converse, take pictures of others and selfies, people-watch, and basically relax in one beautiful big garden. I sit down at one of the hundreds of green chairs available for everybody, longing to be part of the communal reality between strangers, friends, families.
When one travels Solo like I have been for the last 18 years, one often has conversations with oneself.
“I wish I had my iPhone,” I kept telling myself. “How am I going to share with others this experience?”
The sun begins setting down and it feels like the sun is going slowly. The weather continues not so cold and not so hot. The bright pink geraniums to my right contrast with the greenery from the Chestnut and other trees and the grayish roof of the building further down; I believe it is the French Parliament. The statues, architecture, and pottery lines make the garden Oh So Frenchy, just how we foreigners love and imagine Paris. I can see a nice Facebook cover with a close up of geraniums to the right; the palace and fountain centered but in the background.
“I wish I had my iPhone, darn it!”
But I don’t have it with me. I can’t take a picture and upload it to Facebook. I can’t post it on Instagram. I can’t Whatsapp it with my sister. “If it is not in social media, some people may even doubt I was actually here,” I find myself laughing at such ridiculous thoughts.
The sky finally became a sunset image, covering the park with a shade of golden light. Those who are tanned look even more golden. Lines of people began taking pictures of the sunset. I watched them as they moved their phone right and left for the perfect shot. And I didn’t have my iPhone with me.
Such a bad thing to happen to a traveler. I was at the train station in Frankfurt, Germany, a few days prior, and while maneuvering my suitcase to the top of the electrical stairs the phone slipped from my hand, crashing on the floor, almost hitting the escalator’s top step. I couldn’t text, email, search, call, or anything else. It crushed my life for a minute. “What am I going to do?” With our smartphones we walk, drive, talk, listen, look, and all the other verbs that conform to life in the information age.
“I should have brought my laptop,” I thought. But I didn’t. No iPad either.
By the time I was arriving at Gare de L’Est in Paris, I had accepted that I would not have a phone while visiting one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It also meant it would be difficult to contact and communicate with my friends or quickly find out what events were going on, or how to get to point B and leave alone I would not be able to have some adventures of the online dating type.
“Should I buy a camera?” I thought. “Maybe I can buy a phone here and suck up the extra expense.” Neither one of those options would be financially smart and more importantly, I was at the end of my travel budget and so that was out.
“I’ll do ok without it. I am sure being smartphone-less has benefits. I won’t be distracted. I can be present. This will be interesting. Maybe I do not have a phone for a reason,” I was convincing myself that it was okay not to have my iPhone on hand while visiting Paris.
The sounds of a whistle interrupted my thinking. The park’s security guards were herding people out, truly like the shepherds hurrying sheep to the other side of something. “The park will be closing soon,” they seem to shout out. The crowds walked rapidly towards the exit and so did I.
“I’ll come back tomorrow. I’ll figure out a way to capture this gorgeous garden.”
Unable to call an Uber or contact a friend, I took the Metro back to the place I was staying. I was home alone, my friend and host had left for a trip. I drank a glass of wine and realized I could go to one of those old places, a “cyber” cafe. Some cities still have them.
For the next four days during this stay, every morning after coffee I would rush to the Metro and to a cybercafe about 20 minutes from home. I searched events and emailed some people but in these times of texting and WhatsApping, the earlier is just unproductive. Sight. Another sight. I resourced to local newspapers and flyers for things to do. Prior visits and months living in Paris had taken me to the main landmarks and architectural gems and so it was more about finding out new exhibits and other events since I couldn’t really get in touch with my Parisian friends. Many of them are out of town that time of the year or perhaps just returning from their holiday –and I couldn’t even text them…!
I saw the incredible Gustav Klimt immersive art exhibit at L’Atelier des Lumieres followed by a delicious lunch at Chez Lui. I saw the Kadamati dancers outside L’Hotel de Ville followed by a light beer at an Irish Bar with the most friendly bartender. I attended mass officiated by Archbishop Michel Aupetit at Notre Dame and loved his sermon; walked the lovely Parc Monceau in the 8th arrondissement and the picturesque streets in the Latin Quarter. I saw another art exhibit and another one, revisited a couple other brassieres I loved near St. Germain des Pres and walked by La Sorbonne, stopping at a cinema to watch “Photo de Famille.” I went to La Marais and La Bastille; I walked one afternoon and well into the evening having the Sienna by my side, and of course, one can see d’Orsay, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower at a distance, and there were so many things I could have taken pictures of. But I did not have my freaking iPhone with me. Darn it again!
My last day in Paris was on a Sunday and the day again was one of those with the perfect weather. I decided to go again to the Jardin du Luxembourg, prepared with sketching materials. The park was full, the gardens were vibrant with the hustle and bustle of children playing in the playground and people conversing all around. This time I noticed more trees and patches of beautiful lavender, lilac, and purple flowers ornamenting the surroundings. The geraniums truly dressed the pots in which they were planted.
At Parc du Luxembourg I took a table at the popular Pavillon de la Fontaine Paris with the intention to eat, drink, watch people, and perhaps draw something in lieu of a picture.
Chestnut tree leaves are beautiful, and I spent quite some time lost in their forms, hanging from the branches, moving with the winding and echoing its movements. So placid. So relaxing. It could take me a long while to describe all the types of people in attendance. It is a gorgeous Sunday. The park looks even more gorgeous. Families, couples, friends, solo travelers, every group was represented and of course, many were taking pictures and selfies with their smartphones. Not me.
I sat for hours lost, in everything. Paris is such an enchanting city. I was so lost in its charms that didn’t care to socialize, not in person, not online. I even forgot to remember that none of my Parisian friends had responded to my emails. I didn’t feel like going the extra mile to get in touch with other human beings. I was part of the common reality at that moment: a park visitor. I sat and sat more, looking around, listening to the wind and the sounds of people in conversations. I was alternating expressos with glasses of wine, glasses of carbonated water, and some food. I smoke a few Virginia Slim cigarettes as it is my tradition only when I am in Paris.
Luxembourg is a generous place. The place has a global and a local ambiance and it absorbs you for the better. But I didn’t have my smartphone to take a picture, a selfie, a video and share it. The digital world and I were disconnected because I did not have my iPhone. It had turned into a smashed thing to be replaced with a shiny new one, new version, and capabilities.
To get to the airport the next morning, I had to go outside and walk a few streets to catch a taxi. Oh, that sounds so old and obsolete. The driver charged me three times an Uber would charge but oh well. Waiting at Charles De Gaulle was more boring than usual –because I didn’t have an iPhone with me.
My 2018 visit to Paris was limited by not having enough technology. As much as I wanted to take the “be present,” approach, it wasn’t as fun. “As soon as I get home I will get myself a new one,” I hoped.