We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
– T.S. Elliot (Four Quartets, “Little Gidding”)
Have you ever heard the word Synecdoche (sin-eck-da-key)? Probably not, huh? It’s not a French word, or even concept, but rather a term used to describe a tool used by writers.
A synecdoche, is when a single part of something is used to describe the whole. Take for example Paris. A good synecdoche for Paris is the Eiffel Tower.
We see a keychain, fridge magnet, or paper weight Eiffel Tower and we immediately think of Paris. Not just the Eiffel Tower itself, but the object or symbol gives way to a flood of associations: cafés, baguette, the Mona Lisa (an Italian painting btw), Napoleon, stripes, Notre Dame, and the Seine, and many more.
Don’t be afraid to fill in some blanks yourself. Eiffel tower, go …
Pretty neat word and idea right!? I’ll bet you were able to come up with many more Parisian things than what I had listed.
Unfortunately, our Eiffel Tower synecdoche can have a reductionistic effect as well. Once things are reduced to a single part, we are often given the impression that we understand the whole. I think this is even true of a city as grand, Romantic, and historic as Paris.
Even though Melissa and I had been planning and saving for a big trip to Paris for years, I must admit that this reductionistic thinking had somehow infiltrated my mind to some extent. What could really be gained from a place that seemed so familiar?
Let me tell you, my very first night in The City of Lights obliterated any sense of the cliché or perceived familiarity I had with Paris or the Eiffel Tower.
Once settled into our flat, the sun had set on Paris and the artificial lights had just started to illuminate the city. We settled on a walk down to the Seine, a serpentine river running the length of the city. And a dividing line between the Right and Left banks.
I will never forget the feeling I had once we reached the base of Boulevard dé Sebastopol at the Seine. Together our eyes followed the long black river, the city lights dancing in the strong current shimmering almost like the scales on an enormous snake, and at its head standing on the horizon…the Eiffel Tower.
I was very nearly reduced to tears.
Our first night remains my favorite memory of Paris. My most vivid. That night I was reminded that something, even as cliché and familiar as the Eiffel Tower, has the power to move my mind, heart, and soul in its depths.
The Eiffel Tower is a fitting synecdoche for Paris. And it is an especially rich one for me now that it is emotionally charged in my memory. Any sense of familiarity and cliché associated with Paris has been wiped clean from my mind.
When I take our tchotchke Eiffel Tower down from our mantle, I now see the most inspiring, Romantic, and enchanting place I have ever been. This may seem reductionistic or cliché, but not to me.