I never tire of my memories of Paris. In some ways they remind me of the holiday season, when I open each box and unwrap each ornament with a sense of rediscovery of old friends who have been away for the year. So it is with my memories, and I am fortunate to not only have them ‘locked away’ in my mind but to have so many vignettes recorded in the journals I always carry
in The City of Light. Hopefully, as I share a few from my very first visit in 1997, you will amble through your own collection of Paris moments and inhale the pleasure they brought.
… Salon de Thé, Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île … 5:30 p.m. I have slipped away to the corner of a vivid yellow tea room – old wood and brass locks at the door, tiny round and square, marble-topped tables, rush seats on green painted chairs, little flower bunches and conversations whispered in French – a pleasant Parisienne murmur. Brick steps, perhaps ten, wind down to le toilette, and I have to lean down to open the door before stepping down into the tiny restroom.
Soon it will grow dark, and I will make my way back over the bridge to the Left Bank. I want to find a balance in this apparent race to see everything, and I’ve come to understand my ‘loner’ spirit, when confronted with beauty. I cannot be social all the day and night long.
I am eating perhaps the most delicious dessert of my life – a crêpe sucre, chocolate chaud avec la crème. Warm chocolate crêpe squared, folded on a dinner plate and gently covered with cream. Heaven.
For this trip, I would love to be wealthy, to buy gifts for everyone. The clothes, shoes arts, prints, herbs – is there anything without charm here? I would love to bring my children here. Soon I shall visit Le Tour Eiffel and Montmartre. Life is an unending wonder.
Wednesday – Day 5 au Paris
Dear Doug, [I write a friend who has suggested I find my special places in Paris to return to again and again.]
You are in Paris with me this morning. I’m at La Chope – a café that ‘called my name.’ I was here with my friend on Sunday, when the Mouffetard markets were brimming with people looking for flowers and fruit, croissants and rabbits (!) Oui. I saw a rabbit, complete from hair to hare, hanging from the butcher’s hook!
La Chope overlooks a place where rues Mouffetard, Cardinal and Lacépède come together. It’s a quiet Parisienne day in this place – the city marketplace, students off to the Sorbonne, an elderly woman quietly reading and two amours talking quietly over café.
Interesting. He is quite handsome; she has the look of a pale, unpainted librarian, hair pulled back, slender wire-rim glasses. She could be a featureless maid. And, she pays their bill, as they leave.
All of Paris, Doug, has called my name. My heart is so full of her! And I’ve been privileged to see her from the inside, from my friend’s petite apartment on the top floor (6th) in a 19th century building overlooking bd. St. Marcel. We punch in our building code to open the door, press luminaire to turn on the hallway light and go up the elevator – a modern convenience perfectly fitted to my friend and I and her dog, Sam. After our slow rise to the 6th floor, we open the old door with our antiquated skeleton key. The door knob is in the center of the wooden panels.
A hallway, wooden-planked floors covered with colorful runners, hooks on the wall to the left to hold our coats, office/study to right – just large enough for a bookcase, desk computer, phone and lamp with a skylight open to the sun and rain. Past the coat hooks to the left is a bedroom – so charming with a small, corner fireplace (coal burning, accented with a porcelain and steel covering). Facing the door, at the far end of the square room are ceiling-to-floor French doors that open to the terrace.
The bath, across from her room, is large with open shelves and a window overlooking rooftops and, beyond, Sacré-Cœur. (When the wind shifts a leafless tree, you can see the Panteon dome. That my bath should have any view, much less this!
Beyond le bain is the tiny kitchen – long, narrow, sink at the end with a window offering the same view. Lower cupboards are covered with colorful curtains, a mini-refrigerator, stove top but no oven. The kitchen offers a pass-through to the living room which also ends with large French doors opening to the terrace.
The terrace overlooks a wide boulevard and across the way are solid blocks of the same-style apartments, all six to seven stories, 19th century. At night, a la “rear Window,” we can peek into the lives of others. Second apartment down, over one, two gentlemen talk over wine. A young lady, upper left, walks around in her bedroom. Lower right, bookcases line the living room wall – a voyeur’s paradise?
I’ve not yet “found my rhythm,” understandably. My dear friend has taken me here and there and explained, with thousands of words when, truthfully, sometimes I want to stand in utter silence and awe before the Seine, the Notre Dame, the Place de Vosges. We have been joined, at times, by three of her friends — all New Yorkers – all nice, all intent to share the details of their adopted city.
I treasure this quiet, stolen moment. How was Paris able to capture the charm of the world, the centuries, to place the whole of it amongst these winding, storied streets? Paris is an endless wonder for me, and I bow down before her.
Day 7 … “When some one goes away, someone else must stay,” so sang Dionne Warwick in “Extravagant Gestures”. My children have stayed home. Their phones ring; their friends stop by, classes continue; electric bills arrive.
So, I sit on the terrace at 8:00 a.m. in sweatpants, flannel shirt, thick socks and overcoat, hot coffee in hand waxing philosophic. The sun brightens an awakening Paris – traffic below, the persistent whine of an ambulance, workers running for buses or to catch the pieton light across rue de l’hopital, concierges scrubbing the walkways in front of their buildings.
I love the intimacy and accessibility of the City of Light. People are pocketed and huddled, like family, in charming old buildings, their nests adjacent but separate, lives touching but not intruding. They share the same door entry code, concierge, mailbox and trash areas. Ride the same ascenseur with similar views of courtyards or of distant city sights. And they are but a metro stop or two or three removed from some of the most significant sights and cites in the world.
Yesterday – a ‘modern’ difference, a reality that really struck me and, later, amused me. We traveled across the Seine to the train station to reserve our car for Blois at Avis. As we approached the Avis office, we saw four Legionnaires and a gendarme questioning a young woman. The Legionnaires wore green camouflage fatigues, dark blue berets and held Uzi machine guns – not your everyday sight in the States. The gendarme, in navy blue, high-collared suit and from-the-cinema high, billed hat, conducted the interview. The curious drama woman in me wanted to absorb the scene, know the details.
We stood before multiple tracks and trains, high speed TGV trains in orange or silver or blue, and above the train sign, departures were listed – to Montpelier, Avignon, Marseilles. Where am I? Who am I?
We discreetly followed in the direction of the gendarmes and, when my friend spotted a large German shepherd, turned back. I realized the soldiers were immediately behind her so I said, “Stop. Let me take your picture.” She didn’t catch on at first, then posed with Sam, asking if she should move right or left to allow for the real photo subjects. I hurriedly snapped the scene. When finished, we walked by a Legionnaire who smiled with warmth and the intimate knowledge that he knew exactly what we had done. He was amused. He also was gorgeous, a prerequisite, we have decided, to military and police service in France.
Differences, yes. I love beauty, the serenity of a centuries-old church or Place de Vosges. Very much so. But I have to connect with more than my eyes. The sights take on more meaning with reflection, against a backdrop of human beings.
I will remember the playful, bereted child in the foreground as much as the historic sight behind her. I want the BEING part, just being a river walk from Hemingway’s Closerie des Lilas, just walking with acquaintances in a vast square flanked by a medieval church, the contemporary George Pompidou Centre, 18th century apartments and casual cafes and Salon de Thes. Just knowing I can turn a corner and be astonished at the sight of the Eiffel Tower – again!? – here? The constant barrage of charm, of drama, of le different.