En Paris…while I have had the luxury of visiting Paris on several occasions between that first trip in October of 2013 and present day, I’d like to muse a bit about a few moments in particular where time seemed to stand a bit more still for me –
April 7, 2016
Today, I did the most uncharacteristic thing. I let myself get totally and utterly lost in the city of Paris. I had no agenda, I had no fear. I looked at the buildings, landmarks, parks, monuments. I observed the people. Do you know how to tell a truly Parisian woman from a non-Parisian woman? It’s subtle, but clear – she doesn’t make eye contact, she doesn’t move aside for you, one or both eyebrows may be slightly raised, her look is flawless and at the same time careless; as though she cannot be bothered with fussing. She walks with a cadence that tells you she’s in charge – there is no hesitation and you have no question she knows exactly where she’s going (whether she really does or not.) I also don’t believe you need to be born here to be Parisian – and while some may argue this one to the death, I think to be truly Parisian has more to do with the soul that resides in her DNA than her birthright in the here and now. Her clothing and accessories such as the scarf – which will be tied in a casual yet perfect manner represents her understanding she is living in a city where one thing is certain – the weather is not and she must be prepared with this essential layer. Her shoes – whether boots or shoes are not practical. They will have heels – an important part of the music she makes as she hurries along. And she’s probably not smiling because that would give away too much about her.
We’ve all heard the stories about the French – that they’re rude, they hate Americans, and so on, but I have yet to meet a French man or woman who did not go out of their way to make my stay pleasant or who was not more than willing to help me. That said, here’s a tip – when you come here, please speak French. I’m not talking about becoming fluent if you are not able, but there is a level of respect implied when you address someone, ‘monsieur’, ‘madam’, ‘mademoiselle’, when you greet them, with ‘bonjour’ and not ‘hi’, ‘au revoir’, ‘bon soir’, ‘sil vous plait’ – simple pleasantries. Trust me, they will figure out you’re from away quickly enough, but at least respect the culture enough to acknowledge you are in their country and not expect them to accommodate you. They will, but one shouldn’t expect it. It takes very little effort to learn a few basic things and the respect you are met with in turn will be your reward .
Walking in Paris. Number one, use the crosswalks and wait for the walk light. Do not try to cross between the designated areas unless you are on a very small one-way street. The Gendarmes are very particular and are dispersed throughout the city intersections. The bike paths are for bikes. The pedestrian way is for pedestrians (ok, sometimes a tiny French car will also use the pedestrian way). If you’re driving, do NOT stop on top of a crosswalk or bike crossing unless you want to get yelled at in French! Do not start across a crosswalk and change your mind in the middle; do not disrupt the pedestrian flow. I should repeat number one here because it’s important. Do NOT stop in the middle of the intersection to take a picture – ever. Basically, look and act as little like a tourist as possible.
April 8, 2016
I sit sipping a café noisette at the Shakespeare and Company, listening to the bells of Notre Dame toll. I was startled when I first approached the space – actually got chills, as though the presence of the great writers who crossed this path were somehow still here. I’m not sure this is a bookstore you go to purchase anything because for me, it was more about the space, it’s a museum, a temple to greatness – unspoiled by someone trying to improve it. Inside, you will find a humbling pedigree of works that could be considered the ‘whose who’ of literature – past and present, including but not limited to Jane Austin, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Earnest Hemingway, Jane Bowles, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Alastair Horne, John Steinbeck, Emily Bronte, Steven Galloway, Jonathan Branzen, Mary Shelley, George Orwell, J. D. Salinger, Gore Vidal, Oscar Wilde, and one of my personal favorites, contemporary author John Baxter, whose works only fueled my passion for this place. Yes, despite my belief this is a space to be experienced rather than ‘shopped in’, I bought two books I had no right to because my suitcase can hold no more. Another John Baxter work to add to my collection, “Five Nights in Paris” and a book called, “The French Cat”, by Rachael Hale McKenna. Sorry, how can one possibly resist anything to do with le chat?
What do you do when you’re visiting the city of lights and the clock is ticking on your last few hours in Paris? Do you give it your all and try to see everything possible at breakneck speed? Do you enjoy one last leisurely dejeuner or marche? Or do you simply ‘still’ yourself and let the final vibrations of the city resonate within your being? I am one of the people in the latter category – I have a leisurely petite dejeuner, take a stroll to breathe the air and feast my eyes one final time before making my way to the train station, off to my next adventure. I like to sit with the vibration, the pulse of the city of lights – today I walked to the Louvre and once again, marveled at the striking contrasts between the old, ancient, breathtaking architecture juxtaposed against the modern pyramids that people young and old are drawn to. It’s like any great marvel of form and space – it will change you, hopefully for the better. This was not my first visit to the city, and it will not be my last.
On my last visit, March of 2018, I was able to introduce the city of lights to two more family members who were discovering it for the first time. The surprise to me was the joy and wonder it rekindles within when you have that opportunity to ‘see’ it again through another persons eyes. I’m not sure it ever gets old.
And to those of you who would love to experience the city either vicariously or in person, I have met the most amazing tour guide named Corey Frye who has a virtual walking tour of a different little corner every Saturday – check out his facebook page and website: A French Frye in Paris. He is a personal tour guide, but his weekly online tours are free and incredibly rich!