Paris. That’s as far as I got this morning. I noticed about a half dozen people following me from France, so I wanted to pay tribute. I don’t know what part of the country they are from and I can’t assume they’re Parisians, because Paris is a city, not a country. I can say, without any hesitation, that I absolutely loved Paris.
I was there a few years ago when the dollar was weak and Euro strong. How things have changed. Not the dollar, but the Euro. Now they’re both in trouble. Talk about one world. There is a vibrancy there. It’s not just the beauty, culture and art, it’s more. Something I can’t define, but can surely feel.
It is an easy city in many ways. The way the river runs through the middle of it and defines an area. How so many of the old buildings, cafes and restaurants look like they should be in children’s books. I took a picture of a dark blue building with window boxes filled with red flowers off the second floor. It looked like a backdrop from a movie set. I sat and had a cup of coffee there. I watched the Parisians scattered around me at different tables look unimpressed. Why wouldn’t they be ? In a place littered with stunning architecture, this is just one more.
One day I walked from St Germain des Pres to the other side of the river. My friend was gone for the day, visiting her friend that lived there. I took the day to explore. It was late September and I had on my black leather short boots that hung inconspicuously under the legs of my jeans. I walked along the Seinne, taking note of the vendors and lovers abruptly stopped on the walk bridges that joined one side of the river to the other.
I noticed a couple, so young and giggly and flirty. He leaned her against the stone wall in the middle of the bridge and kissed her. Was there such an urgency to display this kind of affection so passionately in plain view and not care ? Was there such lust in the crisp air of Autumn ? I felt my heart pound. I hardly think of these things today. I can vaguely remember them, but I did at that moment. I felt my body come alive. I was jealous. How I longed to feel that again.
I walked to the Champs Elysee, where I saw some of the most exquisite looking men I forgot existed, except in movies, but even those stars paled in comparison. No wonder this is the city of romance. I fantasized for about 10 minutes and then made my way back slowly, inhaling the energy I felt all around me in this city. It was a long walk.
I saw the Eiffel Tower in the distance and that was enough. I didn’t like tourist traps, I never did. Only if they were so unusual, so exquisite, that I just had to go. And sometimes I even acquiesced that the wait was worth it. When I was in Barcelona, I knew I couldn’t leave without seeing La Sagrada Familia.
By the time I got back to the hotel, my feet were burning. Blisters. I didn’t think I had walked that far, but Paris is the ultimate walking city and so easy to get lost in. It’s not like I had sneakers on. I didn’t. I wouldn’t dare wear them. Not here. I couldn’t out myself like that. I always preferred to blend into a culture, than stick out in one. Wearing sneakers in Paris, or anywhere in Europe, was an obvious sign that you weren’t one of them. They would know you were foreign and probably American, because we are a sneaker wearing society even when it’s uncouth. We look like a typical tourist and I never wanted to be a typical anything. I watched the French and noticed their shoes. Not one woman, or man for that matter, had on shiny white sneakers.
Walk through the area of St. Germain des Pres and you might feel as if you walked on to a movie set from the late 1940’s or early 50’s, when Europe was romanced through screen. Narrow streets have small markets and colorful shops and patisseries, where you can smell the butter and pastry fillings from a block away. Can you imagine how far that aroma would carry with one of those truffle sniffing pigs ? It seduced the senses. Mine anyway.
We walked on a street that claimed to have the first cafe in all of Paris. There was a grate in the middle of the sidewalk heading towards it. Not thinking, I walked right over it and yes, it was blowing upwards. I was wearing a skirt that day, (sometimes my timing is so right on) and when the draft blew my skirt up close to my waist, I hardly felt sexy in the way that Marilyn Monroe did wearing that red dress. Oh right, that was a movie. She was a movie star. The funny thing is, a few minutes later, this really handsome man approached me. Was it coincidental ? I was with my friend, so I never had the opportunity to find out.
I couldn’t help but wonder if Hemingway was here. Maybe at the first Parisian cafe, sitting at one of the outside tables with his friends. I romanticized about that era of writers. What a fabulous community of creative and exciting people to be a part of, if you could join. And I’m not sure everyone, or just anyone would be invited to. I don’t hear of writers hanging out together anymore. It is a different time. Are there still special spots or watering holes for us, like in the old days?
On the second to last night, I met a man with his adult son. He wanted me to meet him at his hotel on the right bank, near the Champs Elysee for a drink. He was American and probably rich if where he was staying was any indication. I said no, even though my friend tried to encourage me to go for it. I have never been with a man for what he offered me monetarily. Look at my bank book. I wasn’t there to sit and drink with an American man in an upscale hotel catered to tourists. That was not the France I wanted to see.
I loved the Musee d’Orsay better than the Louvre. It was smaller and more manageable with gorgeous pieces of work. It even held 2 Vermeer’s. I liked Notre Dame but not as much as I did the school, close to our hotel in St. Germain des Pres. It had beautiful flower beds that formed an aisle in the middle of an oversized campus sidewalk, which was the width of a street.
I loved the patisseries, but not the calories. I see the French in there. How in the hell are they so thin ? Not fair. I loved the oldest tea house in France where tins were stacked on shelves so high, they needed a full-sized ladder to get to them. When they took down the large tins of tea, the lids were waved towards you, so you could inhale the fragrance. They had a cafe attached on the other side, where a hand painted mural stared at you from your seat. The food was excellent. Of course.
My friend and I sat at a local cafe on the main st. to people watch It was set in European style. Every seat was lined up against the glass, next to each other in a row with tables in front of them. We ordered cappuccino’s and marveled at how beautifully and artfully they were decorated and presented. We realized that they should have been after paying almost $11.00 each. Starbuck’s was looking like a bargain.
One of my favorite places was a small bakery and cafe called Laduree, also in St Germain. They sold these cookies called macaroons. Every day in the late afternoon, customers would form a line, probably on their way home from work and wait patiently to choose from the variety of crayon colored cookies. The colors matched the flavors. Purple was lavender. Red was Raspberry. Yellow was Lemon. In the past year, I have seen them in a few specialty shops. I resent it.
Either too many French have entered the U.S. or the word is out. It’s lost its allure for me. I liked the uniqueness of them. I liked describing something someone else couldn’t have, unless they also traveled 3,500 miles Last year when I was returning home from Ireland, at the Dublin airport, there was a Laduree stand. I couldn’t believe it. I got so damn excited you’d think I had just hit the lottery.
The plane was boarding but I didn’t care. I needed to bring some home. I bought a small box back for the friend I had traveled to Paris with too. She also indulged with me in a variety of unknown delicacies with tastes and textures foreign to both of us while there.
Most of what I liked about Paris was the culture. The people. It is always the people for me. I didn’t think they were cold or arrogant like many claim. I’m from the east coast. Maybe I’m just used to it. We know how to be aggressive, stand offish and rude, so none of it would have offended me. The people I met were none of that.
The night my traveling companion was with her friend, I walked along the main street on the side of the shops, restaurants and galleries, all the while with the river in my periphery. It was glowing at night, with the lights outlining the buildings that sat on the surface. As I was passing a gallery, a few people had spilled out on to the sidewalk.
“Bonjour,” said a man and then quickly proceeded to conclude his sentence in French. When he saw my perplexed look, he translated. “Oh Madam, we are having an opening party tonight. There is wine and food inside. Won’t you join us ?” I smiled and walked through the door. I was handed a glass of white wine as I made my way around the room, taking in the art and energy of quick chatter I couldn’t understand. I was left listening to the sound of their erotic accents and only imagined what might have been said. When I left, I looked out across the Seinne and watched lovers. Was that young couple I saw days ago kissing on the bridge still there, enveloped in romance. If not, there were so many other people that filled the gap between both sides of the river. How could there not be. This is Paris.
Till Next We Meet