Thursday, May 18, 2017

It's true: Paris is always a good idea

In the two years since my last post here, I've been back to Paris twice but on those occasions, it was only as a jumping off point to adventures elsewhere.  In each case, I landed at CDG in the wee hours and spent the day fighting off the haze left by a trans-Atlantic flight before heading out of town the next morning. And don't get me wrong, while each of those little visits felt like a good long drag of the drug that I've come to know as Paris, neither seemed worthy of noting here.

But on Sunday, May 7, after almost a week in Brittany spent hiking and hanging out at a friend's holiday home, I found myself in Paris at midday, without a trace of jet lag and my French language skills already firing on all cylinders.  Like so many of the days I had spent exploring Paris  -- while kids were in school and my husband was at the office -- I was on my own with no one to answer to but me.

And so I walked.  From the station at Montparnasse to the Jardin du Luxembourg, stopping only for a jambon beurre and a bottle of water to savor on a green lawn chair overlooking the fountain where little kids were pushing sailboats with poles and joggers attired in scarves were running their circuits. Down the Boulevard St. Michel and across the Seine.  By Notre Dame, where a line of tourists stretched the full length of the parvis.  Across the Seine again and along the quai, closed to cars but open to bikers and strollers.

I stopped in at the Louvre for a special exhibit on Vermeer and at the Orangerie, a lovely little museum best known for its upstairs galleries featuring Monet's water lilies, but also housing the spectacular Jean Walter and Paul Guillame collection, some 150 works from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Late in the afternoon, my wanderings took me back across the river, through the narrow streets of St. Germain des Prés, and then eventually back to my hotel near Montparnasse after stopping for a drink and a quick getting-to-know-you-in-real-life chat with Jennifer Greco, the author of the wonderful blog, Chez Loulou.

It was gray and misty, and in some ways, it felt like I'd never left:  the smell of fresh bread wafting out of corner bakeries; flowers for sale on the sidewalk; women bundled up in shades of black, gray, tan, and the occasional audacious pop of maroon or navy; the plain volumes of Gallimard imprints featured in the bookshop windows; the chestnut trees with their pink and white blooms.

But there were signs of change too.  My visit to the Louvre was delayed by two hours, the entrances to the esplanade, where preparations were underway for Emmanuel Macron's victory party later that night, temporarily closed off due to a security threat. The African trinket sellers had added selfie sticks to their collection of wares. And even into the evening hours, grocery stores and boutiques still had their doors open for business.

As a tourist, any deeper changes were opaque to me and it was the little things that counted. Early on Monday morning, I went in search of a pastry to savor before the flight home. The street cleaners were out with their tiny vehicles and green plastic brooms. City workers were taking down the market stalls along the Boulevard Edgar Quinet. I still didn't have correct change for madame at the boulangerie but that was her problem, not mine. As the airport bus headed out of town, I drank in the street scenes and just as we pulled out of Place de la Nation towards the Périphérique, I took one last glance back and saw the Eiffel Tower peeking out from low hanging clouds.

Years ago, a friend, whose career had included assignments in far flung corners of Africa and Asia, described coming back to the U.S. like putting on a favorite pair of old jeans.  The metaphor resonated upon our return in 2011 when we slipped back into the comfortable rhythms of our American life. But last week I realized:  if to me, DC is a pair of well-loved jeans, then Paris is the timeless little black dress hanging in the back of my closet. And it's good to know that even if I don't have a place to wear it every day, every now and then, I can take it off the hanger, zip it up, and it still fits perfectly.  And that is always a good idea.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Encore Une Fois

I love the wooosh that my iPhone makes when I send an email.  But the wooosh of a week gone by in Paris, not so much.  Anticipated for months and all of a sudden it's over and I'm back to the routines of my DC life.

Paris at Thanksgiving seemed like a great idea - a week with school holidays so my kids wouldn't fall too far behind, but more importantly, a week when the people who meant so much to our Paris experience, and whom we missed during our last trip at Christmas 2012, would be around.

And as it turned out, Paris at Thanksgiving gave us a few days of blue skies, others gray but dry, temperatures in the 50s and the right mix of sightseeing and hanging out with friends.  Inspired in part by my 15 year old daughter's plan to spend the week walking and eating, I logged 123,262 steps on my Fitbit wandering the streets.  It was a rush of the familiar -- rattan café chairs lining the sidewalks, the sound of klaxons, the taciturn cashiers in Monoprix demanding exact change, the tangy taste of Poilâne's small rye loaf studded with raisins -- and sights I'd almost forgotten:  men in their scarves, adults on scooters, women whose hair was dyed an unnatural shade of red, the fact that a 5 centime piece is bigger than a 10.  I loved just letting it all wash over me:  the din of the dinner service at busy Crêperie Josselin in Montparnasse with its crispy galettes laden with cheese, butter, eggs, and ham, the crush of the outdoor market on a Sunday morning with lines forming for the best vegetables, cheeses, and meats, the yeasty smell of the neighborhood boulangerie and the trilled "Bonjour madame" from the lady behind the counter.

And there was plenty new to savor as well.  The delightful Jardin des Rosiers-Joseph Migneret off a passageway from the rue des Rosiers in the Marais, the perfect spot to savor the 6 euro lunch from L'As du Fallafel.  Frank Gehry's Fondation LV, galleries still almost empty but the building seemingly ready to set sail in the Bois de Boulogne.  Steak frites at Le Severo in the 14th.  The treasure trove of work (albeit poorly organized) at the Musée Picasso which had been shuttered throughout the four years we lived in Paris.  Walking along Les berges de Seine on a Sunday afternoon where we encountered an exuberant group doing Zumba.  Splurging on a special dinner for two with wine pairings at Verjus.

Then there were the visits with friends -- coffee perched on an antique chair in the salon of an elderly lady in the 17th, a tour of an apartment under renovation in the 6th where my friend's parents, grandparents, and great grandparents had all lived, and a day spent marketing, cooking, and catching up  with a group of women with whom I'd spent so many days exploring Paris.  They seemed delighted with the canned pumpkin, cranberries, and chipotle peppers I had packed as gifts,  And to be honest, I didn't miss the turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes one bit.

On our last night in Paris, after dinner at a friend's apartment in the 8th, we made our way back on Metro line 6 to the apartment we had rented in the 15th.  At midnight, as the train passed over the Seine on the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, the Eiffel Tower lit up and twinkled at us.  It was pure magic.


A thousand thanks to the folks at Haven in Paris for providing such a fabulous base for our visit.  I wasn't sure that we could afford a HiP property but the off-season discount made our two bedroom, two bath flat a steal.  Well located, clean, and comfortable.  I couldn't have asked for more.

I'll close with something I've always wanted to do  -- share a snippet of the sounds that mean Paris to me.  So take a listen.  Beneath the accordion, you can hear passengers conversing, the subway car doors opening and closing, the rush of the train on the tracks.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

18 Months Later......

The United flight from Washington, DC to Paris arrives at 6:30 in the morning, a time at which, in late December, Paris skies are still pitch black and the only cafe customers are men taking their little cups of coffee at the counter.  By nine, the key to our friend's apartment retrieved, codes entered and small elevators crammed with suitcases, teeth brushed and faces washed, the desire to take a good long nap put on hold, we made it to Trocadero to see a blinding sun peeking out from behind the Eiffel Tower.  Ah Paris.

Being back in Paris as visitors was every bit as magical as I had hoped for in the long months since I paid big bucks for plane tickets for our family of four.  Even though many of our friends were off on their own holidays, Paris showed us her best face with relatively mild temperatures and relatively little rain that allowed me to walk the quartiers almost to my heart's content, replaying favorite memories and revisiting favorite haunts.  It was a greatest hits tour of Paris, a Paris where the sometimes frustrating rhythms and routines faced by residents were all but nonexistent.

There was one quick visit to the Orsay, newly renovated since our departure in 2011, a spin through Victor Hugo's apartment in the Place des Vosges to gear up for seeing the new Les Miserables film, and a morning at normally closed Musée des Arts Forains with Mary Kay of Out and About in Paris.  But mostly, I was in the mode of absorbing the sights, sounds, and smells of Paris -- the click made by a big wooden street door once the proper code is entered, the delicious odor of baking bread and roasting chickens, the white and black of limestone and wrought iron silhouetted against blue skies.  We had lovely meals at L'Entredgeu in the 17th and Abri in the 10th, ate more than our fill of fresh baguettes with salted butter, and went through carnets of Metro tickets like Kleenex.   There was delightful banter with a salesman at the Marché Saint-Pierre, Lebanese crepes at the Wilson Market, rides along the Seine on the 63 bus, and the musical sound of French being spoken ringing in our ears.

In the end, I'd say that Thomas Wolfe got it completely wrong.  You can go home again, as we did 18 months ago to the land of 24 hour drug stores, fresh bagels and hot salsa, lawns to be mowed and careers to be jumpstarted.  And to Paris too, our second home forever more, the only question being --how soon until we can go back?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Au Revoir

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By the time many of you see this video, we will be on a plane, winging our way back across the Atlantic to our home in Washington, DC.  While I'm sad that our Parisian adventure is over and cannot watch this video without welling up, my heart is filled with joy from the amazing experiences we've had and the many wonderful friends we've made.

In writing this blog, I've been purposefully oblique about many details of my family life.  The video finally reveals some of these, including photos of our neighborhood, my children, my husband, and yes, even one of me.   As for the song choice, it's not a bit Parisian but the words seemed to capture what I most want to say to those with whom I spent time here and to Paris herself.

I remain undecided as to whether I will continue to blog back in DC.  But if I do, I'll post here to let you know where to find me.  In any case, my thanks to everyone who has followed along with our adventure.  It was my pleasure to write about the experience of being an American in Paris and I'm honored that so many of you seemed to enjoy it just as much.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Of Rats and Men

We're coming down to the wire here and I realize that there's not time to write about my visit to the royal palace at Compiegne, Anish Kapoor's Leviathan installation at the Grand Palais which I visited twice, dinner at Spring (after they cancelled our lunch reservation....grrrr), and half a dozen other things that I never got around to saying much about.  So it goes.

But I could not leave Paris without taking the time to pass by the shop of Julien Aurouze on rue des Halles where it runs into rue de Rivoli.  I can't remember where I first read about Aurouze but I was reminded of this firm, which has been in the business of exterminating rats and other vermin since 1872, when reading David D. Downie's book Paris, Paris.  It actually had a cameo appearance in the movie Ratatouille in a memorable scene in which the main character Remy is taken by his father to the shop (where dead rat trophies hang in the window)  to illustrate the point that humans can't be trusted.  And yes, there really are dead rats, captured and stuffed around 1925, hanging in the window.

Even though I've never actually seen a rat in Paris, I looked at that window and thought, "Done.  My Parisian experience is complete."  The funny thing is though that of all the things I've since read about Aurouze's shop, no one ever mentions the fact that the business next door is a boulangerie.  Yummy.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

What My Husband Will Miss about Paris

For one thing, the view right outside the front door of his office building.  There's nothing quite like that in Arlington, Virginia.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ten Things My Kids Say They Will Miss About Paris

I've asked my kids many times to reflect on their experiences and it's a little bit like pulling teeth. And now that school is out, while they're happy to read for pleasure, writing is not high on their list of priorities. I'm sure one day they'll look back on this experience and be amazed by their good fortune.  Perhaps, they'll even be moved to write about it.  But for the moment, when asked what they'll most miss about Paris, the best I could do is this.

  1. Bread, bread, bread
  2. The métro
  3. Watching the searchlight of the Eiffel Tower reflected in the courtyard outside my bedroom window when I'm falling asleep
  4. Going to movies on the Champs-Élysées
  5. Salted butter and speculoos spread
  6. Being able to walk everywhere
  7. Shopping on rue de Passy
  8. Pastries
  9. Going out to eat at L'Entrecôte
  10. My friends
Rough life, huh?

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