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Bonjour! I’m Erin.
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Monthly Archives: July 2014
Here’s a fun fact about me: my license expired in December and I haven’t gotten it renewed. Now, before you think I’m breaking any laws, I cannot tell you the last time I was behind the wheel. Maybe three years ago? Four? As a perpetual city-dweller, I’ve never owned –nor felt a need for– a car. In fact, I was 20 when I finally cracked and got my license; I paid for driving lessons and went through a red light on my first one, prompting the instructor to say, “Um, okay, that was a red light. We stop at those.” I can’t drive fast, I keep my hands in the 10-and-2 position, and I get the sweats at the thought of merging. But parallel parking? I am an excellent parallel parker. At least, I was three years ago.
I’ve relied on my two legs and public transit for the majority of my life, and have never seen the appeal of paying a car payment, insurance, gas, parking, or any of the other costs that come with it. Sports cars do nothing for me. I honestly hadn’t given any thought to anything remotely vehicular since I was six, and my parents got me a bright red Ferrari for my Barbies.
And then I went to Paris. Where, while everyone relies on the metro or the buses, Parisians who have cars choose to have tiny, adorable cars. Vintage mini coopers; old, small Fiats; shiny, teensy Smart cars. No giant SUVs here, or oversized sedans people trade in every three years, no sir. Just wonderful, and wonderfully photogenic, little rides that startled me every time I saw someone emerge from one. For one of these pint-sized sets of wheels, I would happily abandon my permanent pedestrian status.
I know Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald have already sung the praises of this particular season, but there really is something to be said about Paris in the spring time. Everything is lush and green, and it’s as if the city is taking cues from the opening pages of Ludwig Bemelmans’ “Madeline”; buildings and archways are covered in vines. The last two photos are from a contender for my Favorite Street in Paris, Rue de Seine, just across from the Square Gabriel Pierné, a small park with a fountain and benches shaped like open books. I sat there one afternoon for a few hours, reading Colette and eating macarons from the Ladurée around the corner on Rue Bonaparte, and even though it was drizzling on and off, it was hands-down one of those moments that makes my Top Ten list. Though now that I say that, I’m pretty sure the other nine moments would all be memories from Paris, too.
Five Paris photos to wrap up this week:
I didn’t have the confidence to tackle the Velib bike-sharing program while I was there –my last two experiences on a bicycle ended in paralyzing muscle pain and sunburn, and giving my father two broken ribs on Father’s Day twenty years ago– but while I might have been trepidatious, Parisians certainly aren’t.
My dad always carried this exact set! I walked by the window of this famous art supply store on the Quai Voltaire and stopped in my tracks. My dad had a way of popping up throughout my time there in subtle, sweet ways.
You can’t take photographs inside the Impressionist wing at the Musée d’Orsay, but the balcony on that floor affords some striking opportunities. I could almost see my apartment!
Annie said these gardens reminded her of “Alice in Wonderland” and I can absolutely see why. “We’re painting the roses red!”
Jamal and I left La Bascule one evening while he was visiting and were both struck silent upon seeing how the sunset was blanketing the neighborhood. I miss this street, and Montmartre, and Paris, so much.
I’m telling you, the best investment I made during my time in Paris was a membership to the Louvre. I made sure to visit the Musée Rodin frequently, as well, but the Louvre is unlike any other museum in the world, and I had free access to it whenever I wanted. I might even feel a bit smug about how familiar I became with the mammoth layout and the art; most people visiting Paris spend only a few hours here at most, running to the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo and Winged Victory, now that she’s back in her rightful spot. I don’t begrudge a quick visit –it’s still a visit, and it warms my heart that people are going to museums at all– but it’s a shame that more tourists don’t have excessive amounts of time to devote to wandering the museum without a schedule. There are some real gems to be found in wings hardly anyone visits, and even the architecture of the building itself is worth exploring and appreciating. At sunset, the light bounces off the domed marble rooms in magnificent, blinding ways. Being able to watch (lurk) on someone sketching in an empty stairwell was, simply, magical.
My membership card has an expiration date of May 6, 2015, which means I have nine months to get back to Paris and use it. Don’t worry, I have some tricks up my sleeve. Unrelated question: do I know anyone with a private jet? Asking for a friend.
I have a thing for Parisian doors. Some are solid wood, one story tall and painted vibrant colors, and others are smaller and have glass panes protected by intricate iron designs. I kept my eyes peeled on all my daily walks, becoming fascinated by the level of detail given to something as pedestrian as a door. It all goes back to the grand architectural efforts under Haussmann; every building needed a door, but they didn’t just slap any old door on there. Thought and care went into every detail, and there was a real desire to make things beautiful, not just useful.
Today marks three weeks since I’ve been back. Oh the tears of unbearable sadness!
I love French pharmacies. There is a pharmacy on virtually every street in Paris, identifiable by the ubiquitous neon green crosses that flash the temperature and time. The pharmacists are not just high school kids working a register; French pharmacists are trained and knowledgable, and you can find beauty brands like Darphin, Nuxe, Caudalie, L’Occitane, Roger & Gallet, Bioderma, and all the other French names you’ve heard celebrities and bloggers rave about for years.
I went to pharmacies frequently in Paris. Some days, my main activity was walking down to Saint-Germain to City Pharma, the discount, two-story pharmacy on Rue de Four. Bury my ashes at City Pharma, oui? There may be a pharmacy on every corner in Paris, but if you’re looking to pay €3, €5, or even €10 less per item, it’s worth the trek to this particular store. Don’t be alarmed if you can barely fit in the aisles and don’t be put off by the insane line. There’s also a pharmacy on Rue de la Chaussée d’Antin, right next to Galeries Lafayette, where the prices were equally as competitive.
I want to preface this by saying all of these products are grossly more expensive in the states than they are in France. By almost double, in some cases. Cheaper than a flight to Paris, but less fun. Süsk, I might be taking you up on your offer for a refill shipment at some point!
Herewith, my five favorite picks… Continue reading
Just because. Because yesterday a coworker asked me how it was being back, and without thinking I heard myself say, “I miss Paris like hell.” Because I guess I hadn’t realized it until I said it, but now it’s all I can think about. Because I don’t care how many times you see La Tour Eiffel, it never ceases to make me want to burst into tears. It’s so beautiful and overwhelming. It’s hard to fathom that, when it was first constructed, there were complaints from neighbors that it was an eyesore and concerns it would fall on their houses, and the solution was to make the Tower a temporary structure, set to be demolished 10 years later. Can you even imagine? This book was a great read, if you’re interested in Gustav’s iron namesake and the 1889 World’s Fair.
It’s been pouring and storming here this week, and it has to be the tortured writer inside of me that is pining for the rainstorms in Paris, when I could leave the windows open and the skies were so gray they almost looked solid. Moody skies or blue, Paris is always perfect.
I’ve read a few books on the history of the reconstruction of Paris under Haussmann and Napoleon III, but nothing compares to actually walking the city and admiring all of their handiwork. Sure, Baron Haussmann borrowed more money than would ever be allowed today to finance the entire effort (even borrowing against the city’s future finances), but to see the results of his labor –the wide avenues, the symmetrical, white-stone buildings with wrought-iron railings, the zinc-domed roofs– firsthand, fully justifies the expense. The architecture is staggeringly beautiful. The buildings were designed in response to poor, cramped living conditions, without proper ventilation or plumbing and sewers, so the entire city-planning reconstruction –the major avenues were made as wide as they are so that there was easy access for military troops– met a real need. Almost all of the iconic Haussmann style buildings open into interior courtyards for better airflow, and the six floors of apartments came at different price points, (originally) making them financially feasible for not just the super-wealthy.
But what gets me is that while they had to be functional, the buildings didn’t have to be pretty, but they are. They didn’t have to include the ornate, expensive details, but they did. And you can’t help but crane your neck at every block to take in the gorgeous architecture. Paris got it so right, and in terms of visually stunning cities, I don’t think there is one better in the world. At least not one as cohesive and thoughtful.
(Oh, and in case you were wondering: the Bachelorette party was a total success! There was a platter of IHOP pancakes, a party at one of my bridesmaid’s house, and dancing until 1:30am to New Kids on the Block at a dueling piano bar. No sashes, no blinking phallic necklaces! The real surprise, however, came on Sunday. Remember when I mentioned an “un-brial bridal shower” on Friday? The one I thought would just be my mom, a few aunts and cousins, and my grandmother? Surprise! My maid of honor and my mom were in on it behind my back, planning for months in secret. It was perhaps the most bridal-y of bridal showers, complete with tiered cupcake stands, mimosas, presents I had to open in front of everyone –and I didn’t even register for anything, just to avoid this exact scenario!– and friends who came from near and far. Including Lauren, who made the trek from Virginia! Even friends who were at the Bachelorette on Friday, who all did an amazing job of keeping the real secret from me! Even my grandmother lied to me! I spoke to her last week and when I said I was looking forward to seeing her this weekend, she seemed to have only the vaguest idea what I was talking about. Worried she was getting senile –she is 89, after all–I told my mom someone had better remind her there was a “casual, small lunch” for the family on Sunday. Turns out, my 89 year grandmother was throwing me off the scent.
I might want to be the champion for anti-brides everywhere, but when you give me multi-tiered arrangements of macarons and an afternoon of crêpes with all my favorite people, it’s really hard to be a grump. Photos coming soon!)
If you’re in Philadelphia tonight, be on the lookout for a group of 20something ladies galavanting around town, ostensibly loud and tipsy and definitely well-dressed: it’s my Bachelorette Party this evening! I don’t know any of the details, as my bridesmaids and friends have been frustratingly silent on specifics; I was told to be ready at 6pm, but not where I’m going or what I’m doing or whether or not there will be penis-shaped decorations involved. I’m pretty uninterested in all the usual fanfare that comes with being a bride, but this one of those necessary rites of passage and I know that being surrounded by my best friends for the epitome of a Girl’s Night I’m guaranteed to have a good time. I trust them! Except when they make jokes about wearing matching bedazzled Juicy Couture sweatsuits and buying a game called “Pin the Junk on the Hunk.” I’ve threatened ex-communication if one of them even comes at me with a sash that says “BRIDE 2 BE” on it. Hashtag pray for me.
For my first Friday Five since before I left for Paris, I decided to round-up five miscellaneous happy photographs from the trip that didn’t really fit with any other posts. On y va!
Not that I mind the rain (what’s the quote from “Midnight in Paris?”, she asks as if she doesn’t have the entire movie memorized: “Actually, Paris is most beautiful in the rain.” And it’s SO TRUE) but a rainbow at the end of the storm, and right over my apartment, isn’t half bad, either.
Because we know how much I love birds in Saint-Germain shop windows.
Maybe I’m weird for taking my makeup off one night in May and upon seeing the cotton round immediately running to take a photo instead of, you know, finishing washing my face, but this was really neat looking. And it reminds me that I have to write a post on my favorite French pharmacy products, including the amazing makeup remover that made this moment happen. One dab, and everything comes off.
Because BREAD, that’s why. What I wouldn’t give for some alone time with that pile of baguettes…
I know Père Lachaise cemetery in the 19eme gets the most tourist traffic, being home to Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Édith Piaf, and Frédéric Chopin’s graves, but the Montmartre cemetery has its own charms, too. For a cemetery. It’s eerily quiet in there, despite being bisected by Rue Caulaincourt overhead, and feels like it goes on forever. And there are cats! I spent a long morning walking around and exploring, but this was the only photo I captured. There were a few tombstones with Jewish stars on them, with birth dates in the 1910s and 20s, and deaths in the 70s and 80s. Which means that, as French Jews, they lived through WWII. There was something very powerful about seeing that. There was another, that I meant to write down to look up later but didn’t, where a mother died the same day as her young son in the military in the late 1800s. Suicide from grief? Eerie coincidence? I wish I knew the story there. Next time I visit, I’ll go back and find out.
What are you guys up to this weekend? Saturday we’re participating in our third annual scavenger hunt organized by one of Jamal’s best friends (and groomsman!), and Sunday my mom is throwing me an un-bridal bridal shower. No gifts, no hats made out of bows and ribbons, nada. I did mention I’m anti-bride, right? Have a good one, kiddos!
Overwhelmingly, Parisians are readers. You’re more likely to see someone on the bus reading a paperback than you are thumbing through their phones. (On the metro, it’s a different story, but that makes sense given that it’s underground, and there isn’t Paris outside the bus windows.) It’s usually the same line of paperbacks, too; Folio prints a wide range of titles in simple white covers, and their small size, affordable price, and the fact that they are readily available in all 8000 of the bookshops in Paris, make them a popular choice. But when they aren’t reading books, in parks and bars and boulangeries, Parisians like les journaux. It’s a stark contrast to America, where the newspaper industry has been dying a slow and tormented death for years (let me tell you, majoring in Journalism was pretty bleak near the end). It was refreshing to see a young couple at breakfast, each absorbed in a newspaper, rather than on their phones. A different, better kind of distraction. I didn’t realize the trend immediately, it was only as I was sorting through the thousand+ photographs that I noticed I had a lot of similar shots. And I know this selection makes it seem as though over older Parisians read the newspapers, and that might be true. Next time I’m in Paris (OH WHEN WILL THAT BE? I’ve been home for one week and two days and I am suffering hard from PPD: Post Paris Depression) I plan on doing a series of young people reading paperbacks.
PS. That lady at the bar? Jamal fell in love with her. She must have been, what, 70? And she strolled in to the bar at 6pm on a Saturday, a bouquet of flowers in one hand and her groceries in another, walked right up to the bar and ordered a pint of beer. She stood there, drinking and reading the paper, and she downed her drink faster than he did. I swear I saw Jamal eyeing my engagement ring with some quick mental gymnastics about how best to swipe it off me and propose to her.