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Bonjour! I’m Erin.
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Monthly Archives: August 2014
“What are you going to read now?”
“Something with words,” Mirette said, smiling.
“Can you imagine if that’s how discerning I was in selecting art? ‘Something with paint.’ Though to be honest I think that’s how some galleries are doing it these days,” Sylvie said, sipping at her coffee. Her lipstick left a red semi-circle on the outside of the cup. “Why are you walking all that way? There are bookshops on this side of the river. Christ, there’s one next door.”
There was, it was true, no shortage of bookstores of varying sizes and inventories closer than crossing a bridge, into a different neighborhood[…]The bookshop a few doors away was painted a brilliant shade of blue, narrow inside, with books stacked to the ceiling in teetering, uneven stacks, with no immediately identifiable system of organization. The owner was a sweet older man who wore big sweaters and kept the door open year round (there seemed to be a cause and effect at play there), and had a sleeping cat in the window –it might have been taxidermied, Mirette thought one day; she’d never seen it move. Tiny bookstores and the challenges they presented –if she happened to be searching for a specific title and not just browsing for the sake of it, content to soak up the dusty, old book smell and the hushed, contemplative quiet that was inevitably shoved into the back corners of each small shop– were one of her greatest joys. Like museums, bookstores were reverential, a place of endless promise and potential, only they had the added benefit of rarely being crowded with tourists wielding giant cameras. She also appreciated that in bookstores, touching wasn’t against the rules. There were no shin-height barriers keeping you away from the books, no guards finger-wagging at you when you leaned too close; you were encouraged to pick up, to touch, to flip through (to sniff, even, as Mirette loved to do in the used bookstores. The smoky paper smell was almost too heady for her to take in without feeling dizzy and nostalgic for every place that particular volume had traveled, how many bedside tables it had rested on, how many shelves). It was a deliciously tactile and sensory event for her, going to bookstores, and she knew how strange that must make her seem.
I’m writing a novel. You can read more about that here.
Many of the buildings in Paris are built around an open-air interior courtyard, so the doors lead out to a small garden rather than a foyer with a stairwell or elevator to the apartments above. The Haussmann reconstruction deliberately designed these little courtyards for better air circulation; previously, the buildings were tiny tenements without plumbing or proper ventilation. Nowadays, one or both of the front doors is left open if there is a gallery or store on the ground floor inside, inviting anyone to come in. True, these courtyards aren’t entirely “private” in those cases. The open ones made me a bit too comfortable with the idea of exploring these little spaces and caused me to wander past doors that were left open by the concierge (caretaker) of a residential building or two, into a courtyard that wasn’t meant to be wandered into. L’oops. I just had to know what goes on in there! Behind every door was an opportunity for wonder: were there plants? Cobblestones? Laundry strung up on lines? I never got caught (I am very, very sneaky) which only served to reinforce my curiosity. There is something fantastic and strange about seeing a beautiful staircase outside, snaking up to apartments inside. I drew the line at going inside; even I have limits, and I didn’t want to get arrested. Something tells me there aren’t macarons in French prisons.
Some wedding talk: Today I am going back to the seamstress for my third dressing fitting. My second fitting was Monday afternoon and, well…there were tears. Panic. Frantic searching for a backup dress all week. I love my wedding dress, I’ve loved it since the moment I saw it. But since it was a final sale item, I ordered almost two sizes bigger than I wear so they had enough to work with, figuring they can always take fabric away, they can’t add fabric to it, right? Unfortunately, despite extensive alterations, it just doesn’t lay right at the top and I don’t know what else the seamstress is going to be able to do. We’re going to try taking the shoulders up and stitching the v-neck closed; if I put my shoulders down or relax for even a second, the front buckles open and voila! You can see my bra. I might be an anti-bride, but I still have my modesty. Wish me luck! I don’t have a ton of options with three weeks to go, so it’s either this dress or sweatpants!
Let’s look at some photos of Paris to distract me from my anxiety, shall we?
I wasn’t kidding when I said they are everywhere. This one in particular seems like it’s straight out of a fairytale.
I was worried going into the trip about my apartment not having air conditioning (like most, if not all, Parisian apartments). But with the windows open, it was cool and breezy the entire time, except for a few days near the end of June, when I would wake up baking like a burrito in the bright morning sunlight that fell precisely over the bed. I still wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Because really, if the metros didn’t have enough charm on their own (okay, okay, not the actual underground portion itself, which regularly smells like urine and has camps of homeless people living in them) why not add a giant flower stall to the entrance. This neighborhood is a favorite of mine; down the street is Mariage Frères in one direction, the Arc de Triomphe in another, and it’s where we stayed the first time we came to the city together.
I never figured out if these were indicative of a larger street-art campaign or what, but I noticed these splatters frequently throughout the 6eme. Saint-Germain is where a majority of the art galleries are in Paris, so if this was perhaps the work of a quirky graffiti artist, at least it was well placed.
So iconic, it never gets old.
According to my camera, the timestamps on the first photo from Monday’s post and the first photo in this post are only 27 minutes apart. 27 minutes! I’ve seen stormy weather move in quickly, the skies darkening as if someone shut off a light, but before this day I’d never seen it in reverse. It was almost bizarre to witness. I don’t know if it was the juxtaposition of blue skies pushing out the gray, or whether the sky really was so vibrant, but I’d experienced my fair share of beautiful weather in Paris in those eight weeks and those 27 minutes put all other days to shame. Maybe it was because it was my last day and I was feeling extra sensitive and sensory, and this is just an average sunny day. Who knows. I’ll forever be grateful to whatever meteorological forces were at play that Sunday morning.
Actually, Paris is most beautiful in the rain.
This is what my last day in Paris looked like. The morning started off gray and rainy, as I made my way down to the Champs de Mars to say goodbye to my girlfriend. Parisians are insouciant when it comes to the rain; I’d say only half of them carry umbrellas (always black), the others turn their collars up and continue about their day. Some wear hats, or if it is a truly heavy downpour, they’ll take refuge under a shop awning until it passes. It always passes. It’s just a little rain, after all. And if meteorological events elsewhere had the added effect of making everything look even more beautiful and charming, I dare say a lot more people would stop griping every time it drizzles.
The most magical thing happened on that particular Sunday morning though: within minutes –literally, minutes– of arriving at the Tower, the sky changed to the most radiant and blinding blue I’d ever seen. Big, fluffy white clouds rolled in, and the sun reappeared. It was almost as if the weather gods knew it was my last full day there and wanted to make it special. It was disarming. I’ll share pictures on Wednesday so you can see, but here is an Instagram I snapped no more than fifteen minutes after the above photos.
I bid a teary farewell to my sweet Iron lady, and walked to Rue des Ecoles to meet Süsk & Banoo for a date at Breakfast in America, an American owned and operated diner with two locations in Paris. There are posters for “Friends” and “Goodfellas” on the wall, free refills on coffee, and, most importantly, breakfast is served all day. The owner has my dream job! We then walked the entire city, ending with a tour of Montmartre and a coffee at our favorite Marcel, before they headed back to their beautiful apartment near Ternes, and I finished some last minute packing. I flew out the next morning.
It was a bizarre and backwards feeling, that last night in my apartment, and I think I’m still sorting through my emotions about the trip as a whole. I love Paris in the rain and the sun, and getting to have both on my last day (and pancakes!) was so special. It was a satisfying, if bittersweet, send-off.
Even though the food was lackluster and overpriced, the atmosphere really is adorable.
Macarons, you say? Oui! Bien sûr! (No, but seriously. Please?)
Face forward, and you can see the Eiffel Tower and the Place de la Concorde. Turn around, and you’re looking straight at the Louvre. This might be the best seat in all of Paris (except, perhaps, for a table at Le Jules Verne, the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower).
Signs of Montmartre’s age are apparent in little ways all around the neighborhood; the little village has more cottages and typical artist lofts than the classical Haussmann buildings found elsewhere in Paris, and that’s just one of the many, many reasons I love the 18eme.
Proof that Paris isn’t as empty as I like to make it seem. People! I wrote a quick, short little piece based on this photograph, about a woman meeting her husband for lunch, just as an exercise to keep my brain in shape. Here is the opening:
“I read somewhere once that the Native Americans, standing there at Plymouth Rock hundreds of years ago, might not have actually seen the Pilgrim’s boats approaching on the water, so strange and overwhelming must the sight have been for them. Some historian argued that the concept of a ship was so foreign and inconceivable to their primitive way of life that they likely only saw water and the uninterrupted horizon, that their brains couldn’t process the big, floating, wooden structures, and instead saw through them as if they weren’t there at all, until the Pilgrims marched onto the shore and interrupted everything about their life to that point.
That’s what this affair has felt like. I didn’t see it approaching until it was right at my feet, and by then it was too late. A surprise massacre I should have seen coming but didn’t know what to look for.
I’m thinking about this as I’m waiting for him. I’d picked this spot because it was halfway between our two offices, but also because of the crowd; it would be impossible, for either of us, to cause a scene if we couldn’t move our elbows without bumping someone’s bread basket off their table.”
I wasn’t kidding when I said I have countless photographs from Paris that I hadn’t shared with you yet. Nor was I being facetious when I made mention previously that flowers are an integral part of every day life in Paris. They are everywhere; there is a fleuriste on every corner, bouquets in shop windows, in people’s arms on the metro, wrapped in brown paper, and –most happily– on the mantle in my Paris apartment. My Saturday tradition to bring home a fresh bunch of peonies (and stop for breakfast at my favorite café) was one of the highlights of my time there. Any culture that makes a conscious effort to add flowers to the day-to-day simply because they’re pretty? Well, that’s something I can get behind.
I’m back to relying on my $4 bouquets from Trader Joe’s, and while I love how they brighten up my home, and that they are just a fraction of what I was spending at Monceau Fleurs or Cler Fleurs (€20 a pop!), there is something decidedly lacking in the experience now. Break out the tiny violins!
Table for one, s’il vous plaît.
Of all the endless charms Paris has on display on every unassuming corner, the omnipresent rattan bistro chairs might be my favorite. They come in a variety of colors, will leave a waffle-weave imprint on the backs of your thighs in the warmer months, and creak just so when you sit in them. They are as iconically Parisian as La Tour itself, but unlike the monument, no one rushes you out of your seat at the café. You’re almost always guaranteed to find an outdoor seat, due in no small part to the sheer number of brasseries that dot the city. And don’t be put off by les fumeurs puffing away like chimneys; I hate smelling like cigarette smoke, but never once noticed it lingering on my clothes or hair while I was there. Either French cigarettes aren’t pumped up with as many harsh additives as they are here, or I was so in love with Paris I went nose-blind.
But anyway, chairs! Or les chaises, en Français.
I made mention in this post about the ways in which my dad, unsurprisingly, showed up around Paris while I was there. His love of the city (and all things French) was something we had very much in common –along with turtlenecks, neutral colored clothing, quiet time, and stinky cheese. Finding photos from his trip in the 90s was one of the greatest joys of my life to date; reliving the city through his eyes was the next best thing to getting to go there with him one day, something that we never got to share and will forever break my heart.
I forget where I first came across illustrator Tom Gauld, but I do remember being instantly charmed by his adorably witty and topical (to me) work. His cartoons appear weekly in The Guardian, but it’s his spot-on drawings of problems faced by writers and book-lovers that really get me. “Pauses, Tea Breaks and Naps” and “Advanced Workspace Rearrangement” are two classes I am sadly well-qualified to teach.
I haven’t written anything in the month that I’ve been back from Paris. I just haven’t had the time, which I’ve learned means I haven’t cared enough to make the time, which makes me sad. What are your best “get back on that horse” words of wisdom, kiddos?