My brother asked me what I’d done with all the people in Paris; I’ve been intentionally leaving them out of as many photos as I can. But I couldn’t help but snap this photo the other night: just a quiet evening in Place Dauphine. The man in the trench coat was riding his bicycle and stopped to greet his friends, who convinced him to stay and have a drink. I love the lady in the window right above the awning, giving me a dirty look.
Earlier this week, I met my friend Ted from French class for lunch at Place Dauphine. He’s in town on a trip organized by the school and we took the opportunity to meet and gossip about our French class (kidding). They were filming an elaborate commercial of some sort at Le Bar du Caveau, which we got to watch from across the courtyard while we ate. I’ve been to Place Dauphine three times now (stopping by accidentally for visit #3 yesterday with Annie) but haven’t yet eaten there. Fourth time’s a charm, no?
There’s a quote by the author Richard Holmes that I read in “Paris Was Ours,” an anthology of essays by expat creatives who move to Paris that Jamal got me for Christmas one year, that made me laugh when I first saw it:
Writers of course are always slightly ashamed at not being at their desks, especially in Paris, where they might be out – having a good time, mon dieu.
But now, having been here almost three weeks (THREE. YOU GUYS.) I can safely say it’s one of the most accurate things I’ve ever read. I’m always ashamed when I’m not at my desk or scribbling away in my notebook. Stopping for tea at Ladurée? GUILT. Browsing a store on Boulevard Haussmann? GUILT. Staring at the Eiffel Tower for half an hour? OH, THE SHAME.
So to combat this feeling, I’ve been going on what I like to call “book research walks.” A fancy way of justifying all the flâneur-ing I’m doing is to visit sites important to my novel, that way I can hardly be called out for not being productive. It’s book research! I’m gathering ideas. Why, I had to go to Saint-Germain (and visit City Pharma, the two story discount pharmacy mecca of French beauty products, ahem) at 8:30am! That’s where the gallery my characters work is located, bien sûr! The upside to this is that there was virtually no one else out that early, given that the area in Saint-Germain around Rue de Seine and Rue Bonaparte are where a large collection of art galleries and supply shops are, and they don’t open until later in the morning. I like having streets (or what feels like full neighborhoods) all to myself.
Other Paris Details of Note: I finally got to hang out and eat the most amazing carrot cake with Süsk & Banoo, and I can assure you, they are out-of-this-world delightful company to be around. So funny, so nice, so cool. To be honest I was a bit star-struck upon meeting them, and I’m sure I geeked out more than a few times. And speaking of blog friends, Annie is coming to visit today and staying for a few days. Oh, blogging. You wonderful friendship builder.
I bought a Louvre membership my first week here, knowing it would pay for itself after three visits. The €35 I spent was the best investment I could have made: amazing trove of art aside, I get to skip the outrageously long line that snakes throughout the main courtyard by the pyramid in favor of a separately sectioned-off line, without a metal detector, and with a separate door. Passing through each ticket check-point is as simple as flashing them my membership card (I’d show you, but the picture they printed on it is totally dopey; she never told me when she took my photo, so I sat there smiling for a good two minutes. The results are less than spectacular). The dirty looks this garnered me from exhausted tourists stuck in yet another queue were worth the price alone; I’m important! I’m efficient! Out of my way, frustratingly ever-present Asian tour groups!
Unlike a lot of other things in Paris, the Louvre is one destination I would recommend not visiting first thing in the morning. Wait until the afternoon, and you’ll have a much more enjoyable time. On my first visit, I skipped the Denon wing where the Mona Lisa is housed and the insane crowds that go along with it. Instead, I headed to the Sully wing (Peintures Françaises, XVII-XIXeme siecles) in the other direction, where I had full galleries to myself. On my second trip, I caved and went to see La Joconde in all her tiny glory. I also saw a tourist take a photo of a direction sign for the Mona Lisa, as well as another tourist take a photo of a Mona Lisa poster in the gift shop. (Nothing, however, beats the time I saw someone on the Champs-Élysées taking a photo of a McDonald’s sign. Tourists! We are the worst!)
The sheer size of the museum is impossible to explain; I could go every single day I’m here and still not see everything. For now, I’ll settle for going once a week.
I seem to end up in the Jardin des Tuileries a lot. I’ve been there, accidentally and intentionally, probably more than any other spot in the city in the two weeks I’ve been here (TWO WEEKS. WHAT. STOP). It’s expansive and yet, like I’m learning about so many other parts of this amazing city, completely isolated and quiet in parts despite being a major tourist hotspot–it leads directly to the Louvre on one end and the Champs-Élysées on the other. Maybe it’s its size (overwhelming) or that everyone seems in a rush to get somewhere else by walking through it, but I’ve found the most wonderful, tucked away corners to sit and just be. I also think I stumbled upon two teenagers having sex against a tree yesterday in one back section, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.
I know one of my rules was to keep the tears to a minimum, and I really have been! Aside from crying going into my 36th hour without luggage when I got here, the only other time I’ve welled up was for a completely different, opposite reason. Remember this photo of my daddy in the Tuileries? On one of my morning walks last week, I happened to enter the gardens in the middle, and ended up smack-dab in the exact spot he must have been standing when that picture was taken. I stood there, and without even realizing, started crying. Happy, delighted, bittersweet tears. I had a –and I hate what a cop-out this word is, but– moment that is hard for me to explain. Not because I couldn’t dig to find the words, but because I think moments like that are just hard to put into words at all.
Thankfully, it was pretty chilly and windy that morning, so I could pretend my eyes were just watering, not that I was having a happy-cry in the middle of a public garden like a gauche Américaine.
Other Paris Details of Note: I broke 55k words today. While 10k in two weeks is the most I’ve ever written, it’s less progress than I somehow expected to make here. I’m being hard on myself, I know. I’m still treating myself to some celebratory macarons today, fear not.
The light in this city is unlike anywhere else in the world. I left happy hour with Christine and some new friends one night last week to walk to the bus stop (right next to the Arc de Triomphe, it’s a miracle I didn’t miss my bus for all the gawking I was doing). It was nearing 8:45pm, and the sky was burning gold. In the ten minutes I waited for the bus, the light shifted to all these beautiful shades of red and purple and dark blue. I wish I could have captured it better, but I was too in awe to take as many photos as I should have. And that’s okay, right? I’m allowed to be present (it’s one of my rules!) and enjoy the moment out from behind my camera.
Other Paris Details of Note: I’ve discovered the neatest thing: the demi-baguette. Which is exactly what it sounds like: a half a baguette. I was buying a full size baguette almost daily and, though I am deeply ashamed to admit it, rarely finishing the whole thing, even if I had the remaining portion for breakfast with Bonne Maman jam. But! A half-size baguette? A baguette they literally cut in half and give to you for 48¢?? The perfect size! This has radically changed my life, and I mean that in the sincerest way possible.
Behold my restraint: I didn’t go to Ladurée until last week, after I’d been here for four whole days! Like everything else in this city, get there early. I walked by the Rue Royale store one afternoon around 4pm and the line was down the block.
Behold my lack of restraint: I also went yesterday morning to the Rue Bonaparte store in Saint-Germain. And both times, I ate the whole box (only eight macarons) in one sitting. Non, je ne regrette rien!
There are multiple locations throughout the city, some with attached tea salons where you can sit and have a petit goûter. That’s been on my to-do list; I hear their French toast is amazing (side note: do they call it French toast in France? Or is it just toast?). I’m a creature of habit with my macarons, though on a whim I tried the Marie-Antoinette flavor (the teal and tan colored one in the box) and, well, it was love at first bite. It tastes like earl gray tea.
Jamal beat me to this when he was in Paris last fall, but I had to go and check out the rooftop of the Galeries Lafayette for myself. The weather was unbelievable early last week, and I knew a panoramic view of the city would be magical with a clear blue sky. Pro tip: go early in the morning to avoid feeling like a sardine. The Galeries Lafayette open at 9:30, I got there at 10, and was able to walk around and browse (they have every luxury brand you could think of spread across eight floors) without keeping my arms pinned to my sides. I made the mistake of stopping in on Saturday afternoon and it was madness, I couldn’t even get on the escalator for the crowds. The view from that roof terrace is worth it at any time of day, though.
This Radiohead song was playing outside of the entrance both times I walked by, and it’s been on constant repeat in my apartment ever since. It’s going to be one of those songs that I can listen to years from now and immediately be transported back to Boulevard Haussmann, caught in the throngs of shoppers:
Other Paris Details of Note: I am more social here than I am back home, accepting offers of happy hours and shopping trips and dinner at a fancy sushi restaurant. All of the walking around I’ve been doing (averaging 6km/3.5m per day) has seriously taken its toll: I had to break down and buy sneakers because my feet were killing me, and guess what? Parisians really do wear sneakers, I’ve seen it (though they did judge me for my casual footwear when I stopped into Hermès this morning).
I needed tea for my apartment, so I walked over to the 17eme down Boulevard de Courcelles to Mariage Frères. I bought a box of Rouge Métis, a red fruit roobios, and my standard, Paris Breakfast. I love the neighborhood around parc Monceau, all luxe Haussmann buildings at their best and wide, leafy avenues. When I was undertaking the apartment search, this neighborhood, Ternes, was the first I checked, though I quickly realized it was well out of my price range. No surprise there, considering I stopped for lunch at Le Diplomat on the way home (mostly to use their wifi) and paid €11,50 for a croque madame. To be fair it was delicious, but mon dieu, the same sandwich costs half the price elsewhere.
Other Paris Details of Note: It stays light until 9:30pm, nutella crepes really are worth the calories, and everyone seems to be in love, or at the very least content to make out in public.
On my first Sunday here, my fourth day in Paris, I finally decided to go and visit my favorite Iron Lady. I had been here long enough without giving her a proper “Bonjour,” save for a quick glance as I walked through Saint Germain my second day. The crazy thing about this city is how you can get lost in a crowd of tourists around the major landmarks, but then walk one block away and have an entire street to yourself. A few streets away from the Eiffel Tower, and I was the only person around; you couldn’t even hear the cacophony of the crowds. It is impossible to take a bad photograph of La Tour, I swear.
Other Paris Details of Note: I have officially been here one week already. One week! And lest you think I’ve spent this last week only eating croissants and macarons and visiting iconic landmarks in Paris (ahem), I’ll have you know that as of today, I’ve also written close to 4 thousand words of my novel. I broke 50k today.
I love my neighborhood. We stayed in Montmartre on the last trip, too, and it feels really “mine” this time. Remember Villa Leandre? It did not disappoint in person, though I had to awkwardly wait on the corner for a Russian tour group to take their photos before I had it all to myself. Patience! I forgot how much patience goes into shooting. And how much covert lurking is needed to not look too tourist-y. I’m really good at lurking.
My landlord told me a brief history of the neighborhood on my first day here: When the Prussians invaded the city in 1870, they massacred the family that owned the moulins (the windmills) in Montmartre, and pinned their body parts to the fans, staining them red with blood. Years later when the first cabarets were opening, Montmartre, not being within the Paris city limits at the time, was able to open several bars and use wine from their own vineyards without paying the alcohol tax to the city. They needed a name that would draw attention, and thus the Moulin Rouge was born. Kind of macabre when you know the story behind how it got its name. I can see the famous red windmill from my terrace.
Other Paris Details of Note: I have a croissant every morning, I’ve already been to Ladurée, and the weather has been so beautiful I could cry. Why didn’t I do this sooner?