Spring was making a slow crawl into the city while we were there. Buds were appearing on trees, but most remained bare, stark and beautiful in their own way. We wandered Saint-Germain, had lunch at Angelina, went to the Louvre (where we were briefly separated in the throngs and where my mom was sufficiently underwhelmed by the Mona Lisa again), and made a special pilgrimage to E. Dehillerin, the storied kitchen supply superstore where Julia Child loved to shop. Since I can barely find my way around a pot of boiling water, I stood near the entrance and struck up a conversation with a lovely woman from Arizona, whose husband was as starry eyed in the narrow, dusty aisles as my mom was. She and her husband had been coming for the past nine years; now in their late 60s, they were both retired. “We just wish we figured out how much we loved Paris when we were younger,” the woman told me, as her husband oohed and aahed over copper spoons and pie molds. “You’re lucky,” she said, “to have been here so often already, so young.”
And she’s right. I am so lucky.
And with that, we conclude the Paris photos from this vacation. I will spend the next however-many months until my next trip to this great city (because there will be another) staring at that last photo, taken right outside my favorite boulangerie as the sun was beginning its showy descent. I’ve never met a lens flare I didn’t like, and as we stepped out after enjoying a late afternoon tea & chocolate gateau (#vacation), I reached for my camera, and then headed right into the light, full of hope and cake. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, I’m just sure of it.
The two little islands nestled in the middle of the Seine have to be some of my favorite pieces of real estate in the entire city. Each arrondissement has the overwhelming feeling of being a tiny island in the middle of a big city already, a self-sufficient ecosystem providing everything you’d ever need within its boundaries (my old neighbor on Cité Veron had lived in the same building for close to 30 years, and never really felt the need to leave Montmartre, he said, save for the rare occasion). The two îles have the same sense of being a self-contained world, on a much more heightened scale. And maybe not so much the Île de la Cité, but absolutely the Île Saint-Louis. The architecture is different, the streets are smaller, and while there is no metro stop and only one bus route, walking laps around the island makes you realize there might not ever be a need to cross one of the ponts back to the other sides of the Seine. There are cheese shops and butchers and fleuristes and, seemingly most importantly, the Café Saint Régis, where I had the pleasure of having brunch with my dad’s friend John and his lovely wife one morning. My mom was so taken with the food we went back for lunch two days later, and we both agreed, as we stuffed ourselves silly, that we could easily live there. Not just in Paris, but specifically in the café. We could pitch tents and live there without a complaint in the world.
In my continued effort to not shy away from photographing people (and, er, ducks!), at lunch I snapped what may be one of my favorite photos: a man reading a book at the bar. I could start a series of French men (1) reading in restaurants (2) by themselves (3). What a hardship that undertaking would be!
1. This combination of light and lattice that makes my heart go boom:
(That lens flare ain’t Photoshopped, either.)
2. I have this thing with doors:
That something as simple as a door could be so elegantly designed just because is just one of the many reasons I love this city.
3. Looking up from the gardens of the Musée Rodin, admiring the view:
As if there isn’t enough to marvel over in the actual museum gardens, the periphery has to be lined with classically lovely Parisian architecture, too.
4. This decadent dessert that was almost (almost!) too pretty to eat:
My mom and I splashed out one afternoon, and I treated us to tea and dessert at the Plaza Athénée. (You know, the hotel where Carrie stayed with The Russian.) And then because we hadn’t indulged enough, we went across the street to Louis Vuitton. As you do.
5. The best way to spend €7, as far as I’m concerned:
Why can’t there be more flower shops in Philadelphia? Rue Cler has about four in two blocks, and every bouquet is affordable, to boot.
Have a wonderful weekend, kiddos! For those of you sick of seeing Paris photos, I’m almost done, I promise!
It’s not that I don’t like Le Marais, but it isn’t a neighborhood I’ve spent a lot of time in, so I’m not overly familiar. I like that it feels different from the rest of the city; there are fewer grand Haussmann buildings here, and the streets feel older, more historic and medieval. But if I’m being honest, I never feel a pull towards the 3eme the way I do with other neighborhoods. Our macaron making class was held at La Cuisine Paris, right along the Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville, so it made sense for us to spend the morning and early afternoon in the quartrier. My mom was disappointed that in the 16 years since her last visit, the last remaining vestiges of what was once the true “Jewish quarter” have all but disappeared, save for a few bakeries and falafel shops along Rue des Rosiers. Doors with ancient mezuzahs still affixed to the door frame, or stars of David carved over the entry had long ago been turned into clothing stores. We had falafel for lunch and strolled through the Place des Vosges, fighting off the bitter cold of this particular day.
The macaron class itself was the highlight of the day, though. All of the classes at La Cuisine Paris are taught in English, and ours was led by a French pastry chef (Romain, a total dreamboat) who had worked at both Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. There were only eight of us in the class, which made instructions easier to follow and everything more hands-on, and the two hours flew by in a whirlwind of boiling sugar, powdered food coloring, and my inability to remember directions clearly resulting in one giant macaron shell on my silpat (two inches apart, merde!). Having survived the course (with edible results!), I can safely say there is a reason macarons are so expensive; that is not an undertaking for the timid, unskilled, or impatient. Mon dieu. Don’t let me deter you, though! It was such a fun experience and I want to do it all over again with Jamal the next time we go, because I know he’ll excel at it. And ladies, if there is anything sexier than your man making macarons for you in Paris, I don’t know what it is.
Oh! Did you know the French created a verb specifically to describe the function of folding the meringue/boiling sugar/food coloring mixture into the almond flour? It’s macaronage, and it’s one more reason I love the French language, even if my own macaronage skills could use more work (my wrists get all floppy the moment I hold a spatula, likely from fear).
The light in this town is going to give me a heart attack one day. I’d round a corner, or come up from the metro, or it would be overcast all morning and then: LIGHT. Glorious, blanketing, hazy, early-Spring sunlight, so different from the light in June or December. I can’t help but gasp every time I see a sun-soaked street, or the light filtering through the Eiffel Tower. I’m worried one day it will all be too overwhelming, and I won’t be able to take it, and my heart is just going to burst. Death by Paris.
We went to four museums this trip: the l’Orangerie and the d’Orsay in the same evening (the latter is open until 10pm on Thursdays, and they are directly across the river from each other), the Rodin the next morning, and the Louvre later in the trip. We struggled with how much to do, because it was so tempting to just sit in the Tuileries all night and stare into space, or linger too long at a café. The Parisians are so good at balance; it’s one of their skills among many that I’d love to steal. Sure, you have places to go and things to see. But the light is so gorgeous right now, maybe you should stay to enjoy it just a while longer. Pourquoi pas?
The siren call of my old neighborhood became impossible to resist after only one day.
So I gave in, and we took the 80 bus from the 7eme to Place de Clichy. In terms of favorite bus routes, the 80 is my favorite. It snakes all the way up to Montmartre from the left bank, taking the swanky Avenue Montaigne, around the 8eme, past Saint-Lazare, and all the way up to my little village on the hill via Rue Caulaincourt. Between that route and the 95, which plops you more centrally in Saint-Germain, I could get anywhere I needed to go when I lived there. I like the buses more than the metro; the metro is generally more efficient, and, given Parisian traffic, undoubtedly faster, but you get to see the city from the bus. And there is nothing like taking the 80 south and crossing the Pont de l’Alma and seeing the Eiffel Tower from your seat. Like, pop! There she is!
So we went to Montmartre, and walked and walked and walked. Because that is what you do there. You climb the winding, steep streets, you make your way to the top of Sacré-Cœur to take in the view. We stopped in the church itself (something I admittedly hadn’t done in years) and got to hear mass in about six different languages (the priest switched from Spanish, to French, to Italian, to Hebrew, to Arabic while we made our way around the periphery of the monument). We rewarded ourselves with lunch at Le Nazir, my favorite salad with a poached egg and copious lardons and baked wheels of goat cheese thankfully unchanged. I showed my mom my old apartment, giving my sweet little balcony a wistful wave from the street.
On our way to Ladurée near Madeline (we took the metro) my mom said to me, “I can see why you love it. It’s a fabulous neighborhood.” And it so is. And not just because you get an impressive thigh workout just from exploring, either. That little pocket of the lower part of la butte was my home, and will be again one day, too.
Oh, this city. Every time I come I find new things to fall in love with, new angles to photograph, new perspectives and changes in light that thrill my heart to no end. There is something calming about returning, almost as if everything up to the moment just before the wheels of the plane touch down on French soil had been a little off balance, and with each trip back my equilibrium is restored. Walking the streets, getting acquainted with our new neighborhood (even as jetlagged as we were the first day) I felt a warming comfort, a homecoming as visceral as ever. The nervous, fluttering excitement that precedes a trip had been replaced long, long ago with a sense of rightness, of feeling whole again. My French came back to me fluidly, like riding a bike.
What else? I took significantly fewer photos this trip than I have previously, in an effort to be more present and soak it all in out from behind my viewfinder. I still took hundreds of photos, though, but this time I didn’t worry about making sure I got every single shot. I took a lot more photos of people, too! More to share this week.
I missed you guys! Tell me, what’s been going on?
And that last photo might be my favorite I’ve ever taken. That pigeon photobombed me as I was taking it, but I knew immediately it was for the best. I just love it. What do you think, should I add it to the Print Shop? I might even print one for myself!
There is nothing like the light in Paris. There were long stretches of gray for the first few days of my trip, and then, almost as if someone flipped a switch, the skies lit up in blue and gold in that classically Paris way. Winter light is different, sharper and clearer, than hazy summer and spring sunlight. I marveled at it like a silly tourist, standing on street corners just staring up at the sky. I also tried to be less precious this trip about not photographing people, rather than waiting for passerby to exit my frame.
A Paris highlight: attending (yet another) auction at Sotheby’s, this time an African art and sculpture collection that was delightfully outside of my normal interests (read: Impressionism or bust). I stood in the back corner, along with several gallery girls, diligently taking notes on every lot and paddle number. I love that place, which sounds strange, given all the monuments and museums in the city, but I do. If you’ve ever been curious about auctions, go! They’re open to the public, endlessly entertaining (where else can you see millions of dollars spent so freely and openly?), and informative, if you’re an aspiring novelist or art enthusiast.