"Cities have sexes: London is a man, Paris a woman, and New York a well-adjusted transsexual." –Angela Carter
While I have yet to visit London, I find the remainder of the above sentence to hold true. And, as they say, when it comes to French Women, no detail is spared.
I bought one thing to carry with me before I left for Europe. A simple, leather-bound journal with a spot for a pen. It turned out to be the most valuable possession on my journey, with planning, notes, thoughts, sketches and meals scribbled madly into the pages. I wrote on every train ride and in many cafes as I moved along North to South and East to West, and it's something I'll hold dearly for the rest of my life.
As my state of mine and thoughts of wonder shifted in each environment, I fought to record them before they slipped away. Now as I look back through the pages, so many things have escaped my memory, so many deep curiosities no longer drumming around in my brain, which is why I find it imperative to share the experiences I managed to jot down as they were happening, to give the true feeling of a place. So from the pages of that now tattered and well-worn journal, here they are.
"Well, so far on this journey (6 days in), I sit on the train in a comfortable seat rolling though picturesque countryside on my way to Zurich, via Paris. I've learned a few things so far (besides being constantly reminded of how much I miss Jake (my husband)), and they are so:
If I am to be completely honest, I did not love Paris in the beginning. One might even go so far as to say I didn't like it at all. After a long flight (the longest I've had yet), we stumbled out of the Gare Du Nord into the buzzing, chaotic, street corners of Paris. Tiny cars zipped 20 miles over, blasting through red lights and laying on the horn at any pedestrians crossing the crosswalk at the appropriate signal. Scooters drive on streets and sidewalks alike. The air was thick and heavy with a dark smog of cigarette smoke and the putrid stench of the sidewalk felt like it clung to my legs as I walked across the street. And no matter what you were doing, at any time, you were pissing someone off (this is entirely true- see David Leibowitz's "The Sweet Life In Paris.").
As with any travel, the actual getting around of it all was quite a challenge to get the hang of- not so many spoken or written English translations (which I expected). But the public transportation in Paris- now that is immaculate. The best in the world I've been told.
After the jet-lag, the days spent cramped in a few square feet with traveling companions and the initial culture shock, we began to get into the swing of things and found the real beauty in the heart of Paris. Because, despite it's pitfalls, this is the land of baguettes, macaroons, stinky cheeses, art, Hermés, Chloé and the former home of Picasso, Hemingway Mucha and Dalí. Paris is PARIS. And nothing, at all, even comes close.
The Louve, Notre Dame, Montmarte, the food, the paralyzingly chic Parisian women, and the endless flooding of too-immaculate-to-put-into-words architecture. The crummiest, broken down basement apartment in the crummiest, broken down part of Paris is more awe-inspiring and complex than our most beloved pride in America. There are no new buildings here, just restored, polished, kept originals.
It is completely true what they say about french women and "je ne se qoui" is no joke. "Effortless" beauties stroll down the streets day and night, their clothes "just so," hair and makeup never short of perfect, never too much.
The food is indeed spectacular and it seems as though no one cooks at all, or eats breakfast, or drinks water, or urinates (which according to David Leibowitz is just the case). Pan-seared duckling over puree of pumpkin, sprinkled with watercress and arugula at a Michelin starred restaurant is money well spent. The Louvre is a masterpiece in itself. If ever someone were looking to invade a country and steal it's most valuable asset, this would be it. Which is kind of the story of how the Louve came to hold so many impressive pieces- in short, laymen's terms, Napoleon seized and stole most of it. Every famous artists you could ever remember is jammed into wall upon wall, floor upon floor, ceiling upon ceiling in a palace that spans 3x3 city blocks. Raphael, Da Vinci, Greek Antiquities and even an actual section of an Egyptian Pyramid live inside these walls. You'd be a fool to miss.
There is a saying about France my dad shared with me while we were there "The French copy no one, and no one copies the French." Which leads to many, curious and inspiring solutions, as well as many that just seem stubborn and ill-fitting. Again, here I must urge you to read David Leibowitz's "Sweet Life In Paris," to gain insight, but I'll do my best here to share my observations.
As is expected, a small pastry and coffee are had for breakfast. Café au Lait, contrary to popular belief, is drank in the home, so espresso or Café Cremè is much more common when dining out. It is perfectly acceptable to munch on a baguette or pastry while walking, but to eat anything else while in commute would be unacceptable (although picking your nose on the subway is a-okay). Meals are eaten sitting down, over multiple courses, and with no hurry. Doggie bags and to-go are not very common. The French, like the Spanish and many other europeans, like to enjoy dinner between the hours of 8 & 12 and might continue to 1:00 with wine or after-dessert drinks. This includes weeknights, which, as you can guess, puts a lot more people on the same schedule than we have in America and also doesn't provide much room for recreational activities. Of course, with everything, there is wine.
The women of Paris are utterly chic. Wearing a lot of black and looking somehow as though they both spent hours at the Chanel counter getting ready and just woke up and rolled out of bed, they rule these runways. The men also dress exceptionally well and favor extremely long and pointy shoes sans socks but with properly tailored pants. Scarves are absolutely as essential as water and air. We were in Paris during paris fashion week and it was quite fun to see the beautiful models strolling through Tulleries Gardens. Truth be told though, it seems as though every Parisian wears multiple designer pieces on any given day. Dressing is an absolute art here and very much inspires you to up your game when you step onto the subway and shove your way between Prada and Chanel. And somehow it seems everyone get the same memo about which perfume to pick up because there's a monotonous floral scent spread across the city.
I read something like 48% of people smoke in the country of France. This statistic appears to me to read something like "no one smokes in the country" and "89% of people in Paris smoke like a chimney." Unfortunately, this produces a thick smog cloud of cigarette smoke that penetrates every available pocket of air, including but not limited to, restaurants, kitchens, bathrooms, area's in close quarters with children, and pretty much anywhere a human could reasonably get to, with the exception of the subway. As someone who comes from not only a country where this is very uncommon, but a community that doesn't allow smoking within 50 feet of buildings, in any parks and basically anywhere at all except on your own property, this can be very hard to deal with in a city whose quarters are so small.
So what does it all add up to? Culture abounds at every doorstep, dining is a national sport and attention to detail is practiced at the highest level In the end, all that can be said, is that there really is no place like Paris. "
As for those specific spots and suggestions for where exactly to find all of this? Well since you've been so patient, I've laid it out for you below. Of course, Paris offers so many more things than I've compiled here and very different things to different people. I can only share my thoughts and experiences, but must recommend you take the path less traveled to get a real sense of what this immaculate city has in store for you. My best days here, as with any place I've traveled, have been on those timeless walks where I let my imagination and camera carry me from one doorway to the next, stumbling upon bustling neighborhood bistros, handlebar mustached charcutiers, and pompus poodles out for their afternoon walk. So do go on, get lost, and see what the world offers up to you.
Chameleon was located directly across the little side street from our hotel and recommended to us by the front desk. It was simply the best meal we had in Paris. Monkfish sliced thick and seared until almost bursting with juice, Pork Belly with a layer of lightly crispy caramelization, and Contreau soufflé with grapefruit reduction. The atmosphere was perfect, not too big, not too small, and the waitstaff were kind and friendly (which can be hard to come by).
The iconic Parisian cafe, famous for it's gloriously french pastel macaroons and over-the-top decadent and artful desserts, there are multiple locations spread throughout the city. We visited the Rue Royal location near Fashion Week repeatedly are fully enjoyed licking rose buttercream off our fingertips in the midst of the busy sidewalk.
The Louve needs no introduction. As I said above, the scale, elaborate construction, grandness and sheer volume of art that resides here is more than one could ever simmer down. The only thing to say here is do.not.miss.this.
Majestic gardens outlining the royal Louvre and acting catwalk during Fashion week.
The river that flows through the city, divides it into arrondissements, and serves as a panoramic viewpoint and connection. Stalls stuffed with hanging posters and cards line the sidewalk.
Notre Dame Cathedral (and the delightful artisan shops tucked behind it).
The gigantic Catholic church is a huge part of Parisian history (Quasimodo for one). Make sure to take a detour around the circling backstreets behind the great beast. Artisan shops and products abound.
The over-the-top charming hilltop neighborhood and former hangout of the likes of Picasso, Dali and others. Pop off the tram for a Cafe Creme and Nutella Banane Crepe and climb the towering hill to La Basilique de Sacré Coeur for a dreamy sweeping view of the enormous city below.
I hope you make it to Paris one day (if you haven't already). And if you do (or already have), please let me know your thoughts on the matter. I'd love to hear!
jusqu'å la prochaine fois (until next time).