Love letter to Paris

April 04, 2012

Perhaps a bit clichéd, but I can't help loving this thing

Paris - I've always loved you and have certainly missed you since my previous trip there five years ago (and then 10 years ago before that - too long, I know), but I had no idea how much I'd fall for you all over again when I was there last week. There was so much that I loved, and I could go on and on, so I will organize my admiration in the simplest of ways:

The sights

I am not talking about the usual suspects here - the Louvre, L'Arc de Triumph, Notre Dame - I'm talking about the rest of Paris, the Paris that's there for more than just the tourists. Sure, these things are incredible works of art, architecture and history, and should be seen at least once in your life, but there's so much more to Paris than this. As someone who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and got married in NYC, I have great appreciation for cities such as these and just love exploring them. There is so much beauty in the day-to-day, that doesn't cost any price of admission to see and can't necessarily be found on a map.  

Brand new blooms in the Jardin du Palais Royal

Street art in chalk on this defunct storefront in the 4th

More spring blossoms bring life and color to the grey facade of the Hotel de Ville

Dusk over the Seine

The very tiny, very ancient staircase to the apartment where we stayed

Our little sliver of the city, seen from our balcony

The sounds

Like any good metropolitan city, Paris never really quiets down. The rumble of the Metro, voices at cafes, gonging of hourly church bells. Sundown, let alone the switch-over from one day to the next, means little to the people of this city - regardless of the day of the week. We were often kept up all hours by the chatting voices and clinking silverware at the little cafe beneath where we stayed. Realizing we were one of these people, out till 2am on our last night there, made us feel like we belonged there, if only a little bit. I think Europeans in general enjoy this way of life more so than Americans, but Parisians in particular seem to embrace all their beautiful city has to offer, taking advantage of every moment. As tired as it made us after a week with little sleep, the sounds of the city made us very happy.

The cafe beneath our apartment and the ever-changing musicians to entertain

Our cafe, just as crowded well into the night (ahem... early morning)

The reason for our trip - to see Florence + The Machine. In a word, amazing.

Perhaps the best sounds from our trip was the Florence + The Machine concert we went to on our last night in town. You know how sometimes an artist will blow you away on their album, but in person they just fall flat? This was most certainly not the case. Florence has an amazing voice and is one hell of a performer (much like my other favorite redhead: Nikka Costa). If you get the chance to see her live, jump on it. She does not disappoint.

The flavors

There is no doubt that Paris is an amazing place to eat. Food - more importantly, good food - is very important to the French and is a very lucrative business in such a traveled city (which sadly means there's a lot of overpriced crap out there as well). Eating is also especially important to me coming from another culinary mecca (having a very talented chef as a brother-in-law there didn't hurt either) and has made me rather insistent that food - good food - is an integral part of our travels. Lucky for us, and our budget, eating well in Paris often has nothing to do with money. I'm sure there are amazing, five-star restaurants with their Michelin stars and three-to-four digit set menu prices, but I knew we could find more for less. And did we ever... 

Oh, jambon-beurre baguette - why have you not caught on in the rest of the world? I could eat this every day...

An incredible French chocolate treat, some cheap market Rosé and an incredible view of Paris - what more could one need?

For those of you that are saying 'wait! that can't be all!', there is certainly more. Since we did some amazing eating - so much so I could not possible include it all here. I will do a post solely on the food we enjoyed in Paris shortly, including where they are, what we thought and photos (when I remembered between stuffing my face full of deliciousness). I can practically hear fellow foodie Frau Dietz rejoicing across town. It's coming, Ms. Dietz. I promise. 

The people

I find it troubling that Americans are always pegging Parisians as rude. Sure, everyone has a right to a bad day now and then, and I'm sure that tourists endlessly yelling louder and louder in English until they're 'understood' takes its toll, but in all my travels to Paris, I've never encountered this rudeness. I suppose I have a leg up on many American travelers as I speak a bit of French, but still, a little goes a long way with them. As most who live in a major city that also happens to be a major tourist destination, Parisians seem to have a genuine interest in meeting new people and sharing their little bit of the city with you, if you let them. 

As an expat, and having met all kinds of other expats, my realizations about perspective have been most sobering. People, in general, say Parisians are rude. Most Americans find Germans rude. I have continually defended the Germans because, frankly, the people in our neighborhood here are friendlier than in our old neighborhood in California. I got a little adjustment of this perspective in Paris when I was feeling confident and told a cashier that I loved her lipstick color while she was ringing me up - in halting French, of course. She smiled, thanked me and seemed genuinely flattered that someone with such obviously poor French skills would make an effort to tell her as much. It immediately reminded me of a similar attempt I made here in Germany in complimenting a woman on her stylish belt, who not only did not smile or thank me, but seemed downright confused and borderline miffed that I would even say such a thing. It just made me appreciate the Parisians, and their often overlooked friendliness, that much more. 

In addition to chatting up some great people in restaurants, both chefs and fellow patrons, we encountered a couple of notable folks in our people-watching. With so many people and subsequent stories in this city, it's hard not to take note:

This guy broke our hearts just a little bit. He came to sit at the cafe beneath our balcony late one night, very dejected and carrying this big bunch of roses. We overheard only snippets from what he told the people at the next table over that obviously asked him about his state of affairs, but gathered that there was some story of disappointment. He ordered a drink, took off his shoes and sat sullenly staring down at the city lights for some time. I'd had just enough to drink that I very nearly went down to pat him on the back and tell him someone better would come along. Sad Paris guy: I hope things are looking up. I'm sure the right person for your roses will come along.

In a city like Paris, there are some definite sore thumbs in the tourist department, but this lady - spied from our balcony - took the cake. Let me preface this with something that will hopefully explain my judgment: Parisians are terribly stylish people. No, they don't all carry designer handbags (which btw, does not excuse a velour tracksuit - ever) and wear Louboutins, but they care about how they look when they step outside their door. It's not a snobbery or money thing, it's more about having pride in one's appearance. 

I had a total 'aha!' moment about the reason behind this Parisian attitude when I read Sarah Turnbull's book Almost French: A New Life in Paris, in which she describes acclimating to the Paris way of life after growing up in Sydney: "looking scruffy is selfish. Not only do you look like a slob but you let down the whole city." In one of the most beautiful cities in the world, why would you want to ruin the scenery by not, as they say 'se mettre en valeur,' or, 'make the most of yourself'?

Women in Paris are most certainly the inspiration for the term 'having a certain je ne sais quoi'. They are stylish while wearing next to no make-up and looking entirely effortless. I could never pinpoint exactly what is was when I was impressed with someone's look - it wasn't about the labels they were carrying or whether or not they were traditionally attractive. I wish I had pulled out my camera at all these sightings, but they were such a regular occurrence, it never even crossed my mind. At least I have Scott Schuman when I get nostalgic for French street fashion.   

We were also fortunate enough to meet a fellow expat blogger Edna while we were in Paris. Also from the States, she's been living in China and Singapore for several years and is now spending a year in Paris, working and learning French. Much like I think new parents tend to immediately identify with other new parents, I believe us expats are all kindred spirits. Like parenthood, living in a whole new country is an intense adventure that takes a certain kind of person, and for that reason, I think we can relate very well to one another, regardless of where we come from or where we choose to live. So needless to say, Edna is a fabulous person I'd undoubtedly spend more time with, were we expats in the same city (or even the same country) and it was a treat to get to spend some time her. Her dedication to experience new things and live the expat life is inspiring. 

So Paris, until next time... I will miss your smelly, leaky Metro corridors, your springtime blooms, your incredibly stylish - not to mention diverse - people, your amazing food and your great shopping. Here's hoping I don't have to wait another five years...

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische