Until 2010, I had always lived within fifteen miles of Boston. I had spent summer vacations with my parents in Pennsylvania, and I had traveled widely, but I had never really lived anywhere else. I liked Boston, obviously, but I felt that my life there had become too predictable, albeit comfortable. One of the reasons for my first petit séjour to Paris was to shake things up a bit, and see what it might be like to live somewhere else for a couple of months. Much of the time I was alone, but I discovered a strong connection with my cousin Lisa, several good friends visited, and I made a few lovely Parisian friends. I had a great time, so naturally I did the same thing the following year. In 2012 I was determined not to spend Spring in Paris, to prevent this from becoming routine. But my Aunt Jane’s memorial gathering proved too strong a draw, so I went again, last September. This year the thought of not coming back crossed my mind, but when I checked and found my favorite apartment still available for June I reserved it without a second thought. Oh, wait, does that make me someone who spends a month or two in Paris every year, usually in the spring? So it would seem!
Nothing like an authentic Parisian Boulangerie! (This one happens to be in Tokyo, but there are quite a few in Paris as well…)
How, then, can I keep the experience fresh and interesting? How can I prevent my time in Paris from becoming as predictable, if also comfortable, as my time in Boston? I don’t have a confident answer, but I can offer this: I eat up a storm in Paris, but each year when I get home I find that I have lost about ten pounds. This year I brought along my fitbit, a high-tech pedometer and altimeter, meshed with a sweet iPhone app. At home I typically walk about three miles a day, but half that when (two days a week) I go in to work. In each of my first three days here I’ve walked more than seven miles, and climbed more than twenty flights of stairs. I explore Paris, in a way I rarely do in Boston. When that stops it will be time to switch to another city.
The fitbit record of a so-far typical day in Paris. This reflected errands in the morning, Rosé Bonheur in the afternoon, and a bracing walk back home after dinner.
Enough musing, what have I been up to? My direct flight on Air France was one of the easiest six hours I have ever spent in the air. The guy in the middle seat got bumped up to business class so it was possible to spread out a bit; I even got some sleep. Charles de Gaulle airport was a madhouse as usual, but the hour-long wait for immigration was considerably alleviated by a surprisingly erudite conversation with Alex, a Boston College student who was arriving for a month-long course on French literature and culture, starting with Baudelaire. We stumbled together through the annoying process of buying RER train tickets, which I finally understand: None of our credit cards worked, and the machines do not accept bills, so change your bills to coins at the Information booth first thing. The express train stops first at Gare de Nord, then at Châtelet — very efficient.
The weather had been dreadful in Paris this spring — cloudy, cold and rainy almost continuously through the end of May. But to my delight the sun arrived also at the start of June and it has been lovely ever since (and is predicted to continue). Unseasonably cool but otherwise utterly delightful. My adopted quartier and favorite apartment were much as last year. Another year’s wear and tear has left a few traces, but then the same could be said of me!
My first 24 hours were mostly devoted to errands — groceries, SIM card, monthly métro pass recharge — each an exciting adventure my first year, and now a comfortable *sigh* routine. My French is still a mess, and I make stupid mistakes, but I’m also becoming ever more confident that if I just keep talking and listening, and asking people to repeat themselves when necessary, I can communicate.
Sunday afternoon and evening were utterly fabulous. I met up with Colin and his friend (and fellow Harvard grad student) Jaime just below the wonderful Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. We strolled up to the Temple de la Sibylle, then arrived at Rosa Bonheur around 4:30, just before the barriers went up and the line to get in began lengthening. It was, as always on a fine Sunday evening, a scene. We started with beer, then switched, comme il faut, to rosé, which we continued sipping until all three of us were bien arrosée.
We eventually staggered out of the park in search of food and landed at La Pelouse, a rather nice local spot. After dinner Jaime jumped on the métro while Colin and I set out on foot. My own idea had been to walk with him a ways, then take the métro home myself. But conversation and the lovely evening powered us along and I didn’t take my leave until Hôtel de Ville.
My Monday started with a flâne through the mostly-bourgeois 6e arrondisement, which I have slighted in prior years. One does indeed hear a distressing amount of English on the sidewalks, and some places are painfully touristy. But the quartier has a storied history and I found a few photo-worthy scenes.
All those fabulous names naturally attract visitors from all over the world. Sartre and de Beauvoir would have despised nearly every one of them, and would have fled to some dive, in the 20e perhaps, where people still think and talk and argue.
I did have a nice rabbit skewer at a nearby restaurant. Only after ordering it did I realize that I was eating a fellow mammal! Oh well, it was delicious anyway.
“To Balzac. To Rodin.” I think they would both have enjoyed the setting.
“Pelouse interdit” at the Jardin de Luxembourg, with the Sénat in the distance.
Monday’s highlight was dinner with my cousin Lisa and her partner Ali. It was lovely as ever to see them, and to catch up on all their news. We plan to get together again next Sunday when our cousin Brian arrives, at the end of his Grand Tour of Europe. Lisa is six months pregnant and aglow with maternal-ness:
Cousin Lisa at 59, rue Saint-Sauveur on June 3, 2013.
One parting piece of advice: It would be possible for a Paris neophyte to put soap on his hands in a restaurant toilet but then be unable to figure out how to turn on the water in the sink. He might go upstairs and complain to his waiter that the water doesn’t work. The waiter might then remind him that one must push a button on the floor to cause the water to flow. One would then be quite embarrassed! Please, don’t be that person!
Sink with no working handle. Button on floor. Embarrassed neophyte in mirror.
Mot du jour: “pintade” — “un animal, comme une poule mais plus petit” (“an animal, like a chicken but smaller”) per our waiter at La Pelouse. In English, a “guinea-fowl.”