Sunday, January 23, 2011

City mouse or country mouse?

Pulses racing, bodies passing in a mad mix as thousands cross paths above and below ground. Dreaming, texting, seldom smiling on the metro, faces angled slightly down. Time constantly being checked for the next appointment, for the next breathe or the end of the day. Sneaking glances or thin-mouthed judging with a brazen head to toe stare. So many different styles and skins not connecting, still separate, for this is no melting pot. This is Paris.

Most of us discover Paris already biased by the wonder of its past, thrilled by what we have been told to adore. And there is so much to take in, such uniqueness to embrace. But it is also the capital, a bracing challenge of a city for those scraping to make their place. Or those coming from the country, most certainly considered another breed entirely, hoping to please, to charm their way into getting what they need. Is there a hidden opportunity to be claimed? Again, this is Paris, whose rhythm beats behind a veil. 

Off then, for a few days with Remi driving as I counted chateaus and sheep in the passing and wildly changing landscape. Nothing like sliding off of the Peripherique and onto the quai of the left bank, sneaking under the Eiffel Tower as the already faded sun starts to set. The promise of evening coming on as we cross the Seine with its pin point moon hovering above. A turn with a sardonic wave at the Presidential Palace then down the Fauborg Saint-Honoré, stopped at a red light in front of the maison Hermès. Me, quietly squeaking with delight--the Place Vendôme! Colette! A level of elegance like nowhere else. 

Yes, this is why I chose to be in the 2nd arrondissement, that and its fabulously central location. But why feel cramped in yet another tiny hotel room? After a caffeine-fuelled morning of searching, I found a studio with a sleeping loft on Way to that was tucked into the Passage Choiseul, the longest covered passage in town. The best part? After 8pm, the shops are closed to the public and, armed with a pass code, you return to blissful silence. Very chic, I think.

I am one hundred percent sold on renting an apartment now, I can't imagine ever doing otherwise--that is unless if someone is kind enough to offer me a stay at the Ritz. Our space was compact but clean and quickly felt like home. Breakfast of croissants bought downstairs, aperos of wine and sausage to refuel before the evening, a comfy bed, a stereo tuned into FIP, my favorite radio station in the world--what more is there to ask?

As it is January, that means rain but we were delightfully spared, save for a misty morning that included our one cultural stop, a visit to the Musée Carnavalet (one of Paris' best-kept secrets, hidden in the Marais) to see a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition on the history behind the trunks of Louis Vuitton. Isn't it just so beautiful? True, I would also give up our cosy studio for a chance to sleep in the former apartments of Madame de Sévigné!

Rushing, walking so fast with my heart in my mouth in an effort to soak up as much of the city as we race from one meeting to the other. But what sights on the sidelines. I have a special connection to Notre-Dame. Once, a long time ago, she was there for me when I needed her. I don't know if I would be living in France today in fact if it wasn't for her kind graces. I thank her silently each time I see her.

Amazingly, I found myself at the brilliant Quai Branly museum not to gawk at the towering totems from the Pacific but to attend (albeit only for an hour) an international panel discussion on archeology. Me!

 Isn't life endlessly bewildering? What on earth was I doing there? As the South American scientist droned on about pottery shards I began to dream about...

We all have our safe places where we know that nothing bad can happen to you, yes, just like Holly Golightly felt about Tiffany's. When I first came to Paris, imprisoned by my lack of language and struggling to down shift from New York City, I would take the train into town to wander the halls of Le Bon Marché. Just to finger the fabrics and smell the perfumes. I certainly couldn't afford to buy anything. Not even socks. But it was enough, just to be amidst the gentle hush, to people watch--some of the best anywhere--as the fashionistas pose nonchalantly on the escalators. Remi found me that evening on one of the camel leather couches in the beauty section and we both caught our breath while, for a moment, the world seemed to revolve around us.

It was rare, that moment of stillness, of serenity, but there were others. Walking, walking, walking across Saint-Germain, hand in hand, across the Pont des Arts with the Seine reflected in the glow of the Beaux Arts. Empty. It's what we all long for. 

One thought kept chasing the other in my brain these past few days. How did I feel about all of this racing to and fro? The speed of it. And I realized that I loved it. That after so many years in Manhattan, that jolt of energy is also part of who I am and I have missed it. Sometimes we all need to put the engine on high and let it run. 

I was delighted to come home and stretch out my arms. Let our charming dog Ben run into them. But it is good to remember how big the world is. The possibilities of a town like Paris, made up of restraints and dreams.


  1. What a wonderful whirlwind trip! Thank you for the recap; I feel like I was there too. Well, minus the jet lag and language barrier. :)

  2. I would have pegged you for a country mouse! Great post with great pics! I felt like I was there, running around with you. Remember when we were there together?? It is an amazing, romantic city! But maybe it's a case of l'herbe est toujours plus verte? : )

  3. Perfectly said sister! The grass IS always greener...And yes, I remember how fantastic it was being there with you all of those years ago!

  4. Wow, beautiful pics and description! I was forced to stop in Le Bon Marché to buy a foulard because Paris was freezing when we were there. And you know how I hate to shop! :D


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