Welcome to Paris!
Parc de Buttes Chaumont
The day that I learned that I was hired on at a school for the fall, I called my travel partner Winnie to see if I could convince her to host me in Paris for a few weeks and then slip of to Istanbul for a bit. Lucky for me, she was not hard to convince and we shared another incredible adventure together.
Waiting to board the plane in Minneapolis proved a great start to the trip. People were excited to go to Paris! They were paging through their tour guides, talking loudly about plans, and were not trying to contain their giddiness. It was infectious! Appreciating people's exuberance spilled over into my time in Paris. I did not grumble as I needed to dodge a group of tourists gawking at the Louvre or recover from being bumped off the sidewalk by a distracted American pedestrian. Instead, I reveled in their seeing this beautiful city for the perhaps the first time. I spent so much of my time living here wanting to fit in that I contained myself instead of stopping to point at someone's incredible meal or a particularly impressive building. So I say, keep on being
marveled everyone! Paris is exceptional and worthy of notice!
Arriving on the first of May, and the first sunshine Parisians had see in weeks, meant that everyone was outside and vendors were pushing lilies of the valley. Winnie steered my jet lagged feet toward Parc des Buttes Chaumont where we were far from alone! The park is unique with steep hills and picturesque views. Most importantly perhaps, is that in this park you can be on the grass! We staked out a spot on the hill and soaked up the sun with the sound of "pop, pop, pop" around us as wine and champagne bottles opened. Meandering back to Winnie's place took us along the beautiful canal and all the Parisians enjoying the day off and the nice weather.
The benefits of having lived in Paris are many. The one I used first was the ability to roll out of bed bleary eyed and tired and make my way to a truly superior falafel in the oh so hip Marais district without even thinking about it. Having not spoken French for four years, I was aware that things were a
little rusty. But that did not stop me from scolding the kind falafel man for responding to me in English! We then went on to dust off my French together and have a good laugh. I took my precious eggplant topped falafel down to the Seine to enjoy my treat with a view. As I munched along, a passerby exclaimed "Bon appetit!" and I reveled in being back in a culture where food is a pleasure to be savored.
The evenings that Winnie was not working were spent with Winnie's friends- an Irish woman, a Spanish man, a French man, and a Bulgarian woman. The conversation sped from one topic to another with clearly unique points of view directing the topics. Being with Winnie and other American friends who live in Paris, I found the communities that are built are so fantastically varied, though transient. The French friends who Winnie and other American friends have made were positively lovely. Which was wonderful, because this time around I felt as though many of my interactions in museums and such were not so positive, so having contact with quality Parisians balanced out the rudeness of others.
The meetings with my friends were wonderful. A friend from study abroad in Paris and former roommate in New York is working for Paris III and planning her upcoming wedding in Paris next month. Hearing of the challenges of getting and maintaining visas and applying for the right to wed in France was daunting! Oh bureaucracy! On the other hand, it is an intimate look at how another culture functions, and I can only imagine what the process is like in America. Another friend from my study abroad in Québec is now living in Paris. We chatted in English for the first time and compared the two cultures that differ so much outside of their common language. And an evening catching up with my former roommate Chantal over Algerian food rounded out my seeing people who call Paris home.
This must come from having lived in New York City, but Paris this time appeared so small! This sense was intensified by Winnie being so centrally located. For days on end I did not take the Metro, though I did travel quite a ways from her place. Stumbling upon unexpected delights such
as a band playing in the Jardin du Luxembourg or the violinist filling the air with beautiful music under a bridge in a rainstorm remind me why cities appeal to me. Among my new experiences was a lunch at the Le Marché des Enfants Rouges in the 3rd
. Winnie and I inspected the place thoroughly and landed on a lunch of Liberian food- excellent choice, though I do not think we could have made a bad one. The new use of bikes around the city won me over! I was surprised to find myself so thrilled to be biking around Paris, I loved every second of it! The bike paths, though not everywhere, are so wonderful, and the public bikes were so easy to rent and use!
As though being completely enraptured by biking around Paris was not enough, Winnie and I decided to bike the two bois on either side of Paris. The bois are two huge parks that are not as manicured as most parks within Paris, and in some parts are not manicured at all. Winnie had biked the Bois de Vincennes, so we started there and spent the day peddling down
tree-lined lanes around the park stumbling upon picnickers and chateaus. The next sunny day took us to the Bois de Boulogne armed with our own picnic and energy to explore. I had avoided this park during my year living in Paris due to its reputation for being a place to find prostitutes. I so wish that I had persevered because the park transported us out of Paris and into nature, something that I so craved while living in the city. The ponds with people in boats, the bike lanes winding along next to streams, the untamed trees, and the quiet were all hitting the right chords with nature-starved Winnie.
As before, the exhibits in the many museums enticed me in, not a hard task as it has been a rainy spring. The Matisse show at the Pompidou was fascinating and well curated, though small. It was incredible to see such a great artist's process. Winnie and I made our way over to the wealthy 16th
to appreciate the Marmottan Monet Museum where a Berthe Morisot exhibit was showing. Seeing one of the few female impressionists works drew us in and the Monet paintings inspired us
to want to visit his home at Giverny again. After basking in the glory of a sunny day, I made my way over to the Louvre to see the Da Vinci exhibit there. Due to the rainy spring, I hesitated to go inside on a sunny day, but I am so glad that I did! The exhibit was enormous and filled with Da Vinci’s sketches and plans for The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne
. The last exhibit that interrupted my wandering the streets was the Degas’ nudes at the d’Orsay. Again, this exhibit filled room after room! Seeing his evolution as an artist and the use of colors was such an opportunity. Before leaving, I dropped in on Manet’s Olympia
and reminisced about being fortunate enough to have studied art history in these very museums a few years ago.
Since two weeks could not be entirely taken up by museums, biking, and eating falafel, I set out on a sort of scavenger hunt using the book "Paris Made by Hand" by Pia Jane Bijkerk, a gift from my mom. This took me to streets I had never before seen, into new shops filled from
floor to ceiling with ribbon for hats or with the most delicate pottery I have ever dared touch. I delighted in seeing new parts of the city and in the specificity of these stores.
Being in France for the presidential election was remarkably not that extraordinary. The year I studied in Paris, 2005-2006, was filled with riots and protests with the Metro and RER closing and so on, so I was ready for a little more flare. That is not to say that the car horns, dancers in the street, balcony musicians, and so on were not noteworthy! Part of me wishes that I had hopped on a bike and headed to Bastille to see the party in full swing.
Giverny, Monet’s home and gardens, called to us so we decided to use the last day in Paris before Istanbul there. Being on vacation and someplace familiar really slowed down my planning impulses. This meant that Winnie and I ran full bore to catch the train out to Giverny hopping on as the buzzer for the doors closing sounded. What a sight we must have made! It being Mother’s Day,
the train was packed with people heading to visit family and spend the day outside of the city. So, I stood panting full of excitement that we made the train and were heading someplace wonderful. As I was bike obsessed at this point, the plan was to take the train and then rent bikes and ride the 30 minutes from the train station to Giverny. Alas, others shared this plan and all of the bikes were rented. To appreciate the sun, we decided to still snub the bus and walk to Giverny. It was a beautiful walk complete with peaks into small town’s Sunday markets and people’s backyard gardens. Ready to eat, we settled in for a lovely long lunch once we arrived to the town of Giverny. A long while and many satisfying bites and sips later, we made our way to the actual house and gardens... my my, with only an hour until closing time! We decided to skip seeing the interior of the house again and instead spent our time appreciating the incredible flowers. Every time I visit, I wish I were a painter!
Two weeks in Paris passed quickly with all
the new places and people and connecting with old friends and haunts. The city drew me in again with its beauty and access to exceptional food, art, and music. As always, the French pace of life and appreciation of balance between work and play appeal to me. Who knows if I will ever have a reason to live in Paris again, but this opportunity to visit for so long allowed me to settle in a little and soak up some of what I love about France.
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