By now all of us have gone through the horrific experience of watching the Paris bombings. I will admit to being glued to the TV for the past few days, unable to believe what I was seeing and feeling; for once in my life of traveling, I’m feeling truly vulnerable.
Yes, I am now safe at home in my living room in Belmont. But I had been wandering those streets in Paris just three weeks ago. That’s what you do in Paris . . . wander . . . sit outside . . . meet local authors at Shakespeare & Company . . . browse the quintessentially Parisian riverside bouquiniste book stalls . . . gaze, for hours if you like, at incredible art from masters like Renoir, Dega, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet, van Gogh and Rodin at the Musee d’Orsay or the Louvre . . . rest weary feet while sipping a cappuccino and indulging in a macaroon . . . in essence, fall in love with a city that literally oozes joie de vivre.
The blog I started in Paris in early October had the potential to be very different from the one I’m finally publishing today. I could easily let these events completely ruin my experience. I’m not going to let that happen. I love this city and its people and I will return. So with love in my heart and an ache in my soul, here is my original blog.
After a long day of travel from sunny Santorini, I arrived in a drizzly Paris just before midnight. My cab driver, Anton, was a jovial young man transplanted from Romania and completely in love with Paris. He was unfamiliar with my hotel and as he pulled in to the small, narrow lane looking for the address, I could tell he was more than a little nervous. Finding this hotel was a bit like the Harry Potter movies where you look at a block of shops and then miraculously there opens up a small door that you swear wasn’t there a moment ago. As I got out of the car, Anton promised to stay until I was safe and secure inside. Such a gentleman! But not to worry.
I enter what looks like a cozy living room with a slightly crooked curved wooden staircase and black wallpaper covered with large red roses and tiny signs of peeling. The lighting is also rosy as is the smell. “Bonsoir, madam. Welcome to the Hotel Esmeralda,” says a wizened old gentleman peering over the counter. Voila! Just like that, the adventure begins.
While the night clerk never offered to help me with my bags up the crazy-assed stairs (which has been my typical experience in Paris), the morning clerk is eager to suggest a place for me to eat breakfast (and lunch and tea and dinner and cocktails). I start with the offer for breakfast. “Do you like Sartre? Jaques Brel? Picasso? Hemingway? There is a wonderful place where they used to meet and discuss art, politics, revolution!” When I agree that would be right up my alley, I’m soon out on the boulevard, strolling along the Seine with directions that eventually lead me to Les Deux Magots cafe.
Later that morning as I browse through shops, it begins to rain. Point in fact, I’ve never been in Paris when it didn’t rain and while much has been made about the romanticism of Parisian rain, it’s still wet and cold and can be a real damper. Even though I’m armed with my trusty umbrella, I opt to duck into the nearest shop for a cappuccino. Low and behold, it turns out to be the famous Laduree! So again, the happy turn of accidental events allows me to indulge in a fresh raspberry macaroon and wait for the brief storm to pass.
With the sun now drying off the streets, I cross over to the Tuileries Garden to stroll through the park. I soon run into what appears to be a temporary walkway over the muddy turf and people are lining up on both sides, watching models and other apparently very important people walk by, none of whom I recognize. Of course I stop. Now here’s happy accident #92.
It’s the last day of Paris Fashion Week (who knew?!) and who do I see but Project Runway’s Nina Garcia! I learned something that day – always stand behind the professional photographers because you’ll get the (almost) same shot as they do 🙂 What fun.
Earlier in my trip, I wrote a blog debating the merits of sculpture versus painting and concluding sculpture was the more difficult. Well, I’m here to take that back. I can’t decide between the two because I spent a day wandering the 5th floor of the Musee d’Orsay where the art of the Impressionists is on full display. It’s futile to take photos here as you just can’t capture the thickness of the brushstrokes, the intensity of the colour, the light in the eyes and the movement of the images. I’ll just say that you have to go. Go and stand as long as you like because they don’t shoo you along and you can get up close and personal. This time, it was the work of Auguste Renoir that impacted me, especially when I began to view them as the photographs of the day. These were real people and they all had backstories and full lives that were captured by this amazing artist. The curiosity to know what this handsome young man was whispering to this lovely young woman was killing me. . . and what on earth did they do after that fateful dance? Even more incredible was the detail and complexity of his Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette.
Later that afternoon, I return to my hotel for a brief respite before the evening adventures. Having arrived late at night, I didn’t pay much attention to my room. It had a bed and a bath and I slept great. In the clear light of day, I realize this is probably the tiniest room I’ve ever stayed in, which is really saying something. There isn’t a straight wall anywhere and the floor is uneven. I think this hotel was put together by some mad architect and a bit of pixie dust but the location can’t be beat. Besides, who stays in their hotel room in Paris? I open my window to let in a bit of fresh air and the rain starts again, softly tapping on the rooftops outside. It smells fresh and clean. As I lay down on my bed, I hear something else, very faint at first, drifting through the window and settling gently next to me on the bed. It’s a piano player. It’s a very good piano player. It’s a piano player obviously warming up, playing bits and pieces of show tunes and ballads and cabaret songs. Occasionally a lovely voice will join in and then fade out. As I look out my window, I realize my room backs up to the common courtyard behind the Aux Trois Mailletz, a traditional Parisian cabaret and they aren’t yet open for business. For a theater gypsy like me, listening to this rehearsal is such a treat! How beautiful can life get when it hands you such a gift? So guess what? I did stay in my room…both afternoons I was there, just to listen to the piano player and the rain.
Perhaps that’s the allure of Paris for me, finding the seductive, hidden secrets that she hides from those who hurry by on their way to the big sites. The temptation to find more delightful treats is just too great. I’m boarding a plane to come home after six weeks of traveling but I literally feel a physical tug to stay. I will be back.