Thursday, August 30, 2012

Les Parisiens . . . Plus Chic?

Jennifer at A Well Styled Life posted the other day about French chic, and I was reminded of this photo from our 2011 April in Paris. Sunday midday, this young fellow trailed happily behind his grand-père, both of them looking rather smart. Perhaps not a sartorial sight we enjoy as often on this side of the pond.

I've begun "populating" (as the term seems recently to be used) the "Page" I've tabbed as My Paris above. After our tenth visit to that city this past spring, I decided it might be worth compiling what I've learned about it, while readily acknowledging that my knowledge of the city is not only very limited but also idiosyncratic. Still, it's another piece of the puzzle, and some readers might find it either interesting or useful. Here's what I've written there so far, but I'm hoping bit by bit to add links to other posts and to note my favourite Paris sights and sites, a few restaurants perhaps, probably a list of books I've enjoyed about Paris, and answers to questions I get asked about those who know of our obsession with the City of Light.

I'd happily answer your questions there as well, so if you have any please do leave them in the comments below.
Meanwhile, here's an introduction to My Paris:

What's with your fixation on Paris? How did that get started?
I first visited Paris with my husband and our four children (then aged 5-14) in summer, 1990. We spent a week in Versailles before our 3-week stay in the Loire Valley, and we travelled into Paris most days of that week, seeing the regular tourist sites. We marched them up the Eiffel Tower, steered them through crowds to stand in front of the Mona Lisa, rode a bateau-mouche along the Seine, lit candles in the dark, awe-inspiring interior of Notre Dame, pawed through the books at the legendary Shakespeare & Co, ate crêpes and baguette sandwiches and frites before heading back to check out the Impressionist paintings at the Orsay. It was all wonderful, but I was surprised to be haunted by my pre-children self, the traveler who suddenly recognised how much she'd put aside to be a Mom.

So we went back to France, just Paul and I, the following year, to walk for ten days in the Haut-Loire with friends from the Auvergne. Then Paul went back home, and I stayed in France another two weeks on my own, spending the last 4 or 5 in Paris. A splendid, rejuvenating, exciting adventure, but I followed it up with one in a different direction, completing first my BA, then going on to grad school. Most travel was put on hold during those years of juggling school, work, and child-rearing.

Finally though, to celebrate defending my doctoral dissertation in spring 2005, we planned a holiday. The destination was arbitrary, although we wanted to be in Europe somewhere.  The most time we could coordinate together was ten days -- my teaching schedule meant I wasn't free until May and his busiest season at work began before June.  That narrowed our destination to somewhere that would keep our interest for ten days so that we didn't need to exhaust ourselves packing and unpacking to travel around between various points. London was one possibility, Paris another. And since Paul had just completed a long and intense period of French-language training for work, Paris won the coin toss. Who would have thought we would go back every spring since -- we've now been there 10 times, and the plan so far is to head back in 2013.

If your choice of Paris was a bit of a coin toss in 2005, what made you keep going back? After all, there are so many other great places to see?
True enough, but for the following few years, we had the same time restrictions -- a ten-day period within a very specific part of the calendar, both of us coming out of fairly stressful work environments. Going back to a place we already knew meant we didn't have the added stress of learning a new city, coping with another language OR -- and this is important -- with feeling we had to see any requisite tourist sites. In Paris we could just wander together, enjoying food, wine, people-watching, and walking, walking, always walking, in each other's company.

Where did you stay that first visit? Do you think that made a difference to your overall impression of Paris?
Absolutely! I often wonder if we would have committed to Paris so completely if not for the marvellous warmth of Jennifer at Hôtel Residence Les Gobelins in the 13th arrondissement. We were made to feel at home from the moment we arrived in this bright, clean, charming, and affordable hotel close enough to  major attractions but not overwhelmed with tourists. Most days would start with us walking through the vibrant market street, Rue Mouffetard. They'd end with us walking back exhausted and content, sometimes after a fabulous tajine just across the street in a favourite Moroccan restaurant, Le Sirocco. Being recognised by the owner of that restaurant the following year might have clinched our deal with Paris. Somehow that neighbourhood made us feel like honorary citizens, even if we could only manage living there for a week or two each year.


19 comments:

  1. Really interesting, especially the bit about how freeing it is to revisit a place where one has already 'done' the major must-see sites. Which is why we go to Venice a lot, to soak up a city that will be forever fascinating and full of surprises but where one is liberated from the urgent diktats of the gazetteer, which one knows is an invaluable guide but which also makes one feel like one is cramming feverishly for some sort of exam. "You went to NYC and you didn't see the Statue of Liberty?!...Fail!" ... or so it can feel when people quiz you upon your return, if those core sights haven't been seen. (Thrice to NYC so far and still not visited said Grand Old Lady of French origin! I get so immersed in Museum Mile...)

    Do I read the inference correctly, that being in France on your own was a catalyst to your metamorphosis into uni student and then professional academic? It wouldn't surprise me, travel has an astonishing power to transform and refashion the self.
    Hester x

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    1. We finally went to the Louvre again in 2011 and will pass on it until we have something specific to see. On the other hand, we go to the Pompidou, the Maillol, every year.
      As for the metamorphosis, not quite, as I started taking courses almost immediately after my drop-out year in the early '70s, but it reminded me of what I could do on my own. So easy to depend on a supportive husband, but it's so important to know how to be alone, I think.

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  2. P.S. Those web geeks sure have a sense of humour, to prove I am not a robot I had to type 'nethore' ... !!! Hester x

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  3. Your Paris...how wonderful to spend that much time getting to know it so intimately. I don't have a favorite city I've been able to do that with except perhaps Lahaina...not quite as wonderful. I'm now heading over to read your Book Blog. And yes, proving I am human on this IPad with spell check is a hoot!! Thanks for the mention. We head back to SF pretty soon sadly.

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    1. SF is another city I'd love to get to know better -- very walkable, full of culture, varied, attractive -- and the sea, of course, which makes me feel quite at home.

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  4. I really love the idea of revisiting a place frequently and getting to know it well. I lived in Madrid for a year and a half so my relationship with that city isn't really quite the same as your relationship with Paris. I think I would go to Florence for a few days every year if I could.

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    1. I would LOVE the chance to live in a European city for that long -- a totally different commitment. I'd be really interested to feel myself adapting to a different urban rhythm.
      I'd be interested to hear why you'd choose Florence -- a post, maybe?

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  5. We usually get to go to Paris once a year....some people ask why I don't go to new places...well, I'd like to go to them too, but if I have to pick one, I'll pick Paris.

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    1. Yes, especially for feeding your artist/jeweller Muse, right? There is so much for the aesthetic self to rejoice in wandering the Paris streets.
      My kids often give us a hard time for going back all the time, rather than going to, say, Costa Rica or Italy or whatever. And I'd like to get to more places once I'm retired but meanwhile Paris satisfies my need to rejuvenate in all the best ways during a relatively brief visit.

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  6. I have been curious about this love for Paris and this post explains so much I had not known. Does Paris seem the same or different to you each year.

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  7. Lovely to read again about your trips to Paris, and to remember at the same time the 2 nights we stayed at the Residence Les Gobelins (we also dined at Le Sirocco, as per your recommendation). I'll be sure to visit this part of your blog often! P.

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    1. Ah, you have been so lucky in your European travels, having visited and lived in so many wonderful spots. And you know exactly how welcoming the hotel and the restaurant are.

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  8. I so enjoyed reading about your love of and visits to Paris - I've been visiting fairly regularly, alone and with my husband, for more than thirty years, and am as entranced by the city now as I was on that first trip. I stayed then in an old-fashioned (and I strongly suspect, rather sleazy) place near Montmartre - last time, for my 60th birthday celebrations, our hotel was a rather more upmarket job right beside the Palais Royal (one of my favourite Paris places). But we do like to vary the areas we stay in so that we can explore different neighbourhoods - your Residence sounds very attractive, and I've just bookmarked it for our next trip. Look forward very much to hearing more on this and all your adventures. Rosemary

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    1. Ooh, that must have been more upmarket, right beside the Palais! (and isn't that a gorgeous spot -- sitting on the benches in the gardens below the entrance stairs -- to people watch on a sunny day?!)
      Residence Gobelins is not upmarket but clean, attractive, friendly, and I think you'd really like the area as well, with the historic Gobelins (weaving) factory-turned-museum just around the corner.

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  9. You hardly have to justify it to me, but I too have had the same "again???" comments and one woman said, "Well you know, there *can* be too much of a good thing." To each her (travel) own, but I will go back to Paris for as long as I can,

    Much as I admire my intrepid friends who cross countries off lists, I prefer to embed in an apartment there and pretend I don't have to go home till I've had enough.

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    1. Yes, to each her own indeed. So often the comments, disguised as curiosity, have more than a whiff of disapproval. Like you, I really want a sense of what it would be to live elsewhere -- Paris, in this case. I'm not as interested in crossing off a list although there are definitely a few other countries I'd like to get to.

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  10. Mater, I know exactly what you mean about getting to know a place well enough that you don't feel obligated to visit tourist sites. At this point it sounds like Paris really is your home away from home.

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  11. Reading your notes on Paris and returning year after year reminds me of all the many years we returned to Madrid year after year, and what a joy it was for us. Yes, we too got many of those same "again?" comments, but every trip was refreshing and fulfilling and a joy to discover new aspects of increasingly familiar places.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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