On Paris

I have read enough Paul Theroux to make me nervous about writing any sort of wistful travelogue , bedazzling with an effusive excess of picturesque adjectives.

But after a couple of months cooped on the farm, alighting in Paris on a perfect summer’s day is to be bowled over by beauty.

I don’t normally write of such things as the beauty of women and such, but one of travel’s many goals is to force you out of a comfort zone and so I will.

Paris is beauty on many levels. It’s been a wealthy city for hundreds of years and it shows.

From wide, tree-lined boulevards, to bridges guarded by gilded statues to colorful parks and gardens with there 40 ft hedges to gorgeous food to the endless parade of stunning people, Paris is beauty by its wealth but also because the French care.

I first picked up on French care some 20 odd years ago. This may be a bit inaccurate, but I recall that the French farmers dumped truckloads of tomatoes at the front door of a McDonald’s because they were using imported (or sub-par perhaps) tomatoes. I thought “Wow, there’s a population that knows how to get worked up.”  I come from a population that, sadly, won’t get itself worked up over torture.

The Jardin de Luxembourg is stunning and spotless. We couldn’t dream of keeping up a public garden to this level. Not only that, the park is strewn still sitting chairs, so that people can move them about as needed, following the shade or claiming whatever spot they wish. How long would those last in Golden Gate Park?

Streets are kept very clean. Little trash bins are plentiful. Store owners are cleaning their windows, dressed in shiny leather shoes and button down shirts, up on the ladder with the Windex.

In the farmer’s market, the fruit monger is going through the box of blueberries, picking out all the flawed berries, so that only the best are sold.

In every store, you are greeted with a “Bon jour” and every exit with a “Merci, Au revoir”.

But in some ways it’s a fantasy land and that’s why we only come here for a week. It’s a wealthy city and only the wealthy can really afford to live here. The riots a few years ago were shocking because it broke the myth of Paris as a bastion of beauty. When visiting Rome or Paris, we seldom think about who lives on the outskirts. In this case, thousands of poor immigrants, venting frustration about lack of opportunity and lack of social integration. It’s not all croissants and Mona Lisa.

As to the beauty of the people, it occurred to me that there are 3 types:

First, natural beauty. Though location independent, Paris has more than it share of naturally beautiful women. Whether on the ill-loved, too-early walk of the dog in whatever state of wakefulness to the most decked out lady in the fancy part of town, they turn heads at every block. The children are lovely, be it in their little outfits about town, or straight out of the 1800s, pushing their sailboats via stick in the pond in Luxembourg.


Second, just in the nature of being Parisian. While the UK seems stuck in a bad 1985 Madonna phase, Parisian women are stylish to the last, whether in their slightly torn t-shirts or in the latest fashion (and with the every present oversized sunglasses) they cut a fine figure. A confident walk and unmindful of those around them, they are the epitome of style. And they all smoke.

And third, there is the beauty that comes from simply being IN Paris. Obviously this inflicts tourists mostly, and you can see it in the gleam in her eye as she reaches up to kiss her mate, seemingly on every street corner, just happy to be here. Couples from all over the world, of every age or persuasion come here to marvel and it’s a joy to watch their joy as they sit on a sidewalk cafe or endure the gauntlet of rose-bearing touts at the romantic evening spots.paris-12-2.jpg

But I stop before I sink into the ridiculous.

It’s funny when you realize that stereotypes are true. I learned this when I was first in Paris, 6 years ago. I was on the bus from the airport and as we got into town, there were men in berets, with baguettes under their arms. A man was playing a French tune on the accordion in the subway tube. I kept looking around for the cameras and a director.

But it’s wonderful. Bakeries are plentiful and wonderful. Somehow I managed 4 croissants in 4 hours this morning. I don’t know what that averages to, but it seems a bit much. Of course the best ones cook their own bread in the back and the neighborhood smells wonderfully. Bread is subsidized here and beware la revolution if prices go up .

The Perfect Dinner
The Perfect Dinner
Baguettes are baked again in the evenings and a regiment of citizens flock to the bakeries and leave with one or many fresh baked baguettes under their arms like so many epee’s, sheathed in paper and waiting their quick demise. Point of fact, I made a point to make it my dinner last night, getting out of the boulangerie just as they closed, with bread, butter and a knife. In one of life’s long remembered events, it was quickly eaten in a small park in Montmartre.

And as is my tradition when in Paris, I end every evening with a creme brulee at some cafe. A touristy dessert, but cie la vie.


1 comment

  1. Ah, nice. I used to play in les jardins du Luxembourg when I was a kid. Slow down on the croissants and try some pain au chocolat, pain aux raisins, chausson aux pommes, milles feuilles 😉
    Don’t forget to visit le quartier Latin…I’m sure you’ll like the old book shops there & along the Seine.