P A R I S
So many legends have been spun about this shimmering city that it is nearly impossible to arrive without a preconceived notion of the place. Take your pick, which do you prefer? Perhaps you are smitten with the Belle-Epoque and the time of Gustave Eiffel. Maybe your dream centers on the Lost Generation-- Hemingway, Fitzgerald and friends. Jane Birken and Serge Gainsbourg left an unforgettable mark in the 70s that still attracts many today. Do you see the quirky Paris of Amelie Poulin? Or the aristocratic world of the ill-fated Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Further still, what about the gray Paris seen in the 1960s film The Red Balloon? I could go on and on...
My dream view of Paris is the golden age of the 1950s, when Paris found renewed life after the tragedies of World War II. Think Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina and the photographs of Robert Doisneau. I want to wear Dior dresses, walk in heels and be transformed from a common girl into the lovely, sophisticated protégée that speaks French with perfect Parisian inflections and manners.
We all have our day dreams. Paris is the place for the best of dreamers. A journey here is a step towards not just thinking it, but living the dream, whatever it may be. And while at times the magic does happen, there are many days when the reality of life in a big city hits hard.
Paris is tight and space is at a premium. The city smells like diesel and in many places urine. Traffic is heavy, noise pollution is thick and cultural misunderstanding is inevitable. Are the French rude? If you are new to the city you are likely to give a resounding YES! Yes. But consider, If a foreigner visits insisting on their own way and the French person does not bend to accommodate, are they really being rude or are they simply staying true to their culture and ways? By setting social boundaries might they be teaching us how to interact in their country? Perhaps.
It is interesting to compare the way a French person envisions their capital city to the way, say, an American perceives it. The best way to sum it up may be to say that the French view their capital through modern eyes, the now— and the foreigner sees it through the lens of the past as conveyed through history, fiction, and film.
A few years ago I was shopping in the way too crowded Louis Vuitton store on the Champs Elysée looking for a birthday gift for my sister. I came upon this most fascinating book written by an author whose name I have sadly long forgotten. He was French and in his book he presented Paris as a city that is urban, trendy and sleek. From his lens and writing, the city appeared to be the escape of rockers and minimalists rather than romantics.
Is this Frenchman's view any more authentic than that of the foreigner? It's really a philosophical question. My reality vs. the reality of others. Which is true, is either false? What about dreams vs. reality -- is all of life a dream? And so the question just exists in all its existential beauty. For me, there is both the romantic Paris of the heart and the modern Paris of today. It is a world of contrasts, fiction and reality. It is a city of dreams and I love its ever changing, never ending story.
Lovely places I like that you may want to consider as you plan your travels.
Hotel des Grandes Ecoles $$
- A charming, quiet, simple hotel in the heart of the 5th, the intellect's quartier.
Georges V $$$$
- An elite international crowd flock to this palace beauty just off the Champs-Elysée.
Le Meurice $$$$
- A gorgeous palace hotel for rockers and artists. Located across from the Tuileries.
Le Petit Pointois, 6th
- Bistro gourmand, excellent atmosphere, service and menu (reservations preferred).
Le Florimond, 7th
- Convivial bistro atmosphere with friendly waiters, amazing food and lots of veggies. (reservations required)
- The most amazing view of the heart of Paris in a gorgeous, modern restaurant. Delicious Mediterranean cuisine. (reservations recommended)
Jardin des Plantes
- The garden is for the botanist and the museums are for the kids.
Jardin du Luxembourg
- Darling puppet shows, playground, pony rides, fountain with boats, chairs to relax, outdoor café and meticulous lawn care.
- Respite from the pounding heart of the city, but still a very busy park.
- See Monet's Water Lilies in the round. The colors of the real thing are clear, bright and gorgeous!
Le Muséum National de l'Historie Naturelle
- Very, very belle epoque, in the dustiest sense. Enjoyable if you like bones and rocks.
Musée Marmottan Monet
- In the most elegant quartier (the 16th) the Marmottan is fun for its contents and neighborhood!
- I love Picasso in all forms. The Paris museum is always a treat and the surrounding neighborhood fun to get lost in.