Le Bon Choses– You know you’ve heard about it. The Parisians enjoy a joie de la vie. Unlike the type A worker bees of NYC, the French are more concerned with living life rather than conquering it, and it’s palpable. Just walk the streets and your senses are flooded. Shop windows are merely showcases for the artistry of the pâtissier and his creations. Then there’s the boulangerie where each baker has their secret baguette, croissant, pain au chocolat, and brioche recipe. Flower shops aren’t contained to the square footage of the store, but instead spill out onto the street. Flowers abound in every color imaginable and the blooms are more fragrant than any you might find at a bodega in the New York City. I spent a good 20 minutes in awe of a boutique de fleurs that JUST HAD ROSES. Mind-bogglingly beautiful. There’s shops for every individual part of your meal- the meat, the vegetables, the fish, the cheese. The cheese. There is absolutely no replacement for French cheese. The stinkier the better and lack of pasteurization creates flavors that invade your mouth. There’s no doubt that you’re experiencing something otherworldly. Just about any food shop you wander into will blow your mind, but make sure to ask which are the “best” in your arrondissement. Be aware though that there’s a chance it could be closed on a Tuesday or unexpectedly at 4pm instead of 5 or 6. In typical French fashion the Parissiens value getting home and enjoying the deliciousness of their endeavors more than making money selling them to you.
L’histoire- I’m admittedly somewhat of a history buff and France’s rich past does not disappoint. I love my current city for it’s history and handsome architecture, but New York City is a mere 400 year old blip on the 10,000 year old French city of Paris. Prehistorically there were settlers as early as the middle Neolithic period, Bronze, and Iron ages. Later the Romans lead by Julius Ceasar marched on what is now the Saint Germaine-des-Pres. There’s only a feel left of those ancient eras but evidence of Medieval times still abound. The cathedral of Notre-Dame and the charming Ile de la cite where the royal palace once stood invite visions of kings named Henry or Louise as well as the tragedy of Marie Antioinette. The moats and towers of the Louvre during the dark ages still stand and in 1534, King Francois I was the first French King to make the now museum his residence making it one of the most beautiful “homes” I’ve ever been to. There are pages of history that would be too long to list here, but Paris’ past is everywhere. In the Jardin de Tulieries, the Bastille, as well as Napleon’s Arc de Triomphe. Haussman architecture marks the work of Napleon III’s series of public works to improve Paris. It was his doing to erect landmarks like the Gare de Nord and the Gare de Lyon as gateways to the city, as well as the sensational Paris Opera. During the Belle Epoque, the Basilica Sacre Coure was erected in what is now the hills of Monmarte. The most well known French poet and novelist Victor Hugo (Les Miserables ring a bell?) laid the way for generations of writers and artists such as Renoir, Picasso, Modigliani, and later Hemingway, Yeats, Pound, and Gershwin to create here with abandon. You can’t go two feet in this city without stumbling on a cafe, hôtel (home), or cemetery where the artists that flocked to the city lived, slept, or died. Paris survived the Nazi occupation during WWII and Hitler’s sinister plan to demolish the city, so it’s beauty still stands today. Turn a corner in this city and there’s a story or hint of bygone days. Breathe it in and grasp why the city is so cherished by it’s people and visitors alike.
Le Tennis- As I started planning for my big departure, I made sure to grill everyone that came through the doors of my studio for any recommendations à Paris. One of my teacher’s particularly stylish clients said that I MUST get a pair of Bensimmon sneakers since all the French girls flaunt them. I pride myself in a somewhat decent short-term memory (big mistake) so I didn’t jot down the brand name and found myself scouring the internet for “simmone sneakers French” to no avail. Luckily, my American friend living in Paris and I tracked them down and voila, there happened to be a pop-up store right near her place in the 11th arrondissement. Can we just say that it is sneaker heaven? THE cutest, most feminine, little kicks I’ve ever seen. They come in a rainbow of colors and styles, like grey wool with velvet laces for winter, and lemon striped or flower printed for spring and summer. They have a couple different styles like ballet flat and high-top, but the regular four laced sneaks are perfection. Just slip them on and off and look tres chic running errands or with a sunny dress. As comfy as they are stylish even my cranky feet don’t complain. My only regret is that I didn’t get more than one pair!
Le vie de Cafe– Cafe culture resounds en Paris. The seats of the brasseries, bistros, and cafes all face out to the street. This is not just so you can people watch, and the people watching is supreme in this city, but so you too can also be seen. On a Friday night the patron’s overflow into the streets with glasses of Aligote or Bourdeux Rouge in one hand, and cigarettes in the other preening like peacocks and scrutinizing everyone that might pass. The concept of “to-go” hasn’t yet contaminated their culture so if you want a coffee you must sit and savor. Order a cafe creme (espresso with milk in a larger cup), a cafe elongee (our americano), or a un café noisette (espresso with a dash of milk or a spoonful of foam in a small cup). Coffee here is an art in which quality is much more important than quantity. If you want a big honkin’ cup of joe like you get at the ‘bucks you’re out of luck. Some cafe’s may have cafe filtre or cafe americain which is the stuff that percolates out of your Mr. Coffee at home, but it’s considered weak and flavorless and then you’re sure to be pinpointed as a touristique and who wants that? When in Paris you should do as the Parisians do, and get a solid cup of java. Taking time to savor your coffee or glass of wine while gawking at passerby’s is the savoir faire of the French, don’t miss out.
La Communication– The rumor that the French are rude can be well, somewhat true. They are abrupt, to the point, and fiercely proud of their language and culture which is probably why it’s survived thousands of years. I studied French in high school and four years in AP French left me with just a whispering of the depth and beauty of this language. Learn to communicate basic phrases to show your appreciation, but don’t be surprised if the quick tonged waiter at your brasserie skips over your well intended, J’voudrais…. and speaks in accented English. Don’t be offended, he’s just trying to keep you from butchering his hallowed langue. If you’ve never taken a subway in your life, navigation is pretty simple and the ride terrifically civilized. Make sure you lower your tone to a French decibel- they speak mostly in whispers. If you’re used to the subway in NYC the Metro will feel like a spa vacation. It’s gloriously clean (although grown men in business suits have a lovely habit of peeing wherever they please), and incredibly on time. I guess if you don’t have to run 24/7 you have time to keep things in working order. The city is circular like a snail. Each arrondissement or district is distinctly different with it’s own appeal. There are no street signs so street names are artfully scrolled on the sides of buildings which helps preserve the charm of the cobblestoned streets but can slow you down while navigating the neighborhoods. Get your phone’s GPS working unless you know how to take directions en français. Hey, if there is anything better than getting lost in Paris I can’t think if it, so get a little lost. You won’t regret it.