A June week in Paris

By Caitlin Kelly

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High above Paris — silence! Taken from a cab of the Ferris Wheel at Place de la Concorde

It’s 2.5 years since I was last here, in the depths of winter.

My husband Jose and I came for my birthday, and three friends joined us that evening, one from her home in London, her partner from visiting his parents in Sweden and a journalism colleague stationed here. Some had never met one another, and I had never met two of them, but it was a terrific evening.

We ate at this gorgeous restaurants in the Marais, Les Chouettes (The Owls.)

Two more friends — the author of Small Dog Syndrome blog and her husband — came the next day to share our rented two-bedroom flat.

I lived in Paris for a year when I was 25, on a journalism fellowship, so the city feels like home to me. I speak French and have been back many times since then, four times in the past decade.

The city is a feast in every way: great food, beautiful colors everywhere — flowers, doors, women’s clothing — millennia of history, gorgeous architecture, reams of culture, tremendous racial and ethnic diversity.

Most visitors spend their time in the 1st through 11th arrondissements — with possible visits to the quieter, chi-chi, residential 16th. (Balzac’s home is there) and the grittier 18th, 19th and 20th. The buses and subways are clean and efficient and many taxi drivers now speak English.

Some photos of our week:

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Jose planned a terrific Sunday jazz brunch at La Bellevilloise, a 100+ year-old building that’s been re-purposed into a cultural center in the funky 20th arrondissement (neighborhood), with great views of the city. The buffet style food was delicious, the music Django-esque, and the crowd a mix of all ages, tourists and Parisians.

I recommend it highly; you must make reservations!

The flat we’ve rented, from a journalism colleague of Jose’s, is in a trendy nabe, the Marais, (literally, as it once was, the swamp), an area filled with indie boutiques, bars and restaurants lining its narrow streets, with fantastic names like “the street of bad boys” and “the street of the white coats.”

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The view from our flat’s living room

Our rented flat is on the first floor at the end of a tree-filled cul-de-sac, so it’s blessedly silent at night.

My Paris isn’t typical.

I don’t feel compelled to fight the crowds and see all the official sights: Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Tuilieries, the Eiffel Tower.

I treat it instead like an old, familiar friend, as one more big city I enjoy.

Some tourists stagger along with pontoons of shopping bags from Chanel and Vuitton and Hermes. Instead, I’ve bought everything here from eyeglasses to bathmats; the colors on offer are so distinctive and these things bring us daily pleasure at home for years afterward.

We have a few favorite restaurants, like this one, Les Fous de L’Ile, on the Ile St, Louis, (where we rented a flat for two previous visits) and love to try new ones.

You must have a boule of ice cream at Berthillon!

We had, of all things, a very good Thai meal at Au Petit Thai; reviews are somewhat mixed, but it was one the best and freshest Thai meals we’ve eaten anywhere.

(Restaurants here tend to be small and crowded, so lowering your voice is basic etiquette. Portions are also smaller than enormous American ones.)

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We attended a wine tasting, in English, here.

We tasted two whites and two reds, with matching types of cheese and baguette and water to help us not get too drunk and learned a lot.

Paris has changed, of course, since I’ve been coming here, and five new things I notice this time:

— people jogging in the streets in Spandex and Fitbits, (once unheard of)

— far fewer smokers, more vapers

— so many people speaking excellent English, happily, from cabbies to store clerks and restaurant staff.

— Everyone’s wearing “les baskets” — sneakers — and a good thing, too! This is a city that demands and rewards hours of walking, but ohhhh, your feet will get tired if you don’t wear comfortable and supportive shoes.

— This visit, too, I’m much more aware, all the time, of our surroundings and every possible egress; with terrorism attacks in various European cities, including the massacre here at the club Bataclan, you can’t be stupid and tune out. A policemen was attacked with a hammer outside Notre Dame on Tuesday.

We live in weird and frightening times. I came out of a department store to find a large crowd and a lot of security guards and thought…ohhhhh, shit. But it was only (!?) people waiting for some American actor/celebrity to show up; apparently Tom Cruise has been here filming the latest Mission Impossible.

On a more sober note, one thing you’ll notice here, if you pay attention and look at the doorways of residential buildings, is the number of signs and monuments to the men, women and children who died during  the Resistance and in WWII.

I saw this glass monument in the park next to Le Bon Marché, an elegant, high-end department store — steps away from a brightly-lit carousel filled with happy children

It honors two little girls who perished in Nazi death camps and I found it deeply moving,

It reads:

Arrested by the police of the Vichy (occupation) government, complicit with the Nazi occupiers, more than 11,000 children were deported from France between 1942 and 1944, and assassinated at Auschwitz because they were born Jewish. Several of them lived in Paris, in the 7th arrondissement and among those two “very little ones” who hadn’t even started attending school. 

As you pass by, read their name because your memory is their only resting place.

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A great joy of summer here is the huge amount of  sunlight. Paris is much further north than you might expect — 48.8 degrees north, (the Canadian border with the U.S.) — and the sun isn’t setting right now until 9:45 or later, so there’s a long, lovely dusk.

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We visited the Marché des Enfants Rouges (the market of red children, named for the uniforms worn by those in a nearby orphanage)go! It’s small, crowded and so much fun, bursting with food and flowers and many places to sit and eat. The oldest covered market in Paris, it was founded in 1628.

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Here’s a terrific list of places to eat — from classic bars like the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz (yes, we went!) to bakeries and chocolate shops.

Start your day with a tartine (bread, butter and jam), or a pain au chocolat or a croissant or a pain au raisin and an express — an espresso.  You’ll walk off the calories.

Above all, sloooooooow down.

Sit for a while in a cafe or beside the Seine, and savor the city’s street life, whether day or night.

 

May you enjoy every minute of my beloved city as much as I do!

 

21 thoughts on “A June week in Paris

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  2. oh, it looks so lovely. i would eat a croissant each morning with a nice espresso and wander aimlessly amongst all the beauty. i love the attention to quality and beauty and history. you have chosen some wonderful places to spend your time. i am very struck by the memorials of those who have gone, alongside the everyday activities of those who remain.

    1. It is…but oh, the temperature changes are nuts — from 60 to almost 80 during the day. I am loving the wandering but also showering twice a day. 🙂

      I saw another memorial today — to a man captured and tortured during WWI, a Resistant member. Even today, the city hall commemorates him with flowers attached to his plaque on a wall. You cannot (and should not) forget.

      1. that’s a pretty dramatic temperature swing in one day, but sounds like you have a system in place to deal with it. love the memorials, they seems so personal and touching.

  3. Maryn

    The most heart-breaking aspect of that poignant memorial is that it’s specifically addressed to children (“ta memoire,” pas “votre”).

  4. Ooh, I miss Paris! I hope I can get to go back some day. If I do, I’ll make sure to get some recommendations from you. Obviously, I’ll revisit the stuff I loved most–the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Catacombs–but I hope to see more next time, including Pere Lachaise and much more.
    And there are a lot of WWII/Resistance monuments, aren’t there? The French have such an interesting relationship with that time period. They try to downplay the fact that a good number of them collaborated with the Nazis, and play up the Resistance slant. It’s almost kind of funny.
    Happy Birthday, by the way. My birthday’s tomorrow, though festivities have already started. Tonight I’m going with a friend to see a band play at a bar, and tomorrow I’ll go see the new Mummy movie with my sister (starring Mr. Cruise, who apparently is in Paris right now).

  5. Amy MacDonald

    Happy birthday Caitlyn. It’s been a long time since ’82-’83 but Paris still holds magical memories for me. Was there for a very brief time last week but didn’t see you!

  6. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Saturday links | A Bit More Detail

  7. I didn’t see you either, Caitlin — been here since 1/1/17 and intending to leave around 12/31. Sorry to miss you but glad you reveled.
    A bientot… qui sait? ellen count

      1. I’m midway through an apartment exchange year w/ a French Ob/Gyn who has a research contract at a hospital 2 subway stops from my place! (Which happens to be the hospital where I was born.) Apt. exchanges, both long and short term, are a realistic option if one is willing to be flexible about this or that. I’m flexible enough to live on the 5eme etage sans ascenseur — for ONE year! Stand by for the sequel….
        When did you redesign your blog, Caitlin? Great result!

      2. What street/arondissement are you in? We rented our flat on rue du Tresor in the 4th this time…BRAVE woman — not a fan of stairs beyond 1 flight. Did it once in Paris (6th floor) NEVER again We can’t do exchanges becs of tedious NYS co-op rules and nosy neighbors who would drop a dime on us if we did. I paid a design firm in Seattle big $$$$$ to do the new site — thanks! I love the result. Now it needs to pay for itself with new clients and assignments!

      3. I’m in the 12eme – near Bastille, or in the other direction Nation. I have 2 nearby metro stops and 2 great buses. Bastille is maybe 10min by bus, then I can choose to walk to the Marais or take another bus there …. or to St Germain, among other destinations.
        Tomorrow going to the justly popular Grande Mosquee salon de the, in the 5eme — one of my buses goes direct… it will take a bit of time, but j’adore les bus (and can skip subway stairs).
        Re blog design, seems to be a seller’s market, but again, yours is fab…. more reflections on the subject, later.

      4. I’ve always wanted to get to the Mosquee for tea. Next time. Yes, freelancing is a total shitshow. Counting the minutes until I can hang it up for good. Not yet; health insurance costs are $$$$$$$ for me right now.

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