I didn’t take any vacation in 2010. It’s true! I tried to, but then I had to come back to work to resolve some issues and then – poof! – 2010 was over.
My friend Jenny and I had been talking about going to Paris and Provence pretty much since my first trip there in 2009, when I fell in love with the City of Light. So when we bought our tickets in the beginning of the year, the trip felt millennia away. But I put my nose to the grindstone, looked up for a second and – poof! – it was time to go!
My love for Paris has no context, really. I was never one of those English majors who wanted to chase Hemingway’s ghost through the Left Bank. Nor have I ever been an art nerd interested in dedicating long afternoons to the Centre Pompidou or the Louvre. I’m not a fashion fiend or a chef chaser.
I just really like soaking in the beauty of the place. I decided that for this trip, I didn’t need a fancy reservation or a firm itinerary; I just wanted to cycle around, pick up each scene between my index finger and thumb and gobble it up.
What’s so great about Paris? I think it’s the life I can imagine for myself when I look at all of these people. Parisians aren’t just gorgeous, they’re confident, assured about their beauty. I want to be them AND to be with them. My French is trÃ¨s mauvais, which means I really have no idea what goes on in their inner lives; maybe that’s why I can crush on them so hard. As I observe them, there’s a montage of Parisian scenes I sort of mentally deposit myself into.
I’m the French counter guy at the Rose Bakery. My accented English is close to impeccable because I practice every day with the American pastry chefs who man the ovens, baking coffee mug-sized muffins and gluten-free loaf cakes for the many tourists who have breakfast here. I scoop surprising sides like black sesame roasted potatoes and radish-cucumber salad into takeaway boxes for the locals at lunchtime. I’m having an affair with the wispy English rose of a waitress. I love her mascaraed eyes, her tiny waist, and the way she pronounces “assiettes des legumes” with a grass snake hiss.
I’m that teenage girl at the Tuileries straddling my boyfriend behind the hedges and making out. What do you mean, aren’t I embarrassed? OF COURSE I’m not embarrassed. What’s embarrassing about TRUE LOVE? I’m going to put our lock on the Pont des Arts and throw the key into the Seine. If anyone tries to cut our lock I’ll throw myself into the river, too. I MEAN IT.
I’m Auguste Rodin living in my big ass mansion with my big ass rose garden and my big ass hedges for my big ass statues. Ne me dÃ©rangez pas! Je pense.
I’m that young lady in the tulip skirt sitting at the bar by myself. I came to Marcel, a cafe on the most beautiful, dappled street tucked at the top of the Montmartre. The wooden cubbies on the wall are lined with cans of Heinz Baked Beans and Tabasco sauce for purchase; it’s like a little bit of Williamsburg in Paris. I cozied up to a plate of creamy moules with golden frites and a glass tumbler full of Eton mess, brimming with mara des bois. That cute waiter has asked me twice if I want a coffee. I wonder if my French is convincing enough for him to think I’m from here.
I’m that dazzling racehorse of a woman who joins her businessman companions halfway through their lunch at Marcel. I’m in my early forties; I’m sleeping with the older businessman, but I could nail the younger one with a single come hither look. No one has ever rocked a heathered V-neck and belted white jeans like I can. My tousled auburn bedhead is richly striated and subtle – sure, it’s my own hair color, artistically speaking. I’m as thin as a centime except for a few strategic slopes and valleys. Really, darlings, this is nothing; you should have seen me sunning in Saint-Tropez.
I’m in kitten heels, stripes, and Ray-Bans riding a Velib’ bike* to work in this glorious weather. My perma-pursed lips are a little orange-red heart punctuating every sentence and my wavy hair is perched in a haphazard pile atop my head. I’m going to pick up a baguette on the way home â€” any baguette from any corner shop â€” which will come in a 10″-sack that only protects half of the baton’s length from the elements, preserving the crackle-chew of its crust. I’ll also grab some dark and gamy raspberries from my favorite greengrocer. He’ll pack them neatly in a paper bag for me so they don’t fly around the bike’s wire basket.
I’m the Middle Eastern man steeping thÃ© a la menthe in bulbous copper kettles all day, perfuming the air around the Canal St. Martin. I pour the sweetened, fragrant tea into little plastic cups and top with a teaspoonful of toasted almonds. Go ahead, take a delicate fleur d’oranger honeyed almond paste sweet, too. You know you want one. My fluffy Maltese sits by my stand and barks at my customers all day, but nobody takes her very seriously.
I’m the bespectacled, scarf-wearing, bald hipster in for a late night dinner of dessert and Gauloises at Le Dauphin. Thank god for the small plates in this place; my gut wouldn’t be able to handle a whole meal next door at Le Chateaubriand. My blue chambray looks smashing against the cool gray marble of the Rem Koolhaus room. But those mirrors, those mirrors! Trop de la vÃ©ritÃ©, I tell you. Turn this room on its side, take 15 kilos off me, and it would be just like that summer I spent up my nose when I was 21. You know, if it weren’t so unfashionable to be this fat, I’d have that dreamy squid ink risotto, its hot ooze as black as my heart. As it is, I’ll content myself with a strawberry rhubarb crumble showered with elderflowers, or a bit of this cool frozen fermented milk with olive oil and thyme. Mademoiselle, another adorable bottle of the pink bulles, please.
I’m a teacher living on Rue des Rosiers in a rooftop apartment with a slanted ceiling and two balconies. Would you like to come over for some cold rosÃ©? Ah, thank you for the beautiful gariguette strawberries. Let me spoon some crÃ¨me fraÃ®che into a bowl for dipping.
Let’s walk across the Pont Marie to Le Petit Pontoise. It’s hard to beat the sunset behind the tented fingers of Notre Dame. It’s late; I don’t think we’ll need a reservation. It’s a Monday night, and things are pretty quiet on the left bank. Look, a table out front for us! What beats a warm camembert with honey and almonds? Pass me those sweet, tawny crevettes and cool, tender haricots verts. Mmm…taste this velvety foie de veau and mashed potatoes! Let’s split a bottle of white burgundy and sip the final dregs of cornflower from May’s 23:00 sky.
79, rue de Varenne
+33(0)1 44 18 61 10
30, rue Debelleyme
+33 (0)1 44 78 08 97
1, villa LÃ©andre
+33 (0)1 46 06 04 04
131, avenue Parmentier
+33 (0)1 55 28 78 88
Le Petit Pontoise
9, rue de Pontoise
+33 (0)1 43 29 25 20
Hotels in Paris can be tough. My last trip to Paris was spent in the dankest hostel with loud, messy college kids climbing up and down bunk beds with NBA player feet. For this trip, we spent most nights in the clean Hotel Turenne le Marais, which was fine except that the room was a shoebox, the two narrow beds about the size of electric guitar cases. On our last night, we stayed at the charming Hotel Jeanne d’Arc le Marais just around the corner, which was a touch quieter and roomier. It seems to be quite popular, so it can be hard to book a room, but I really enjoyed our brief stay there and recommend it.
Hotel Jeanne d’Arc le Marais
3, rue de Jarente
+33 (0)1 48 87 62 11
View Paris 2011 in a larger map
*You CAN rent Velib’ bikes with a chipless American credit card! The machines take American Express cards only (neither my Mastercard debit nor credit card worked). It costs 8 Euros for a 7-day membership and 29 Euros for a one-year membership (which is amazing). The stations are everywhere. Download the Velib’ app to find the bike station near you. In well-populated areas late at night, it can be hard to find an empty parking spot for the bike. Don’t fret, thoughâ€”the next bike station is usually not more than a few blocks away. The bikeshare program makes so much sense in a dense city of Paris’s scale. I love that you can park a bike, walk a ways, then pick up a different bike wherever you want to. Drivers are quite aware of cyclists and people seem to follow the traffic rules (including stopping at red lights). One thing to know: while people love to ride their Velib’ bikes down the hill from Montmartre, not many people like to take the bikes up the hill TO Montmartre, which means there are lots of empty bike stations up there.
And I’ll tell you who I’m not â€” I’m not this lame-ass tourist couple sitting on the steps of the SacrÃ©-CÅ“ur with interlocked arms reading aloud from a single copy of Le Petit Prince. Pardonnez moi, I just vommed all over them.