Paris: Back Home

Anyone who has ever visited Paris in August immediately senses that something is out of whack.  Other than the Parvis in front of Notre-Dame or the Tour Eiffel, Paris is practically empty.  It is the Congée Annuelle otherwise known as August.  There are plenty of parking spots on the street, seats are empty on the metro.  At least half the retail stores are closed for the month with a sign thanking us for our understanding.

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I walked outside of my apartment building this morning at 10:45.  There wasn’t a person to be seen.  It was eerily quiet.  The Boulangerie on the corner is closed.  Two out of the three fruit and vegetable markets are closed.  The Greek deli is closed. The pizza and sandwich shop is closed.  The one and only Women’s clothing shop is closed.  The chocolate shop is open with an ice cream stand outside the door.

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Where Parisians live, it is silent.  Where tourists gather, there are more people than ever.  Trying to walk across the Parvis to meet a friend at a cafe was like negotiating one of the hardest obstacle slalom courses one could find.  Tourists don’t walk.  They amble—as they should.  How else is one to take in the beauty that is Paris?  However, if you live here, as I do, tourist places should be avoided at all costs.  Especially if you need to be somewhere.  It is a good reminder of the awe that most of us felt when we first arrived.  When rambling was the height of entertainment.

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Walking towards Cathedral Notre-Dame
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Line snaking around the Parvis–waiting to go inside Notre Dame.  Not nearly as crowded as the day I tried to cross it to get to a cafe.

Quinze Août (August 15th–The Assumption of Mary) is a holiday within the vacation month.  Then absolutely everything shuts down.  I asked Barbara, “Isn’t it a contradiction to have everyone celebrating a Catholic holiday in a Socialist Country?”                           She responded “no, not at all.  Unlike the US, we have total separation of church and state.”                                                                                                                                                    (Note: now that Macron is President, France is no longer a Socialist country).

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The stores that are open have tiny signs in their windows telling us that things are still at “very small prices.”  Les Soldes is over but they hope to get rid of all their stock before La Rentrée.  La Rentrée which literally means The Re-Entry.  When everyone comes back to Paris, back to work and back to school.

But we have one more week of August yet to go!!!

A bientôt,

Sara

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More thoughts on living in Paris

“The more you come to know a place, in general, the more it loses its essence and becomes defined by its quirks and its shortcomings.  The suggestion of something numinous or meaningful is usually available with full force only to the first time visitor and gradually decreases with familiarity”

Sebastian Faulks Charlotte Gray                                   

I have changed the tense to the present tense because those two sentences jumped out at me when I read Charlotte Gray (a wonderful book, by the way!).  I first came to Paris to live in November of 2013.  I walked everywhere.  I had time to walk everywhere.  I was so full with wonder, awe and amazement at the beauty of Paris, at my good fortune to be able to pick up and leave California and live in Paris, there were times I thought my heart would burst open.

It has been a long time since I’ve had those feelings.  I live here, have commitments here, pay bills here, run up against French administration here and unless I write it down as a date with myself, I don’t take those long walks anymore.  I still love Paris but it is completely different.  I have also changed apartments.  I used to live on the corner of Git-le-Coeur and Quai des Grands Augustins.  I sat at my table and looked out on the Pont-Neuf. I could stick my head out the window, look right and see a perfect view of Notre Dame.  I understood how Monet felt when he wanted to paint certain things at every hour of the day.  These two views changed all the time depending on the weather, on the time of day, on my mood.  Many days it would take my breath away.

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Now I live in the 16th.  I have a large terrace which I said I wanted.  In exchange, I gave up the view of the Seine, the Pont Neuf and Notre Dame.  I look out on another apartment building.  Below me is a lovely courtyard.  Every hour on the hour, I see the reflected lights of the Tour Eiffle flickering on the glass of the building across the way. The blinking lights last for five minutes then I lose the reflection.  That is the only reminder I have that I live in Paris.  And there are no high buildings or skyscrapers.  Strictly interdit in Paris.  It’s not till I walk outside and turn left on Avenue Mozart to go to the metro that the atmosphere of Paris washes over me.  Some days, especially days that it has been raining, it seems especially beautiful as the lights bounce off the sidewalk and glass store fronts.  Those days, I take a deep breath and pinch myself.  But those days have gotten far and few between.

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There are no tourists here where I live.  I only hear French on the streets.  Am I saying I would trade all this to be back in the centre of Paris where tourists abound, walk incredibly slowly driving me nuts.  Where all the photos of Paris postcards originate?  Good question.  One I ask myself every day.

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People ask me if I think I will stay here.  I always have to think out my answer carefully because it changes all the time.  Last Saturday when someone asked me, I responded that I thought I was a more interesting person living here in Paris.  I like having to walk to the metro.  I like that I can go to morning matinees of movies once a week.  I like that I never have to drive a car.  I like that I can jump on the TGV and be almost anywhere in France in less than five hours.  And that’s only because the train stops everywhere on the Cote d’Azur taking an extra two hours.  Marseilles is three plus hours away.  I adore Brittany and that I can go there and not have the tremendous crowds that Mendocino and the Northern California coast attracts.  I love going to the American Library and hearing wonderful speakers and authors one or two nights a week.  Does it really matter where I live in Paris?  The fact of the matter is that I LIVE IN PARIS!  How many Americans have the luxury of pulling up their lives and roots and move 6,000 miles away just because?

As they say in Twelve Step rooms, More Will be Revealed.

A bientôt,

Sara

Chemin de Fer de Petite Ceinture

Two weeks after I moved into my new home here in the 16th, I had some friends visit.  We walked up to La Rotonde at La Muette for a cafe allonge (a long pull coffee as opposed to an expresso).  We sat outside and enjoyed the people watching and street watching.  Across the street sat La Gare.  I knew there was a train station nearby that serviced the RER C but I didn’t think it was that close.  The next day, a friend came in from the suburbs and I asked her about it.  She told me about la Petite Ceinture–literally the little belt.  La ceinture was a rail line that serviced all the main stations in Paris and by the time it was finished construction made a loop around Paris.  It’s heyday was the 1900 Universal Expo in Paris.  It was also the beginning of the end for the Ceinture as the metro lines were being built and introduced.

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Sign as one enters the pathway near my street.

La Gare, which we had been admiring, was one of the little stations for the Ceinture.  It is now a terrace tea room on it’s main floor and a restaurant underneath where the trains would stop.  The architects of La Gare as restaurant saved the signs so one can see exactly where the quays were.  The mezzanine is marked Baggage and houses the toilets and coat service.

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Once a rail station for la Petite Ceinture now a restaurant and tea shop
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Photo of the menu showing the restaurant.  Sunday brunch is 39euros!

The 16th arrondissement has resurrected 1.2 kilometers of the rail line and turned it into a nature path.  It lies directly between my building and Porte de Passy.  At the end of rue de l’Assomption is one of the gates to enter into the path.  It is green, inviting, extremely quiet and shady for our hot summer days.  Along the way are signs inviting us to look at the trees, birds and other natural phenomena telling us what to look for.  You just get started and the walk is over.  I gather there is great and on-going debate about what to do with the 36 kilometers total of the old rail line.

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A waste container made from the wood along the path and a sign begging us not to throw our cigarette butts or any ‘crap’ on the path.

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At the end of the nature path, in the Jardin de Ranelagh, is this insect hotel! with an explanation of why they are so important.

If you want to know the fascinating history of the Chemin de Far de Petite Ceinture, go to:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemin_de_fer_de_Petite_Ceinture

In a 2004 episode of Poirot “The Mystery of the Blue Train”, Poirot and friends board the Blue Train in London to go to Nice.  On the way, he explains to his traveling companion that they are on La Petite Ceinture to get to the Gare de Lyon where they will turn south to go to Nice.

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Above: One of the last Petite Ceinture de Paris passenger trains in 1933 – its passenger service would close one year later. right: View of the Ouest Champ du Mars station during the 1900 exposition, with the Boulainvilliers bridge-viaduct for Batignolles trains in the background.

Some of my readers know the 16th quite well.  Perhaps this little sign with a map will bring back memories. The three metro stations are Ranelagh, Jasmin, Michel-Ange.

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A bientôt,

Sara

Bois de Boulogne

If you look on your map of Paris, you will see that the 16th arrondissement is huge.  Many map books divide up the 20 Paris arrondissements into quartiers (neighborhoods).  Very sensible for the 16th.  On the East is the Seine, on the north is Avenue Marceau going up to Etoile and Ave de la Grande Armee going all the way to Porte Maillot.  And along the entire length of the west of the 16th is the Bois de Boulogne. To the south is Porte Saint Cloud and Boulogne Billancourt.

I’m just a smidge further than half way down and two blocks from the Bois.  Sunday morning, I put on my sneakers and went exploring to see what I could see.  Within five minutes, I had crossed over the Porte de Passy and was in the Bois.  Another five minutes and I was at the Hippodrome d’Auteuil which is large.  On one end is a golf course.  On the other is a swimming pool.  I’ve been thinking that I should start swimming again, that my hip would thank me.  It was a Sunday and I saw no one to ask so I left that investigation for another day.

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I came to Lac Superieur.  I started to walk around it.  Runners were everywhere, many doing the Lake circuit a number of times.  And as often happens, everyone seemed to be going the same direction.  This time it was clockwise.  I was walking counter-clockwise.  Arriving at my starting point, I began walking down L’Hippodrome.  Signs kept telling me that Les Grands Cascades were in that direction.  I don’t see them on my map.

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Lac Supérieur

Walking, I was mostly alone on this wide tree-lined street.  The trees had grown into an arbor over the road.  It felt like Fall.  A lot of leaves had fallen so there was green, yellow and that tannish brown that leaves get when they aren’t in Vermont but haven’t drowned in rain. In spite of the runners, it was very quiet.  Surrounded by trees and beauty produced a calm.  There was hardly any wind so the stillness seemed complete.  One could walk and think, solve a few problems, pay attention to what is around me and feel at total peace for a few minutes.

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I believe Ave de l”hippodrome is closed to cars on Sunday

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I passed dirt paths telling me that  if I walked north I’d arrive at Porte Maillot where I lived all May and most of June.  Porte de la Muette was northeast.  I now shop there. Porte de Passy is the next one after La Muette.  Two of my buses stop there and are often easier than taking the metro.  You have to picture Paris before cars. Those who could rode horses.  If you left Paris, you came back in through one of the gates.  These are the Portes that circle the city today.  They are often entrances onto the Peripherique which is the major through-way circling the city.  You have to get on it to go anywhere unless, like in days of old, your road takes you up to the Porte and you keep going because you are already in the right direction.

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I walked for over an hour and was barely inside the Bois.  Just before I entered, I saw  a long stand of city bikes, known as Velib’.  Next week, I will rent one and see how much of the Bois I can cover.

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Walking up to Porte de Passy
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Fountains are everywhere so no one goes dehydrated.

I am not ready for summer to end.  It all goes too quickly.  So though it looked and smelt a lot like Fall during this walk, I’m crossing my fingers that we still have hot days ahead of us.

A bientot

Sara

Living in the 16th

I received a lovely e-mail from a reader this week telling me how much she is learning about Paris and France from reading my blog.  She urged me to do more posts.  Thank You lovely reader.

After waiting almost two months, I have finally moved into my new apartment in the 16th arrondissement.  The view from my window is extremely soothing but not very interesting to a Paris tourist.  I overlook a Courtyard and garden.  The amazing thing about this apartment is that it has a terrace.  Everyone in Paris would like a terrace, it is a premium commodity.  I don’t have just any terrace.  I have the equivalent of another room! With a table and chairs for eating, a chaise longue for reading and room to start a small Parisian terrace garden if I so choose.

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Looking down at the courtyard from my terrace

When one walks around the 16th and looks up, it’s impossible to miss all the terrace gardens with so much lush color and different shades of green.  If you are standing up high in an apartment building, you can see that almost every roof top has a terrace that is home to a garden–with trees, bushes, sometimes benches.  I don’t know if this is unique to Paris but it’s a wonderful aspect.

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Opposite me–What’s known as the Penthouse in Paris.  The top two floors as one apartment in most buildings here.

My street is very quiet.  Even the church bells across the street are quiet unlike the bells of the Catherale de Notre Dame which announce themselves throughout at least 4 arrondissements.  My street dead ends into Boulevard Beausejour.  After passing through a path for pedestrians only, I am two blocks from the Bois de Boulogne.  The Bois de Boulogne is the smaller of the two parks that sandwich Paris from the West and the East.  There are lakes and bicycle paths, boathouses, the Jardin d’acclimatization which has a wonderful playground for children.  I once saw a small camel there giving rides!  The extraordinary Fondation Louis Vuitton is next door.

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My street dead ends here

The other end of the block crosses Ave. Mozart, a wide street with small, very Parisian little stores: a bakery, vegetable and fruit market, fish market, etc.  The metro 9 is one block from my street.  The closest grocery store is Monoprix which is quite a walk down  Ave Mozart.  I was very spoiled in the 6th where I lived.  Everything I needed and more was at most 6 blocks away.

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Lining up for bread at the Boulangerie

The 16th arrondissement is laid out differently than many of the others.  It goes from north to south and is long, bending with the Seine as it turns south from more central Paris.  The streets are wider, everything is greener.  Along the Seine are some important organizations such as Radio France.  I’ve only gotten to know a small part of this area from Michelange-Auteuil up to La Muette and Rue Passy which has the beautiful clothing stores.

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My true treasure: the coveted terrace in a Parisian apartment!!!

Please stay with me as I explore my quartier (neighborhood) of Paris that most tourists don’t come to.

A bientôt,

Sara