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.

IMG_1544.jpg

 

IMG_1604.jpg

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.

IMG_7458.jpg

 

IMG_7465.jpg

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.

IMG_0904.jpg

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

A day in the Arts

I was invited to join a group of women who go on guided tours of museums and/or areas of interest in Paris.  Having visited most, if not all, of the tourist places, I thought it would be a lovely gift to me.  I didn’t have to do anything, just show up twice a month at a designated place sent to me in an evite.  Two of the group did all the heavy lifting, hiring Kelly Spearman from Kelly Tours and figuring out the perfect size for the group.

FullSizeRender.jpg
Eglise Notre Dame des Victoire with Kelly Spearman standing in front

Yesterday, we all met at Place des Petits Freres in the 2nd arrondissement. The small square is home to Notre Dame des Victoires and this was our fourth tour of the Fall.  It was entitled Squares of Paris.  Before I go further, I want to say a word or ten about Kelly herself.  Kelly doesn’t just give you a tour pointing out sites of interest.  She first orients you.  Which direction is La Seine? Where is east and where is west?  Then she proceeds to take you back into history and tell fascinating stories of how Paris came to be Paris and all the lively characters living in and out of my fair city.  I’ve never met a guide like her and I highly recommend her to any of you coming to Paris.

FullSizeRender.jpg
The Church’s organ.  It can only have been left behind by the French revolutionaries because there was so much else to plunder

La place des Petits Frères, where we started our journey yesterday, is in a rarely visited area of Paris. Though we were in the 2nd arrondissement, we were close to the original walls of Paris.  Therefore, at the time of the construction of the church, the land was cheap because it was outside Paris.  A unique addition to this church is the plaques/bricks that cover the inside floor to ceiling.  Each one is numbered and dated.  Each one thanks Mother Mary for a miracle.  Some are more detailed than others,  They are in French, English, German, Italian.  All say Thank you.  It is a space of intense gratitude and even someone like me who was raised a Quaker and not familiar with such religious symbolism couldn’t help but be deeply moved.

IMG_1606.JPG
The interior back of the Church.  This part of the church is always built first and the builders move forward.  

FullSizeRender.jpg

We made our way past the “Cour des Miracles” to Place des Victories where Francois Mansart first placed his mansard roofs–a four-sided gambrel-style hip roof characterized by two slopes on each of its sides with the lower slope, punctured by dormer windows, at a steeper angle than the upper.  Architects were admiring of Italian renaissance architecture and the results in Paris are very pleasing to the eye.  In the middle of most squares (really Places as none are square anymore) there is usually a statue.  This is the first thing built when a new Square/Place is being designed.  Here, as at the Place Vendome where we went next, the stories of statues going up, coming down, going up, being destroyed so material could be used for bullets, is a fascinating journey through the Kings, the Napoleons, the french revolution and the Commune.

IMG_1614.JPG
Look carefully and you can see the original name of the street
IMG_1616.JPG
Place des Victoires with the third or fourth statue.  This one is of Louis XIV but is so unbalanced that the tail had to become part of the structure making sure it didn’t fall over.

Place Vendome is a masterpiece of urban designing and left no doubt about the amazingly privileged social position of all those who claim it as their personal address.

IMG_1624.JPG
Napoleon stands at the top of this column.  Poor guy, he went up and down four times before he was allowed to stay there.

I show you photos as I could never do justice to what we saw today and can only urge you to get in contact with Kelly, tell her how long you will be here and let her suggest a tour for you.  You will not regret it.IMG_1626.JPG

FullSizeRender.jpg

 

In the evening, I was invited to a cocktail party and “Talk with the Artist” at the Mona Bismarck American Center.  The show is Landscape with a Ruin by Evan Roth, a Paris based artist.

FullSizeRender.jpg

I was looking at things I didn’t understand when I saw Evan, went up to him and said “You have to explain this to me”  And he did.  Each of the above scenes is an 18 minute stream shot with infrared light of a place where a fiber optic cable goes into water or comes out of it.  The brochure says that he ‘has measured the impact of the Internet on society for over ten years.’ The internet took him to these places.  I found them haunting, lonely and beautiful.  I think that’s the point.

I came away with an understanding that one has to know the heart and mind of contemporary artists.  We aren’t looking at a Monet where all that’s said is in the painting.  These works like so many others include thought process, a lot of travel, interpretation of things in everyday use and creating art.  I liked Evan and was grateful for my private tour and talk.

FullSizeRender.jpg
Bianca Roberts, Executive Director, introducing Evan Roth

It is lovely Indian Summer in Paris these days.  We had winter all September so we are luxuriating in this weather for as long as it lasts.  The sun sets around 7pm and the lights and colors on the Avenue Mozart during the waning light remind me why I love Paris.

A bientôt,

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.

IMG_7460.jpg
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.

IMG_7457.jpg

IMG_7459.jpg
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.

IMG_7464.jpg
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.

IMG_7458.jpg

IMG_7467.jpg
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.

IMG_0907.jpg
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