Just a few things that I love about Paris…

July 7, 2021 at 10:27 pm 5 comments

I had to go to one of my doctors last week in Paris. When I am going there, people often say “Enjoy Paris,” and inevitably I reply with a smile, and the truth: “I always do.”

I really do always enjoy being in Paris. And although Paris is full of world-famous attractions and amazing things to see and do, that is not why I love it. I love it for all the simple, mundane pleasures of just being there. That is what this post is about.

So, for example, while I was waiting to see the doctor, sitting on a bench across from the entrance to her building (COVID protocol) I saw the lovely Haussmanian building you see in the picture above, and the leaves of the tree branches that were shading me.

That night, I had a simple (but wonderful, and very French) meal with my son at the Cafe de l’Industrie, not far from Bastille. Normally I’m not in the habit of taking pictures of food, but this plate looked just so delicious that I couldn’t resist. And he and I both agree that just looking at it makes us want to go back for more.

Bavette de boeuf, pommes de terre, oignons, salade

I only stayed one night this time, and it was an early night for me. But it was nice, as I fell asleep, to hear people enjoying just being in Paris again, socializing on a Friday evening, outside the open windows of my son’s apartment overlooking the Bassin de l’Arsenal, a boat basin between the Seine and the Canal St. Martin.

The next day the first thing to do (of course) was to have breakfast–un café et un croissant–in a cafe, while leisurely reading one of my favorite books. In fact this is the book I always recommend when people ask me, “If I bring only one book with me to Paris, what should it be?” I recommend Paris Paris: Journey into the City of Light by David Downie because I feel that in this collection of his essays there’s something to interest almost anyone. The essays not only bring Paris and its history alive, but offer the additional benefit of providing the reader with a most interesting travel companion–the author himself, whose personal approach to the city is often iconoclastic but is also unfailingly thoughtful, honest, and illuminating. Plus witty!

Next I went back to the plaza opposite the Opera House at Bastille, to study a display commemorating key figures in the Paris Commune that I had noticed the night before but had not had a chance to study. In the picture below on the left you can see, in the background, an educational display from which interested passers-by can learn about this socialist movement that was in control of Paris for a brief two months in 1871. And in the foreground, you see sanitation workers who are, if not direct beneficiaries of the Communards, certainly indirect ones. For although the Commune in 1871 was quickly and violently suppressed, the ideals they were fighting for were not.

The photo on the right is a detail of the display that shows three Communards, with Louise Michel at center. This, by the way, is one of the things I love the most about the French: their genuine interest in their own history, and the lengths the government goes to to provide citizens with opportunities for learning about it. This same display was at Gare de l’Est a couple of months ago, so apparently this wonderful open-air museum exhibit is making its way around the city in this, the 150th anniversary year of the Commune.

While I was standing there reading some of the panels a mother walked by with her child, who couldn’t have been more than 2 or 3 years old. I couldn’t hear what he said to her, but she answered him by saying, “Well, I don’t know, let’s find out,” and proceeded to read the introductory panel, no doubt trying to figure out how she was going to make the Paris Commune comprehensible to this wonderfully curious little boy.

Next I made my way across town and had a lovely lunch with a good friend in a Vietnamese restaurant on the Blvd Montparnasse; and after that I went to see my friend Penelope Fletcher, bookseller extraordinaire, at the Red Wheelbarrow bookshop on the rue de Medicis, on the northern end of the Luxembourg Gardens.

Of course you cannot leave a bookstore, especially one managed by a good friend, without a new book. This time I chose Laurence Sterne’s Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. Then it was time for another favorite thing to do in Paris. To enjoy a kir cassis, en terrasse. With a good book, of course.

Soon it was time to return to Essoyes, so the next stop was Gare de l’Est. I have always been attracted to this huge painting inside the main entry to the station, but I had never taken the time to really study it.

Le départ des poilus, août 1914

So I took a picture of it this time, and today decided to learn about it. I was surprised to learn that it is the work of an American artist, Albert Herter. He painted this mural in memory of his son, who was killed in World War I, and donated the painting to the people of France in 1926. You can learn more about the painting, and about the artist, here.

Then it was on to the train, and the lovely train ride to Vendeuvre-sur-Barse, which is also one of my favorite things to do in France. To ride in those quiet, comfortable, trains of the Société National des Chemins de Fer (SNCF for short, but why shorten a name like that, it is pure poetry!) through the lovely countryside, past fields of wheat in a rich golden early evening light.

Happiness.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, A Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

Entry filed under: About Paris. Tags: , .

Midsummer Night’s Dream… Summertime 2021

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cosmic Latte  |  July 8, 2021 at 7:59 am

    A lovely tribute to a lovely city!
    As a person whose always wanted to visit Paris, it was a pleasure to read this! Très bien!
    Just a teeny bit jealous though 😀

    Reply
    • 2. Janet Hulstrand  |  July 8, 2021 at 8:05 am

      Merci, Cosmic Latte! You’ll get here one day, I know you will 🙂

      Reply
      • 3. Cosmic Latte  |  July 8, 2021 at 10:29 am

        Merci beaucoup ❤️

  • 4. LauraVeronica  |  October 8, 2021 at 9:18 pm

    Everything you write about in this article, things that you love about Paris and France, I love, too! Yes! Absolutely! A people that respects its history, especially its deeply complex 20,000 year old history, speaks to my heart, mind and soul. The Haussmannian façades of the buildings, the librairies, the train stations, the « comfortable, quiet » trains, the name itself « Société Nationale de Chemins de Fer – the very name itself – is poetry, I so agree!! I have always thought this, and to read that you, too, feel this way, is such a gratifying and amazing twist of fate. I have never met anyone who appreciated all these things as much as I do before.

    To think that over a million young men, « poilus », took the train east to Verdun, Reims, Chateau-Thierry, Metz, at that very station, a train ride to a certain and horrible death in the trenches, at that very station, and passed under the place where that painting you describe of the poilus now hangs, sends shivers of Terror up and down my spine. What an important and moving story you tell of that painting. Thank you so much! I will definitely visit it next time I’m lucky enough to be in Paris.
    Your description of Happiness is also my idea of Happiness – a historical, beautiful city;a good book;health; a good friend or loved one; time; great cafés; and a home to go to. Yes, my idea of Happiness, too. Thank you for sharing your perfect two days of Happiness in Paris with us.

    Reply
    • 5. Janet Hulstrand  |  October 10, 2021 at 8:45 am

      thanks so much for this warm appreciation, laura! 🙂

      Reply

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