Archive for August, 2022

Paris in August (2022)

The Bassin de l’Arsenal feeds into the Seine

I have just spent a very nice week in Paris, apartment and cat-sitting for my son and his girlfriend while they were vacationing in Italy.

They live in the Bastille neighborhood, and have a very nice view of the Bassin de l’Arsenal, which is a canal that feeds into the Seine. I haven’t spent a lot of time in this neighborhood before, so this time I was pleased to have the chance to get to know it better.

One thing I didn’t find right away, and missed, was a nice little pocket park (or “square,” pronounced “sqwar” in French) nearby, which most Parisian neighborhoods have. From their window I could see the canal and the boats, and I could see a place to stroll along a cobblestone quai next to the boats; but I didn’t see any benches to sit on or any green space along the canal, and what I always want in Paris (or anywhere, really) is a bench to sit on while I read and watch people stroll by. I was feeling a little bit sad about this, so one day I looked at the map and saw that according to the map, the largest nearby green space was the Jardin des Plantes across the river. That is not too far away, but as I was walking toward there I found an even closer little park, the Square Henri Galli, before crossing the river.

But really, I should have known Paris better! I should have known that there would be green space nearer than that and indeed when I decided to explore my son’s immediate neighborhood a little more carefully I found that all along the Bassin de l’Arsenal there are lovely places to walk, with little playgrounds, and benches to sit on, plenty of trees and flowers, and everything that makes me love being in Paris, especially on a nice day when you can find such a place to sit and read. In other words, there is all that literally right across the street from my son, duh; and all I had to do to find it was walk down a winding stairway next to the passerelle that crosses the canal. (When he had returned from his vacation my son also showed me the (not all that easy-to-spot) entryway to the Coulée Verte, a lovely elevated linear park built on top of an obsolete railway infrastructure just a couple of blocks away from his apartment.)

The moral here, folks, is: if you’re looking for green space, or a nice place to stroll or to sit and read in Paris, and you can’t find it, you’re not looking hard enough. 🙂 )

Bastille is a very busy neighborhood. The area right around the memorial to the Bastille–the original prison that was famously raided in 1789 at the beginning of the French Revolution is long gone— has an abundance of restaurants and sidewalk cafes, and generally lots of busy urban activity: skateboarders, people on trottinettes (motorized scooters, watch out for them, they are dangerous!!!), and so on. There is also a big outdoor market there two days a week, a couple of movie theaters, and one evening–it happened to be on a Catholic holiday, the Feast of the Assumption, which is a national holiday in France–there was an open-air gospel concert. One of the two opera houses in Paris, the Opera Bastille, is also located there and was announcing a current production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. I thought I would go to that one night, but alas, when I went to inquire about tickets I learned that the opera was taking its annual August vacation and so: no such luck. Well, another time…

France has for hundreds of years welcomed and offered asylum to refugees from many countries around the world, and that continues today. There is a mini tent city for homeless youth sponsored by an association right on the main square, across from the opera. And all along the sidewalk leading from Bastille to the passerelle that crosses the Bassin de l’Arsenal there are tents pitched by homeless people, sometimes whole families, who I must say seem to be bearing their circumstances with equanimity, sometimes even joy. (I know this sounds naïve and maybe even heartless. Surely they deserve better housing! All I can say is, that is what I have seen, and it has caused me to reflect: some people can’t be happy no matter how lucky they are, and others find ways to do so no matter how unlucky.)

The other day there was also a very moving installation in the square drawing awareness to the victims of a massive wave of state-sponsored executions of political dissidents in Iran in 1988. I was not aware of the extent of this tragedy before. Thanks to this effort to memorialize the victims, I am now.

While I was in town I was able to see a couple of friends. I met one of them for a catching-up-with-our-news lunch in the Jardin de Luxembourg one day. Another day I met a friend in the Marais, where we had a delicious lunch at Café Charlot, and then went to an exhibition about Proust and his Jewish heritage at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du judaisme.

Honestly my absolutely favorite thing to do in Paris always is just to 1) walk; 2) find a nice little café for lunch, dinner, or just a drink or un café, and then sit there and read, and listen to the lovely sound of French conversation going on all around my ears.

I did plenty of that too.

But how can you write a post about cat-sitting in Paris without a picture of the cat?

You can’t, that’s what. And so, here you go.

Parisian cat surveys the Bassin de l’Arsenal, waiting for her best friends to return.

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 will soon publish her next book, A Long Way from Iowa, a literary memoir.

August 22, 2022 at 11:02 am Leave a comment


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