Posts tagged ‘Paris’

Just a few things that I love about Paris…

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.

July 7, 2021 at 10:27 pm 5 comments

Is Paris Still Paris?

Is Paris still Paris?

Well, yes and no.

Like many cities around the world, Paris is struggling to be the beautiful, joyful, lively, convivial place she is known to be. But it is not easy these days.

The cafes are closed, and have been for some time. The restaurants, bars, theaters, cinemas, and museums are closed. There is a 6 pm to 6 am curfew in Paris and all across France.

There are many other restrictions having to do with everything from travel into and out of France, to how many people can be in a shop (or store) at one time. Masks are required everywhere in public–indoors and outdoors.

Another lockdown had been widely anticipated in response to the persistently concerning numbers of new COVID cases, especially with the introduction of new variants of the virus to the mix. But when the announcement came on Saturday, it was not for a new lockdown, but for a continuation of the couvre feu (curfew) that has been in place since December 15, news that was not necessarily met with relief or approval. Many people find the restrictions of the curfew, and some of the consequences of it–crowded shops, trains, and buses as the curfew hour approaches, and the difficulties of compressing the day into fewer usable hours for example. Some also worry that it is not going to be enough, and that the government is simply putting off another inevitable lockdown.

Who knows? The French are famous for not liking to admit to there is something they don’t know, but I was listening to a doctor talking about the pandemic on French TV not long ago, and in answer to one of the questions, he answered in words quite seldom heard on French TV. “Nous ne savons rien” he said. (Which means, basically, “We don’t know at all.” Or, more informally one might say “We have no idea.”) His tone was somewhere between discouraged and sad.

Sigh.

So all of the above is about how Paris is not really Paris these days.

But what about the ways she still is?

Well, here are a few answers to that question.

As in many times before, this is another good time to remember Paris’s motto: Fluctuat nec mergitur  (‘Tossed about, but not sunk.”) These are tough times, but among their many qualities, Parisians have shown themselves time and time again to be nothing if not resilient.

Gardens are being carefully tended, in preparation for spring…

Wherever you are in the world, try to be patient. If you are safe and in good health, and your family and friends are too, be grateful. Stay well, be careful, prenez soin de vous…one day things will be better…and spring will come again…

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 literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

February 1, 2021 at 2:36 pm 2 comments

Shuttling between Paris and Champagne

One of my favorite activities in Paris: sitting in a neighborhood cafe with a good book and either a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

I’ve been lucky enough to be shuttling between two of my favorite places in France (and I guess therefore in the world) this month: Paris, and “my” little village of Essoyes in Champagne.

It’s only about 2 1/2 hours from Paris to Essoyes, and I usually do most of that trip by train, either from Troyes or Vendeuvre-sur-Barse. So it really can be done as a day trip, and occasionally I have done that, for example to attend my friend Adrian Leeds’s Après-Midi meetups in the Marais. My timing was lucky this month, in that I was able to attend the first in-person Après-Midi to be held at the Café de la Mairie since the lockdown began last spring.

Adrian has been conducting Zoom meet-ups since May: this time the guest speaker was the wonderful Cara Black, who was talking about her latest book, Three Hours in Paris, which is a thriller set in 1940, in newly-occupied Paris. Cara lives in San Francisco and was not able to come to Paris as planned (because most Americans–understandably–aren’t allowed into France for now 😦 ), but she got up at 6:00 in the morning so she could Zoom with us for our afternoon meeting. Her new book is fascinating! It deals with the (historical) fact that when Hitler came to Paris in June 1940, he left again quite suddenly, abruptly, and inexplicably. Why did he do that? was what Cara wondered, and from that wondering she has created a fascinating novel about an American woman, a sharpshooter from Oregon, who is assigned the task of attempting to assassinate him.

It is always good to be in Paris, and September is a particularly fine time to be there. Everyone is back from wherever they had gone this summer and (almost) everyone seems to be adjusting to the new rules for wearing masks, keeping physical distance from each other, and observing les gestes barrières. Most people are wearing masks, and most of them are wearing them correctly. (The most common infraction is not covering the nose–not good enough, people!) Consequently, it is not an infrequent sight to see two friends encounter each other on the street, one of them walk right by the other one, and then stop short, turn around, and say, “Oh, I didn’t know it was you!”

On one of the days I was in Paris I was stuck inside working on a project I needed to do. It was a gorgeous day outside, I could see that, but I wasn’t out in it, enjoying it. Then I began to think about various things that were concerning me, and before not too long I had slid into a not very positive state of mind.

So I decided to pull myself together, and “snap out of it.” I got my work project to the place I had promised myself I would; I went off to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription I needed; and then I found a table at a sidewalk cafe, where I ordered a kir, and then just sat there for an hour, watching the world go by.

There are very few of the mundane worries in life that can’t be made better by spending an hour just sitting in a Parisian cafe, with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. And so that is what I did. And it worked!

Pinot Noir Grapes…from last year…

In Essoyes, the vendange has come and gone. It’s not saying anything new to say that 2020 has been a challenging year for almost everyone around the world. And that goes for the vendange as well.

I’ve written about the vendange in Essoyes in the past, for example here and here. There are good years, and there are bad years: this was NOT a good year for my friends and neighbors who make champagne. After a very hot, dry summer the harvest was both early and short–it began during the third week in August and was over before September 1, for most vignerons only about 8 days I think. Our friend from the pressoir in Essoyes came by to say a quick hello after it was over, and explained some of the reasons that “we’re all going to lose money this year.” The drought was one problem; COVID was another. There were others too, too complicated to go into here.

So the vignerons are hoping (fervently) that people will buy champagne. The sooner the better; the more, the better. You don’t need to wait for the holidays. Or a graduation, or a wedding. (One of the problems, of course, is that so many of those events have had to be cancelled this year.)

So why not just celebrate the fact that–so far–you have come through the pandemic and are still here to enjoy champagne? Vignerons work hard–very hard!–throughout the year, and this year especially, they need our support.

Enough said. This is, of course, up to you. Just sayin–this year the vignerons of France could use your help.

I have not said anything about what is going on in my home country. Suffice it to say it is deeply concerning, and it makes me both sad and worried. Most Americans abroad can send their votes back home very soon if they not already been able to do so. I am hoping that a massive voter turnout will make a difference, and will help us take the first steps toward getting to a better place than we are as a nation right now.

Stay safe everyone. Wear those masks, keep those distances, wash your hands, don’t touch your face.

Prenez soin de vous!


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 literary memoir entitled “
A Long Way from Iowa.”

September 13, 2020 at 11:56 am 2 comments

Déconfinement, Paris-style

It was time for another trip to Paris last week, and oh how lovely (and interesting! and joyful!) to be there again…

Continue Reading July 4, 2020 at 7:53 am Leave a comment

Interview with Jane S. Gabin, Author of “The Paris Photo”

An interview with Jane S. Gabin, author of “The Paris Photo,” a novel that was inspired by her discovery of a photo in her father’s papers after his death,…

Continue Reading November 24, 2019 at 12:53 pm Leave a comment

Book Review: The Existential Englishman: Paris Among the Artists

…It seems to me that The Existential Englishman is first and foremost a love letter to Paris, and it is an extraordinarily rich, complex, substantive, and thoughtful love letter to the city indeed…

Continue Reading August 30, 2019 at 7:43 am Leave a comment

Au revoir encore, Paris…

My heart breaks a little bit each time I have to leave Paris…

Continue Reading August 10, 2019 at 12:18 pm 6 comments

Edith’s Cafe Spotlight: Les Deux Magots

Save the Paris Cafe is a wonderful new initiative launched by the energetic, imaginative, healthy-community-minded Lisa Anselmo. And this is the first essay in a series that will be presented on this website by the inimitable, knowledgeable, and witty Edith de Belleville. Take a look everyone, and join in this effort–we’re all needed to help keep Paris’s wonderful cafe culture alive and well! Janet Hulstrand

SAVE THE PARIS CAFÉ

Parisian storyteller, historian, and licensed tour guide Edith de Belleville shares the history behind her favorite places around Paris to sip a coffee or glass of wine and watch Paris go by. We’re launching the series with the venerable Les Deux Magots in Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
[La v
ersion française ci-dessous.]

There are cafés in Paris where you can’t just do whatever you want. There are rules. Les Deux Magots is one of these. But do not be put off by this. As soon as you pass through the majestic revolving door of this mythical café, you’ll understand what I mean. You are now in the hallowed halls of the Parisian Intelligensia.

On the wall are black and white photographs of the famous artists and writers who came before, and sat in the same comfortable banquettes where you are now sitting: Ernest Hemingway with Janet Flanner; the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire; the…

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July 12, 2019 at 11:00 am 2 comments

Q&A with David Downie, author of “Paris: City of Night”

An interview with David Downie, author of “Paris: City of Night,” “Paris Paris: Journey into the City of Light,” “Paris to the Pyrenees” and more….

Continue Reading November 19, 2016 at 8:22 am 1 comment

Q&A with Gary Lee Kraut, An American Writer in Paris

An interview with Gary Lee Kraut, writer and travel specialist, and founder and editor of the award-winning online magazine, France Revisited…

Continue Reading May 11, 2016 at 11:53 am 2 comments

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