September 3rd, 2005
Friday the 2nd, I manage to make it from the Charles de Gualle airport to the 5th arrondissement of Paris for a mere 15 euros. This is because while waiting for my connection in Heathrow I’ve come across two women from Seattle and we’ve shared a taxi. I muster up my best French (which isn’t that great) to let the taxi driver know that we have two addresses to give him, etc… He figures me out straight away and speaks back to me in Italian. I take it as a compliment. The ladies & I chat together in the back seat about Seattle, the monorail, and where we went to school, which makes the time pass rather quickly. Before long I’m being dropped off the apartment I’m renting for my vacation.My apartment is on the top floor-up seven (7!) flights of stairs – no elevator. Thankful that I packed light, I bring my suitcase most of the way up and realize that I forgot to get the key downstairs in the mailbox. Exhausted, I leave the suitcase on the stairwell and run down to get the key. In a way I’m happy about the 7 flights of stairs, as this means I can eat whatever I want during my trip. It also means, as I find out upon entering the tiny studio apartment, that I have a beautiful view of the Jardin des Plants (read: green – lots and lots of green.) If I stick my head way out and look to the left, I can see Sacre Coeur in the distance. I open the window and head straight for the shower.
The owner has left a note for me with suggestions of some nice places to see at night. I’d like to familiarize myself with the area and I decide to make my way across the Seine to Ile St-Louis, since several people have recommended that to me. I slip into a dress, grab my bag (complete with camera, purse and guidebook) and descend once again down the unpleasurable stairs.
The night air is warm and there is a very slight breeze, which is perfect for a little stroll. A few glimpses at my map once in a while and I find myself at Ile Saint-Louis, a positively adorable neighborhood with 17th century stone houses and little boutiques and restaurants. I make my way up Rue di St-Louis en l’Ile (sp??) and peek at the various menus. The restuarants are lively and most of the clientele are seated outside. I decide upon a restaurant with a very small, crowded room and a live jazz pianist. The waitress greets me with a very cheerful sing-song ‘Bon soir!” and I’m taken aback for a moment because I’ve been expecting a city of grumpy folks. I tell her (in my mediocre French) that I don’t have a reservation but is there space for me. She smiled kindly, says “bien sur!” and takes me to a small table near the piano.
I throw my dairy intolerance to the wind, pop a Lactaid tablet, and start with a cream of vegetable soup – the perfect cozy welcome for a stranger in a strange land. For my main course I have pork jowl served with potatoes. What part of a pig is the “jowl” anyway? Wait, don’t tell me- I may not want to know. Whatever it is, it’s exquisite and each bite melts in my mouth causing me to sigh. My dessert is lemon sorbet with fresh strawberries – and if you think you know what lemon sorbet tastes like, you are wrong. This was the most lemony lemon sorbet I’ve ever had – there were bits of lemon in it and it wasn’t all sugared up like we have in the States. After swaying a little more to the live jazz music, I recommence my evening walk.
I pass by an apartment building with melancholy, pensive piano music coming from one of the windows. I look up and try to figure which window it’s coming from… most likely the one that’s lit up – but what if it’s one of the darkened rooms instead…
On the bridge between Ile St-Louis and Ile de la Cite’, I come across a string quartet playing mostly Bizet pieces. I stop and listen a while and look around me at the city lights and the tour boats on the river. Gee, this is turning out to be the perfect Parisian evening! I smile and continue my walk which causes me to stumble on the Notre Dame – it’s intimidating and I catch myself with my mouth wide open in astonishment. In front there are some young folks twirling poi (sp?) balls and blowing fire. I take a few pictures of the Cathedral and would like to linger a while but the men (aka wolves) have decided to come out so I leave.
Before I head back to my place, I make my way to Place de la Contrescarpe and people-watch, before taking a short-cut to my apartment. The complex itself is interesting. There are really nice apartments in one and they have an elevator. The second building (mine) for the most part has modest but nice (middle-class) apartments right near the stairs (no elevator), and the very top floor where I’m staying, seems to be for poor immigrants. Kind of sad actually. I sleep on and off and when I’m awake, I stare out the window trying to make out constellations.
Saturday morning (the 4th) I wake up, throw on jeans and a sleeveless top, complete the outfit with a sheer scarf (this whole Paris thing makes me want to wear nice accessories) and head down to Rue Mouffetard, a positively beautiful street full of shops and cafes, as well as a couple of small outdoor markets. I dip into one cafe and have coffee with generously buttered bread (I really ought to call it breaded butter!) before buying peaches and tomatoes at a market. I find a grocery store and buy salame and a few other provisions, before finding a lovely shop called “Jonathan Stark” where I also proceed to buy an inexpensive skirt, top and belt. Woohoo, Vive la Paris!
I don’t want to stop by my apartment, due to the stairs, but I do anyway so I can unload my things. I bring down a tomato, a peach and some salame and have myself a little picnic on the Seine. It must be in the 80′s today, I’m sweating. Paris is positively charming – the people so far are wonderful – offering to take pictures of me when they see me taking scenic photos, etc… Everybody greets me, everybody smiles at me. The sky is blue, the river is sparkling, I must have gotten to Paris at a good time!
I stop into the Institute du Monde Arabe (center for Arab studies) and find that the library there (with a great view of Paris) isn’t open so I make my way across the river and find myself in the Marais – the “jewish district”. There is a Catholic church there – Saint Gervais, and I duck in to see what that’s all about – I find a choir of nuns and monks singing – it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. What a treasure!!!
After they seeem to have stopped singing I walk to the Rue de Rivoli. I’m contemplating making my way past the Louvre to see the neighborhood up there, when GASP!!! I realize that I’m about to pass by an H&M – my favorite European clothing store! Always stylish, always cheap. I lose my train of thought and proceed to shop myself silly at H&M. In the store they are even playing a song that was popular when I lived in Europe three years ago.
I’m still hungry and it’s way too hot, so after my H&M adventure and after taking a picture of the pyramid (not really that exciting but pretty nonetheless) I stop at a sidewalk cafe with yet another friendly, patient waiter, where I have some mineral water and a salad of greens, ham and Swiss cheese (yes cheese – but I’ve got my pills with me and I feel great).
My feet are about to fall off so I decide to figure out how to use the underground Metro system. Fortunately I have approached the correct Metro stop because the number 7 passes through, and this is the line (according to the map) that will take me to my neighborhood. I descend into the underground and find that don’t understand the automated ticket machine. A local helps me buy my ticket and I head to the platform. There is nothing exciting about it (everyone tells me “You must take the Metro once while you are in Paris!”)- it looks like any other city’s underground system, but I admit I am impressed at how easy it is to figure out. Before long we approach my stop and I’m above ground, ready to get back to the apartment for a nap…
Entry Filed under: Paris