I should’ve refreshed my French language skills. When I visited Montreal last summer, I remembered I’d taken four years of French, all of which seemed to have evaporated from my mind except for counting to 20 (vingt), stating my name (je m’appelle Jefferey) and saying that everything is just okay (comme ci comme ça).
We all know what Americans think of the French. That they’ll turn up their noses like a skunk has entered the room if you don’t speak the language. But that’s simply not true. As someone who’s had French roommates and has French friends, I’ve never worried about this. Plus, it didn’t hurt to have a husband on hand who spoke fluent French.
Of all the cities we visited on our honeymoon—spoiler alert—Paris was our favorite. Maybe I was predisposed to like it more due to my lifelong obsession. Maybe it really was the best. Either way, I was completely captivated as soon we arrived. As soon as we stepped off the Eurostar, even the French air felt different.
Unlike the other cities, Paris was the one place where I was unashamed to be a tourist. Our first dinner was at Le Don, just blocks away from the Eiffel Tower. We could see the light show off in the distance as we munched on steak frites and crepes and drank cheap Chablis. Walking back to our hotel in the Seventh Arrondissement through on and off again rain showers, I could already picture us living there.
"Sure, I unabashedly took video of the Mona Lisa and took a selfie at the Eiffel Tower and went to Notre Dame, Le Sacré Coeur and Centre Pompidou. But as breathtaking (and terribly touristic) as each of those experiences was, I think of those smaller moments when I remember Paris."
The next morning, we made it to the summit of the Eiffel Tower. We also went to Trocadero, climbed to the top of L’Arc de Triomphe (it’s much bigger than it looks) and drank champagne on the Champs-Elysees. Over the rest of the trip, we chatted with a San Francisco tourist about Donald Trump while we waited in line to enter the Musee du Louvre. We saw what’s possibly the largest Picasso collection in the world at Foundation Louis Vuitton. We had dinner at Le Bistro du Périgord where pictures of famous patrons like Woody Allen and Muhammad Ali lined the walls. Everything we did, no matter how big or small, was memorable.
Like London though, my fondest memories were in those little moments between wandering the Louvre and walking to the top of L’Arc de Triomphe. Karl Lagerfeld’s bookstore. The rarest steak I’ve ever had in my life (it was practically moving on the plate) at Le Chenin. The speakeasy inside a laundromat (Lav-O-Matic). Failing to realize that a shuttle can take you to Foundation Louis Vuitton so you don’t have to walk through the woods with the prostitutes. Clicking open the handle to exit the subway. Shopping for laundry detergent and snacks at Carrefour. My husband helping Spanish tourists operate the washing machine at the laundromat. Spending time with friends who traveled from Nice to hang out.
Sure, I unabashedly took video of the Mona Lisa and took a selfie at the Eiffel Tower and went to Notre Dame, Le Sacré Coeur and Centre Pompidou. But as breathtaking (and terribly touristic) as each of those experiences was, I think of those smaller moments when I remember Paris.
"On our last night, as we dined at a restaurant in Republique, we watched an elderly man smoke a half pack of Italian cigarettes in one sitting. Across the aisle from him were two twenty-something girls who downed two full bottles of wine while also smoking."
I also think of the people. Though it’s cliché to say, the French do have a certain joie de vivre. They seem so far removed from the pressure to be perfect. On our last night, as we dined at a restaurant in Republique, we watched an elderly man smoke a half pack of Italian cigarettes in one sitting. Across the aisle from him were two twenty-something girls who downed two full bottles of wine while also smoking. Next to us, a young, thin couple housed a pair of massive burgers and fries. When I saw the frequency of smoking there and the large smoking sections, I thought maybe France missed the memo on lung cancer. But it’s not that they’ve missed the information. It’s that they don’t care about it. People in France enjoy themselves. They eat fatty foods and smoke and drink wine at lunch because they’re having fun. They laugh loudly on the subway and no one stares. They walk slowly in public squares. They aren’t occupied proving to people how rich or important they are. They aren’t in a hurry to grow old, be successful or get to their dinner reservation (though they’ll give yours away if you don’t show up on time).
Paris is a bustling big city like New York—just minus all the things I hate about New York. I felt extremely connected to Paris for many reasons, if not just for the more efficient subway system and superior architecture.
I recently finished reading Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. It’s a thrilling collection of personal essays about his early days living in Paris and spending time with other great writers of his era like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. Maybe it’s a rite of passage for all writers to pass through Paris at some point in their lives and fall in love. Maybe it’s a rite of passage for someone who calls himself bourgeois. Bourgeois is a French word, you know.
Whatever the reason, the one thing that’s clear is I’ll be back.