France has come and gone and I’m back in Berkeley, but in the interest of completeness I must write because I haven’t yet written about my last two days in Paris. There was also a depressing 12-hour flight home (made better by Bridesmaids and Jane Eyre, made worse by the fact that my seating companion was a beefy American in a Harley-Davidson jacket, made slightly better by the fact that as far as that could go he was fairly considerate) but that’s not worth writing about, beyond what I just said.
We walked all over Paris and saw many of the things you are supposed to see. On Wednesday we went to the Louvre, the shopping galleries, the Opera Garnier, and Le Marais district. On Thursday we went to Place de la Concorde, the Grand Palais, Les Invalides, the Left Bank, and around Montmartre.
All of these things were great and worthwhile. At the Louvre, I was in the presence of the Mona Lisa (like everyone has said before me, it was pretty small) and also Winged Victory and the Venus de Milo and some lovely Jan van Eyck and Vermeer. (I’ve seen my share of Italian Renaissance painting in my time, so I think the Dutch stuff is kinda refreshing. Love the austere black dresses.) But museums are exhausting—especially one like the Louvre—and I was tired before we’d even finished the first room of Greek sculpture.
Apropos of my other blog we visited some amazing old bookshops, like amazing amazing, like you’d never see here. There were tiny librairies tucked away in the Gallerie filled with old first editions that I couldn’t believe were not behind glass, and a musty, haphazard aesthetic, Harry Potter ish. The best was Shakespeare & Co., a(n) historic Anglophone bookstore on the Left Bank. I feel like if I lived in Paris I’d be there all the time. There was a reading room upstairs with a desk (on it, a Henry James reader and the International Herald Tribune) and a window overlooking the Seine and Ile-de-la-Cite and Notre Dame. Another room had a piano, where a girl was playing something Baroque. Plus, it was in Paris—how can anything at home compete?
When we got to the Opera Garnier, I was like, why does this look familiar? Then I was like, oh yeah, because I just saw it in Sherlock Holmes. Also, it was the inspiration for Phantom of the Opera. They don’t have opera there anymore. Just ballets.
My history self was excited to go to the Grand Palais, because it was constructed for the Universal Exposition in 1900 and that whole turn-of-the-century expo thing is just super interesting. They were having an exhibition of relief maps, and I mostly paid for it so I could check out the inside. The interior apart from the exhibition was pretty blank, though the iron work and glass ceiling were wonderful, and then I imagined what kinds of exhibitions had gone on there 112 years before. Probably, you know, racist stuff.
I love how in exploring Paris we unintentionally came across so many adorable streets of shops and lights and sidewalks, in all these arrondissements. That reminded me of San Francisco.
Also: it was really really cold. The first couple days in Paris had highs in the low 40s, which being from California I’ve never really experienced in a prolonged fashion. I become a pitiful shivering mess whenever the temperature dips below 40 at night in Sacramento and I can see my breath. But: I’ve decided I like the cold. With proper jeans, boots, three layers, a thick coat, a hat, a scarf, and gloves, it’s not bad, it’s (as my guidebook put it) invigorating. And I wanted to also throw that out there because I do realize that I am wearing the same coat in every freaking picture. All pictures were outside, it was cold, and I packed light. …Deal with it.
Despite a multitude of impressive and historic and beautiful structures, to take photos of, to pay admission to, to visit, I think my favorite times in Paris, as it often is with places I travel to, were the times I didn’t feel like a tourist. Sometimes I’d jam my camera into my bag and then my hands into my pockets and walk like I knew where I was going. Browsing bookstores, shopping for scarves, and having coffee sans crème at one of the city’s many brasseries made me feel like I could be a Parisian. It’s silly, maybe, but I love a city the most when I feel like I can be a part of it.
We’ll see if my crush on Paris lasts, what with the distance and me being back home in my normal life, though if precedent is any indication I’d say it might. I’ll work on my French just in case.
Oh, and food: