Thursday, May 1, 2014

Then and now

In the window at Deyrolle, the famous taxidermy shop.
When I checked out of the Hotel du Dragon yesterday morning, one of the guys who runs the place chatted with me a little bit. He said he was sorry the weather had been so poor. I love using that word to describe the weather. He was referring to the rain. I told him I didn't mind the rain. I said, "Paris is always beautiful." He said, "Yes, it is beautiful - if you don't live here."

Indeed. I can't imagine living there. Though, I could have lived there. The doorway to that life was open for a long time. If f I had had the wherewithal to get a work card, I could have stayed with my Aunt Edie long enough to get a grip. She would surely have helped me figure out a way to stay. I did not have the wherewithal, however, and life unfolded in a different direction. I have no regrets, but it's interesting to think about.

I've not been to Paris many times, but I've been visiting, off and on, since 1979. When I first visited, the Eiffel Tower was funky. The elevators didn't work and the area around it was sketchy. When I first visited, there was three-tiered pricing in the cafes. If you stood at the bar and gulped down your coffee, that was cheapest. If you sat indoors at a table, it was more expensive. The most expensive tables were on the sidewalk. (I learned that the hard way.) When I began visiting Paris, almost no one spoke English. There was a bidet in every bathroom, and a tub - no showers. It was a very different city back then.

I remember gazing in astonishment at the produce in the markets. It was so much more beautiful than anything I could find in the states. Even the time we blew through the city in 1989 (when I was living in San Francisco), the food boggled my mind. Every meal was a revelation. The coffee was out of this world, the wine. Even the simplest meal was extraordinary.

These days you can go to a Whole Foods and buy food just as fresh and delicious as the food in Paris. The cup of coffee I'm drinking right now is better than French coffee (though not better than Italian coffee). During my week in Paris, I had one spectacular meal, one very good meal. The rest of the food I had was no better, and in some cases, much less interesting, than the food I eat every day in Washington DC. Except for the bread. Their bread is out of this world. I ate some every day and I don't even like bread in general.

People visited Paris in 1979, of course, but not like now. I know people who make a living as tour guides, and of course I don't blame anyone for wanting to visit the City of Light, but my god, the throngs of tourists there make our Cherry Blossom throngs seem modest by comparison. There should be a limit on how many tourists can be in the city at any one time, there really should. The Pont St. Michel, the day I walked over it, was so clogged with tourists, I had no choice but to walk in the street, taking my life in my hands, may I say. It was harrowing, as was the plaza in front of Notre Dame. Horrible. Dreadful.

Today I'll buy groceries at Whole Foods, groceries that are just as beautiful and fresh as in Paris. I'll cook for myself, something I have sincerely missed. I'll walk around my city, drink in the green, gaze at the sky, say hello to the neighbors - in English. Today I will begin to integrate whatever it was that just happened to me. I will be gentle with myself.

It's so good to be home.

That's the Hotel du Dragon sign, on the right.


  1. The food thing is why we always get an apartment, cheaper in the long run and more - controllable. Springtime in Paris has such an iconic ring to it, like weddings in June. Off season is better but then of course the weather may be ice! I am so pleased that you went! Loving your shots of the city and the REYA experience. So excellent! I will be there in October but my trip will be a back alley sort of trip. I have five months to learn enough French to be able to find my way out of the back alleys...

  2. I think the hotel was the best choice for me since I was traveling alone. But if I should ever go back - something I doubt sincerely will ever happen - I would not go alone and I would definitely rent an apartment in the Marais or Montparnasse.