If you haven’t been there, it seems all too romanticized, all very cheesy, existential, bohemian — LaCroix dahling, LaCroix — so so fucking French. If you have been there, you have your own Paris, it’s yours, and believe it or not it is, will always be, better than mine.
I just learned this last night. Everyone has his or her own Paris. Parises are like snowflakes, or maybe more appropriately, like Rorschach tests. Each is unique, and you see only what YOU see.
“You have to go to this restaurant in the Fifth, called Frommage. Cheese! It’s called Cheese, that’s all they serve,” said a friend of my who is (and I’m not kidding) a cardiologist.
The “Fifth” refers to the Fifth Arrondissement, or district, which is how people talk about Paris. (Yes, I know you know that, from your semester abroad, or your honeymoon, or your back-packing trip around the Europe right out of college, but I didn’t know that until I’d marked nearly a half-century in small to medium-sized American towns, so other people may not, so shut up.) Like New Yorkers talk about Uptown, Midtown, Downtown, The Village, etc. In Paris it’s The Fifth, the Fourth, the Eighteenth, and some Arrondissement’s have very distinctive personalities and characters, they rise and fall in and out of fashion. But now you know what that means when someone says something like, “Oh, there’s this amazing Chocolatier in the Sixth.” Something that makes up their Paris.
“Look at all the figures over the doorway in Notre Dame,” says my friend Barry. “They’re supposed to be apostles, but they gathered all the Jews from the Marais to model.”
The Marais is the traditionally Jewish neighborhood of Paris, there will be more about that, but that’s where Barry, a New York born Jew living in Marin found his Paris.
“I proposed to my wife on the Pont Neuf,” said my publisher when I told him I was going to write a book set in Paris. “And then we were robbed at gunpoint and escaped by jumping across the path of a moving car.”
The Pont Neuf is the oldest bridge in Paris, dating back to the 16th century, and covered with stone masks of old gods and heroes that have had to be replaced many times over the years as they were eroded away by the acid rain. It’s also where my publisher found his Paris, clearly in a scene out of a Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn movie. (There will be photos, but I haven’t left yet.)
“Pont”, is the French word for bridge, by the way, so you haven’t wasted your time. You’ll always know that now.
“I love to just sit in the Place du Royal in the Marais,” says my friend Valerie. “Just sit there, reading a book, with the sun on my face, watching the people go by.”
“There’s a little restaurant, about half-way up Mont Martre,” says my agent. “Called La Maison Rouge, just the kind of place you want to stop and have a sandwich and a coffee and take stock of your day.”
Everyone has his Paris, I’m fixin’ to go find mine, and I’m going to share it, as much as I can, here, with you.
Oh, I’m going to get shit wrong, seriously wrong. I’m going to misspell the shit out of French words, and I’m going to tell you stuff that your art history teacher back in 1983 told you completely differently. That’s okay. I’m always the last one to know, and I’m sort of used to you guys always knowing how to spell and whatnot. And your shit is right in your Paris, but this is my Paris, we’re talking about. Paris is like The Forbidden Planet that way – where the aliens reached into your mind, then constructed your own fantasy for you out of your consciousness. ( And I’m not going to have time to stay up all night Wikipeding and spell checking – and French just about makes the spellchecker ‘splode with frustration. So there will be wrong shit. That’s why God gave you Google, because I cannot be trusted.) My Paris!
Oh, I’ve been there before, just a couple of years ago, when I was researching Fool, and I was really just stopping over on my way to look at some Medieval cities in other parts of France, but if I had to say now, my Paris, beyond the Polar Bear sculpture at the Musee D’Orsay, or the hot dogs served in a hollowed-out baguette, with melted brie and Dijon mustard off a cart on the Champs de Elysees. (Which you pronounce, more or less, shaaamps d’leesay, and means, Elysian Fields, or “Field where our heroes are buried”. It’s one of the wide boulevards in Paris, a highly fashionable one, at the end of which is that big-ass arch you always see in pictures, The Arc de Triomphe, which Napoleon built because he felt that Paris should have a Big Ass Arch. ), my Paris is summed up in the picture below, which was taken by Charlee, the mysterious woman who has lived with me for the last 15 years and whom I have met several times.
This was taken at about 8:00 in the morning, on a Tuesday, on MontMartre, which is the almost rural butte right in the middle of Paris (where the Impressionists lived and painted, as well as Van Gogh, Lautrec, Gauguin, the composer Eric Satee, where the Chat Noir nightclub, that you seen the poster for a million times, was located, and were Amelie was filmed — for the most part.)
I call it “Morning Love.” These two have obviously had a long night looking for their own Paris. Dancing may have been involved.
I leave in a couple of days. I’ll report in soon from Paris. Come on, it will be fun.