After three weeks on my own here in Paris, I’m enjoying the comfort of having my family visiting me. Alison arrived Thursday afternoon, my parents came this morning, and I’ve already done and seen so much more of Paris in the past three days than in the past three weeks. That is probably a combination of the fact that I didn’t go to school yesterday and I’m staying in a hotel in the center of the city rather than a suburb 45 minutes away. I’m not devaluing my first three weeks here, but I think it’s been difficult to do as much as I’ve wanted to since I was still getting adjusted to my host family and my school. Also, because I live in a suburb, coming into the city isn’t the simplest thing. But with my family here, I’ve really wanted to show them some of the best parts of Paris, which has allowed me to do and see a lot for myself as well.
Thursday evening after Alison’s train came in from Lyon, we walked down the Champs-Elysées, past the Christmas Markets that were just setting up for the season, all the way to the Arc de Triomphe. I hadn’t been to the top of the arc yet, but I had heard the view was incredible. The Arc de Triomphe is in fact just that…it is the definition of triumphant. Standing tall and glorious at the end of one of the biggest and busiest boulevards of Paris, the Arc de Triomphe serves as the center of a traffic circle solar system connecting a dozen streets, as if the cars zooming through the roundabout are pulled by a gravitational force around the grandeur of the arc. We climbed to the top, and emerged on the roof to see one of the most breathtaking views of Paris that I have witnessed yet. Then again, I’m beginning to realize that just about any view of Paris takes my breath away…I think I’m still in that honeymoon phase, but even so I wonder how it is possible that no matter which metro station I walk out of the architecture and the streets are just as beautiful as the last!
For dinner on Thursday, Alison and I ate at Les Fils à Maman, a restaurant founded by five brothers who crafted a menu out of their family’s recipes. While it was a bit expensive for a student budget, it was definitely worth it for a treat because the food was delicious, with awesome vegetarian options, and the atmosphere was perfect: the walls of the restaurant were decorated with comic books and toys – in an artsy and not immature way. To add to that charm, we were given a jar of Haribo candy to munch on at the end of our meal. For dessert we shared an I-don’t-even-know-what cookie-nutella-banana concoction that might be the reason I have to return to this restaurant.
Yesterday, Alison and I started our day with a delicious brunch at Claus, a restaurant near the Louvre. I highly doubt anyone who eats there is actually French, let alone Parisian. I’d say most of the people who come to Claus are (American) girls who like brunch; plus, brunch is definitely not a European thing, but I love it and I’m not ashamed. Anyway, this brunch had a Parisian swing (croissants). But while we were eating, we heard the waiters imitating and mocking American accents, pronouncing pain au chocolat like “pain oh chocolate.” Why oh why couldn’t my American accent sound as cool here as British or French accents sound in the U.S.? Instead, I just sound like an ignorant tourist!
We spent the rest of the day walking, which is really the best way to understand a city. We began in the Republique neighborhood, walking along Canal Saint-Martin, an incredible sight in the rain – tranquil in a way that is also full of energy. We turned down Rue des Vinaigriers to enter the area of the 11th arrondissement that is blossoming with “French hipsters.” (I adore French hipsters with their manbuns and skinny jeans. They’re like American hipsters, but with a European flare!) I loved this area and found it completely different from the Champs-Elysées, which is lined with giant, brand name stores and crowded with tourists. This quarter is calmer, and while the clothing stores are pretty expensive, it is a nice neighborhood to eat lunch and wander through small streets. We found a tiny, hole-in-the-wall bookstore, where we spent a good half hour picking through dozens of unique little books. Alison bought a poster of a sample cover of the Parisianer, an imaginary Parisian magazine, and I bought two really cool books: one was filled with Parisianer covers, the other detailed the Paris quartiers through animated drawings and explanations. (Trust me, they’re much cooler than I’m describing!)
Le Marais was our next destination, and after a few hours I’m pretty sure we walked down every street in this neighborhood. The Marais used to be the Jewish quarter and although it still has a Jewish influence today, as is evident by the falafel restaurants, kosher bakeries, and synagogues, many Jews in the area fled from or were killed by the Holocaust, while many more today are moving to Israel as a result of the rising anti-Semitism in France.
I found that Republique and the Marais were two of my favorite neighborhoods that I’ve been to so far in Paris because they are a bit quieter with smaller streets. They are both filled with shops and boutiques through which you can wonder all day, as well as cafés, restaurants, and bars. The vibe of each is a lot more relaxed than the areas around Galeries Lafayette, Arc de Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower, which naturally attract swarms of tourists.
This morning, Alison and I met our parents with a bag of croissants, ready to start another amazing day in Paris. It feels like something is missing without my brother here, but unfortunately it just wouldn’t have been possible for him to miss school for a week. The four of us started off at the Rodin Museum, which not only houses Rodin’s magnificent sculptures but also includes a beautiful garden. Another thing I’m beginning to realize is just how many gardens there are in Paris and how much I love them all; Paris really could be called the City of Gardens. In fact, after our lunch we strolled through another garden, Jardin Luxembourg, which is the type of place that is beautiful no matter what the weather, no matter what the season.
We ate lunch at Les Deux Magots, a famous Parisian café where we had a light meal followed by perfect coffees. In Paris, serving in restaurants is a profession, almost an art, and each waiter wears a black suit with a white apron. I’ve heard a lot of negative stereotypes about impolite service in Paris, from both restaurants and stores, but I haven’t had a single bad experience. Actually, I find that people are very polite to customers, especially when I practice my French with them. Of course there will be those people who make fun of American accents, like in Claus, and others who will only respond in English when I speak in French, but overall some of my favorite moments have been speaking to these true Parisians in French, asking them questions about a menu or a product and actually understanding the answer.