ORIGIN early 17th cent.: via French from Italian gazzetta, originally gazeta de la novità (because the news-sheet sold for a gazeta, a Venetian coin of small value)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Few Things I Love About Paris

Last week, I was in Paris where I spent a week lending a helping hand to my son who was moving. Couldn't he have done it by himself? Bien sûr que oui. But then, any excuse to spend a week in Paris is a good excuse! There was work to be done, but afternoons of putting things in boxes gave way to evenings at sidewalk cafés and mornings of packing suitcases were followed by strolls in the streets where I lost all notion of time and began to live in the present moment. Besides the pure pleasure of a week in Paris, I was lucky enough to be staying in a graceful 2-bedroom apartment with high ceilings and impeccably soothing interiors in one of Paris' most pleasant neighborhoods, a pied à terre lent to me by friends, a serene oasis in the middle of a hustling bustling city. My short 7-day stay in Paris reminded me of a few things I love about France - a place I lived for almost twenty years and for which I often yearn, despite the fact that there are many things about living in the States that energize and please me - and so I made a list.

-The sound of church bells ringing.
-The aroma of coffee and chocolate.
-The accessibility to an entire city through the métro, a means of public transportation used by old and young, rich and poor, little old ladies with their shopping bags and pierced punks wearing outrageous makeup, traveling side by side in a vehicle which contributes to a certain social cohesion among classes. For residents and visitors alike, all you need to explore Paris is a metro ticket.
-Music in the métro, whether it be the strains of an accordeon playing a traditional French waltz that makes one want to embrace the moment and sway to the music, or a saxophone wailing a loud lonely air that can be heard through the long winding hallways underground.
-People in the streets.
-Waiters in restaurants leaving me alone once I've been served, not expecting me to make way for the next patrons, and the subsequent feeling that everyone around me knows it is completely and utterly normal not to be rushed when eating, whether alone or sharing a meal with friends.
-The omnipresence of history. One tiny example: As I prepare to go to a friend's flat in the 15th arrondissement, my son casually says, "Get off at Dupleix. He was the French governor of India in the 18th century right before the Seven Years War (known in the States as the French and Indian War but which was actually an earlier world war fought in North America, India, and Europe!) reputed for his intelligence...." Take any metro stop, any landmark, any coin de rue, it is steeped in history.
-Women everywhere, of every age, of every socio-economic level, displaying a sense of style.
-The scent of perfume. For women, luscious or spicy. And for men, crisp or woody.
-Andouillettes! And so much more!
-Need I mention the ubiquitousness of excellent wine?
-The pervading smell of fresh bread and croissants.
-Having breakfast, alone, in a small café.
-Taking my time in Les Galeries Lafayette.
-Lingering in bookstores.
-The cool air of Paris by night.
-Seeing the Eiffel Tower, again.
-My favorite tea shop, Mariage Frères, on the rue du Bourg-Tibourg.
-Visiting L'Artisan Parfumeur, and finally, after all these years, daring to buy a circus-inspired perfume I fell in love with 15 years ago called Dzing!
-The custom of the handshake as an everyday, everytime greeting, with its accompanying warmth and sensuality.
-The metallic and musical sound of horns honking, although, due to recent French laws, horn-honking has been curbed!
-Shops and businesses closing for an hour at noon, closing on Sundays. American efficiency is wonderful, but isn't it civilized to pause, and not just rush headlong in life without ever stopping?
-A certain je ne sais quoi in the fresh smell of new tobacco.
-Having an entire evening to myself to read L'Elégance du hérisson by Muriel Barbery, and being thoroughly enchanted. (This will soon be the subject of another blog entry.)
-The pleasure of being immersed in my adoptive language, of hearing it spoken not just at my home and at work (as I do in the US), but all over, by everyone.

All these things - plus the excitement of meeting with the founder and editor of a young and vibrant publishing house whose collections represent concepts dear to my heart: bilinguism and girl power - were a few of the things that struck my senses during my week in Paris. Nostalgia? I chalk it up to the enjoyment of a culture, a country, and a language I like to call my own.