Paris Micro-Moments For First Timers
Or Bing Bing Bing Went The Little Paris Radar
Meeting Paris is like going on a first date with that girl who, sure, might have been homecoming queen, but is also going to Harvard next year to study pre-med and art history and with a minor in performing arts because after all she did star in two high school plays. You will either have the evening of your life or you will be instantly sized up, spit out, and not even asked if you have an older, more mature sibling. So these are my recommendations for introductions (or re-introductions because Paris does give people second chances if you ask her in the right way) to ensure that you and Paris hit it off and that you don’t waste what could have been drinks and conversation with the most interesting girl you will ever meet.
Breakfast at Le Petit Cler. At this café, at an outdoor table second row on the left, I fell in love with Paris. If you sit facing the street of Rue Cler, the stillness and the weather and the slate roofs and the Parisians and the Rue Cler Breakfast with baguettes and jam and eggs and cappuccino will all stroll past as you sit there and that little bing bing that you hear is your Parisian radar switching on.
It’s boulangerie Nelly Julien for the first time walking into a bakery and ordering a baguette. Into your camera bag or backpack it goes with the end sticking out just so because of course you keep baguettes with you. I mean, you’re French. A few times, at a few cafés, I’ve asked where in the hell did you get this electrifying baguette that proves it wasn’t lightening bolts Zeus was hurling to Earth but the perfect snack and a few times those cafés have answered Nelly Julien. Also, pain au chocolat would love to meet your acquaintance here, but be warned, the chocolate inside will by evolutionary necessity grow you fangs so that you may drink of the chocolate lifeblood inside. Blind watchmaker? More like blind pastry chef.
How about an introduction to dinner in Paris at bistro Le P’tit Troquet, Madame, Monsieur. Here you’ll find emphatically French waitresses who will bring you an emphatically French menu on a chalkboard that features emphatically French dishes done as if your emphatically French maman has spent all day waiting for you to come home. I can think of no better introduction to emphatically French cuisine with a sense of emphatic friendliness that knows introductions ought to be done well and that Paris radars need constant care and calibration, especially at first.
I offer next two quick places to read next to Shakespeare and Company. Let’s face it, Paris wouldn’t be the Paris it is to me and all Americans if Hemingway wouldn’t have written truth into Paris with The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast like he wrote truth into World War I with A Farewell to Arms and into World War II with For Whom the Bell Tolls. And one of Hem’s favorite places was Shakespeare and Co. and though I’ve already paired it with a full blown moment design, right across the River Seine on the Île de la Cité are two micro-moments for you and your book from Shakespeare and Co. and why else did you come to Paris.
On the east side of Île de la Cité is the Mémorial Des Martyrs de la Déportation. From Shakespeare and Co., head east along Quai de Montebello for a stroll along the Seine and views of Notre-Dame and the little green stalls of street booksellers called baquenistas (where Gill from Midnight in Paris found the journal that proved Picasso’s girlfriend’s love for him). A few minutes later, depending how long you stop at the baquenistas, take a left over the Seine at Pont de l’Archevêché and on other side of the bridge, to your right, will be a little park with a stairwell that drops into the ground to the Jewish memorial. I usually say that writers who say there are no words shouldn’t be writers but the thing about this is that once you step down past a window that is caged and is one last glimpse of freedom and the River Seine, then in the darkness and the silence is a tunnel of endless lit crystals like stars. The problem with finding the right words here is that every light represents a life that the Holocaust took from Paris and there are too many hopes and dreams and lives and disappointments and heart breaks never mended from which no writer could possibly choose. After, I like to read Irène Némirovsky on the quite benches behind Notre-Dame because she is one of the lights down there and though when the Holocaust stole her it stole from humanity another Charles Dickens or Leo Tolstoy or Jane Austen, when I read Irène in Paris, it didn’t take her from me.
On the west side of Île de la Cité is a park called Square du Vert-Galant. From Shakespeare and Co., just head west along Quai Saint-Michel and then after a couple minutes of baquenistas cross the bridge Pont Saint-Michel. The chapel Sainte Chapelle and its stained glass are right here. Stop in if you like. Never takes long. But I take a left at the Seine along Quai des Orfèvres. About two minutes later, a stairwell takes you down to a walkway along the river, where you can do a little An American in Paris dance number if you like, and then just keep walking down along the Seine for about six or seven minutes until you reach the tip of the island just outside the park of Square du Vert-Galant. You can go inside the park if you want or if the river is too high but if you stay on the riverside of the fence you come to rocks that plunge into the Seine and there is a Weeping Willow that shades the rocks and under this tree open your book. There’s a gate down by the river and if it’s shut then oh well just go back up to the street and keep heading west to the park.
Or, what better introduction to Paris and what Paris is than Place des Vosges. It’s the first ever planned square park. It’s the red-bricked gorgeousness that you see in pictures. At the northwest corner is Amorino for gelato to take to the park and like all parks in Paris, spend as much or as little time here as you like. The square is surrounded by little eateries, but I head straight for the house and museum of Victor Hugo, who wrote Les Misérables. It’s on the southeast side of Place des Vosges and it’s a nice little uncrowded museum and if you love the play or the novel or humanity then you’ll love it here. It only takes a few minutes and is worth a dip. Place des Vosges is a lovely first park in Paris with an ice cream and a museum of Victor Hugo because it all proves that Paris is gorgeous but exists on and more importantly acknowledges both sides humanity, and that for every moment history shouts of, there were the in-between moments in Paris where humanity first whispered it onto history’s radar. Bing bing.