I return to Paris as often as I can, for as long as I can, and I don’t know when this will ever change. I hope the only way it changes is that my time in Paris becomes longer or my returns are more frequent. This time around, I had a decidedly local experience because I spent my time with a Parisian who spends very little time marveling at “the postcards.” I was all too happy to forgo my usuals and pretend as though I lived in Paris with this person, like I didn’t wake up every day with the time marking in my mind. One day less in this dream, one day closer to reality.
During a visit to a small gallery in the Marais, I met someone who was planning a pop-up show the following day, featuring other mostly unknown artists who are living and working in Paris. I enjoyed myself so much that I didn’t once reach for my phone, and I went home with a painting by a Polish artist who moved to Paris nine years ago, still working on his craft alongside working in a bookstore to pay the bills. The painting now sits on my shelf like a book, and probably will for a long time because everything I loved about that night was infused into that painting and now it holds memories that are too difficult for me to relive, and that’s just how life goes sometimes.
I have a “day one” ritual that I repeat every time I visit. First, I make my way to Notre Dame and marvel at it, then I go inside and thank God, the Universe, my grandmother, and everything else for leading me back to its doors. Then I cross the street to to the bookstore before I walk in the direction of Blvd Saint Germain and reacquaint myself with my favorite part of the city until I reach Café de Flore, at which point I’ll stop for a seat at the terrace, order a tiny cup of café crème and commence people-watching until it’s a polite time for wine. In short, I am a parody of someone visiting Paris for the first time. This time around, the reading was done with another person and I was blind to everyone else around me.
Still, I returned to Fringe (Rue de Turenne) often, which is a cafe I discovered during an earlier visit in January. Fringe is basically a cross between Brooklyn and Denmark in a tiny, light-filled space decorated in Scandinavian minimalism with a focus on photography – with pretty decent coffee and some of the best fresh food. There’s a conscious effort to include vegan and plant-based options across all areas of their menu, which puts them right in the middle of the new food movement that’s sweeping Paris, without all the pretense and exclusivity that’s rampant in those places. In fact, the friendly, easy-going people of Fringe might be its best feature.
I finally spent some time in Belleville – and fell in love with it. I walked along the little alleys until I found the open-air gallery that is Rue Dénoyez, and eventually found my way to Père Lachaise. A wander around a cemetery is actually one of my favorite activities because I’ve always felt that there’s something very human and moving about standing at the grave of another person who had dreams like you do, who loved someone like you do, who lived just like you do now. Rather than remind me of death, these places often remind me of life; those who lived, and those who live on after the deaths of those they love.
I had the perfect Sunday in Paris – on a Thursday. It started with a visit to a neighborhood market for fresh berries, a modest selection of cheeses and a decent baguette. Then we walked to the river and dusted off a little spot on the footpath where we whiled away the hours enjoying our little picnic. It was – dare I say – one of the most beautiful days of my life. And that’s the thing about beautiful days like that – they turn everything else into a grotesque reminder of how much is actually lacking in your life, how you are living far from the possibility of what could be real. In retrospect, days like that are too shiny to see with any clarity; it’s punishing to even try.
There was a lot more to this trip, but the rest is for me to keep. While I use this blog as a the general dumping ground of my thoughts, not knowing where they might land and who may be reading what I write, I’m finally learning that some things are better kept to yourself. Especially things that are too precious for the internet. So, that’s it for now. Let’s hope it’s not another year before I write here again.
For now, I will leave you with a message that I came across while exploring in Belleville. It took my breath away, and left me sobbing because Paris is exactly this place for me. My memories of this place are always intact, and it feels like it is the same all the time, which is comforting for me – let other places chase after the latest trends. Paris is where I go to be still. It is rooted inside of me in a way I can’t explain. It’s a reference point for most of what makes me happy. And it is a source of my inspiration.
I hope you’re in this place, wherever you are.