“When we came back to Paris it was clear and cold and lovely. The city had accommodated itself to winter…” – Earnest Hemingway
Someone asked me to describe it recently, which is a terribly hard thing to do.
Why? Because Paris isn’t just one city. It’s made up of a thousand little communities and neighborhoods, each with their own distinct flavor, but all cobbled together and all benefiting from the amenities and diversity that come with being part of a big city.
You can make your home in charming Montmartre, where the artists all lived. It’s the hilly part of the city, the part with the views of the rest of Paris. But you need only cross a few blocks to go from Montmartre into Pigalle, home of the Moulin Rouge, the crazy, wild sex shops, the street-corner prostitutes, and these little glue-sniffer things called poppers which are, apparently, legal.
From there, it’s just a short metro ride to Le Marais, home of distinct Jewish, Chinese, and gay communities, as well as spectacular art galleries, hilarious pastry shops, and the house of Nicholas Flamel. (That’s right. Like from Harry Potter.) And walk just across the river and you’ll find yourself surrounded by tourists at Notre Dame.
It’s like New York that way…with each neighborhood having its own style, drawing a certain type of person (from the posh families of the Upper West Side to the hipsters in Williamsburg). It’s also like New York in that it’s walkable and massive and charming. And that the locals really really wish the tourists would stop zig-zagging across the sidewalks in awe and just walk in a straight damn line.
The truth is that I’m really not qualified to answer the question. Describing Paris, even after a few weeks here, is a heavy task. One that’s been tackled by writers much more familiar and famous than I.
So I just told her that Paris is a thousand little neighborhoods, each with their own charm, personality, and verve. But to understand Paris, she’ll need to go see it for herself.
For the delight is in the details: The perfect pastry shop caddy-corner to your tiny studio apartment, the view up the hill from that side street restaurant you discovered your second day in Montmartre, the sassy, crowded small plates restaurant whose foie gras made you want to cry for joy.
Just like every new relationship, it’s the little details, the secrets, the personal connection that makes Paris all yours.
Bonsoir, darlings. Bienvenue en France.
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