26 January 2000

france and paris, specifically, have this romantic image. i had to ask myself what this means. personally, i'm a bit turned off by the label. so what about a "romantic" city turns me off? what does it mean? even now i haven't really figured it out. i think i was scared that paris would be all sights and tourist traps, forgetting that it is an actual city that people live in. as far as the meaning of paris being romantic, i can only think that it must just be these familiar sights that we associate with being romantic so they are. maybe it is the feel of the place. i can't help but think it must be something else, but i have yet to figure it out. so if any of you can tell me what you think of when you think of paris being a romantic city please drop me an email on the subject because i'm stumped!

we left for paris from cannes on the direct high speed train on the morning of 26 january. our reservation was a bit mixed up, but once we got over it we had a decent ride in first class with a wonderful lunch care of gisele. our biggest concern, despite the fact that people were not rude in the riviera, was that we would struggle in paris due to not speaking the language. we were also convinced we wouldn't like it because it is so "romantic." we should have known when we discovered it is the largest city in europe that it would have an appeal for us. (this title depends on how you draw the lines. london and moscow are also a similar size.)

we were going to spend a week in paris staying with edith, a childhood friend of mrk.'s that he hadn't seen in almost two decades. we were excited and a little nervous. we really didn't know what to expect. edith now lives in paris with her french husband and two year old son. she gave us directions to her house via the metro and we were expected to arrive around 5:30 in the evening.

looking at a map of the paris metro can give one a headache. there are so many lines it looks quite confusing. but everyone told us it would be easy. it wasn't that i didn't believe them, i just felt like i couldn't believe them. it turned out that it was exceptionally easy to find our way to the metro stop by edith's home. we arrived at edith's faster than we had thought. we were surprised that at 5 pm the metro was almost empty. we discovered later that rush hour is closer to 7pm.

edith welcomed us in and introduced us to arthur, her son. she showed us our room and we settled in. arthur took and immediate liking to mrk. they were buddies for the rest of our visit. we met fredric back, edith's husband, later that evening. we liked him too.

the back residence was another wonderful home for a week. we had use of the kitchen to cook and clean. we had wonderful people to visit with. they even let us use their computer. we settled right in. it took us a day or so to get really motivated to go out and see the city!

they live in district XVIII. this is a very nice neighborhood. it is easy to get to the center of the city, it is only about a 40 minute walk. the area itself is a thriving neighborhood with lots of people and shops. it was so nice to just wander the are a little and do some shopping. i think my favorite thing about the district (and this went for other areas too) was the cheese shop. there is this superb cheese shop around the corner from a street market. this is the kind of place you would never see in the u.s. it is a stinky, densely packed, well lit, little store with more kinds of cheese than most americans can imagine (not that this would be saying much.) there are huge blocks of cheese and butter that you can have any size chunk cut from. my favorite shelves, though, were those filled with little, hairy, white-grey-blue-green, stinky, varied shaped balls of mold. these pyramids, cylinders or hockey pucks contained the most wonderful goat cheeses. they were the ultimate delight for us. they have become the ultimate symbol for me of france specifically, but also of just not being in the united states. you would never see shelves like this in any but the most specific, gourmet shops in the states, if even that.

district XVIII borders the huge hilltop church, sacre coeur (sacred heart), and is on a downward slope facing away from the city (northern). our hosts suggested one evening in the beginning of our stay that we go up to the church and the plaza on the southern slope of the hill to get an evening view of the city. this was our first sightseeing in paris. from the plaza we could see the city spread out in from of us. we could just barely see notre dame and the louvre. we soon walked around a building and suddenly we could see the eiffel tower. i have seen so many images of this structure and heard so much about it that it was a little odd seeing it in real life. it was even more odd when on the hour it suddenly started sparkling like it was wearing some kind of sequin bodysuit. we discovered later that it often does this after dark.

so we took a liking to paris pretty quickly. edith took us out one afternoon and i got my first look at the louvre. (isn't it funny how these first sightings seem so much more mentionable than, say, the first time little arthur and i colored together?) we just walked through the palace courtyards to the church where all the kings went. then she took us up to the rooftop of one of the large department stores in the city. from there we had a wonderful view of the city with a labeled panoramic painting along the hand railing. it was quite nice. the city is all winding streets and huge, old buildings with courtyards, except when those buildings give way to large cathedral-like churches and palaces. it is all quite grand. edith gave us a little history about the city and some of the buildings. it is so wonderful to have personal tourguides!

we wandered a little of the inner city that night, but it wasn't until a couple of days later that we did a full sightseeing of paris. we took the metro into the center (concorde) and walked all day. we saw all the sights we were interested and a few thrown in along the way. it was quite fun. it was nice being out on our own with a vague plan (you would think we would be tired of this by now, but you would be surprised how rarely we had this much of a plan when we set out for a day.) we were amused at seeing all the famous sights. we had a good time. it was dark by the time we were finishing and we went back to the department store panorama to see the city at night from the center. we finished our circular walk at the concorde metro stop and headed home. we felt very accomplished.

perhaps the romantic image of paris comes from the feel of the city itself. it is a thriving city with a mixing of present and history all around. we didn't feel ready to leave paris, a week after arriving, but when it came time to end our visit with the back family we couldn't work out quite how to stay a couple more days there. we went to normandy for a couple of days instead.

we never found the people of paris to be any more rude than anywhere else. all of the running around and shopping we did, we never encountered any problems. we really began to wonder where this stereotype came from.

© Copyright Cheryln Crowl 2000