SEPTEMBER 20, 2016 First Evening in Paris
We’re here! It seems a bit hard to believe. Both of us have focused for months on building and maintaining sufficient physical conditioning to handle all the walking and standing of life in a large city. Living where it’s a twenty minute drive to almost everything — an ordinary American semi-urban place – requires different strengths and skills from the relentless walking and stair climbing required of dwellers in large, densely populated global cities.
On this fourth annual odyssey, we are like kids returning to grandma’s house summer after summer. We love the familiar places, feelings, thoughts, and flavors. Oh, those flavors!. We sat down this evening to our first dinner of this trip. It found us in a neighborhood café in the Latin Quarter, near the Luxembourg Gardens. We ordered two simple plats du jour – I had the “steak frites,” and Nancy ordered a lovely composition of shrimps and lobster pieces, with salad and potatoes. After we had enjoyed every morsel, Nancy topped the meal off with that quintessential Paris dessert, Tarte Tatin (a pie made with caramelized apples, that virtually every restaurant in Paris has on its dessert menu, and that is infinitely varied, as conceived by each chef.). I had a yummy homemade strawberry sorbet. And then we sighed comfortably as we enjoyed the rich aroma and taste of Parisian espresso.
Contentedly, I mused on the name of the street at whose corner we were sitting. Long before I set foot in Paris, I knew already of the Boulevard St. Michel, savoring its mystique as I repeated its name in a long lost slang I’ve neither heard nor used while actually in Paris – “le Boul’ Mich.’” Like so much of Paris, this is a place I’ve both known and dreamed of virtually all my life. The reality is intense as the dream was hazy. I savor these simultaneous realities as I savor the espresso’s flavor – signals of uniquely personal delight.
We’ve been looking forward for months to this moment of arriving from a challenging all night flight, to find ourselves in this familiar neighborhood, this homey apartment, this sweeping primal energy of people who, for the most part, appear young, stylish, fit, and well-educated ( at least – in our seventies — we qualify for the last item on that list!). We find ourselves settling into wicker chairs in the late afternoon light. At one of our favorite cafes across from the largest entrance to the Luxembourg Gardens, we enjoy mingling with and watching the tide of humanity. Fur us, this corner has come to symbolize Paris. University students gather in polyglot clusters around tables, while others stream past. A lively and colorful group of young Italians occupy several tables around us, animatedly laughing and talking, switching tables, sharing tastes of whatever they had ordered. Several of them sit at two tables outside, and the others share two tables inside. The café’s front window- walls are open, so “inside” is an extension of the terrasse, but a step up from sidewalk level. Because of this, although we are sitting “inside,” we feel like front row spectators of the streaming humanity passing the corner of Rue St. Jacques and the Boulevard St. Michel. Before us flow trim students from Africa in beautiful suits jostling next to high-heeled secretaries and fashionable lawyers, who make way for the hundred plus male runners, clad in tees and shorts. The runners’ soft- soled shoes create a muffled rhythmic swooshing that we hear above the passing motor scooters and buses as the lithe sprinters patter past us. Both men and women in the passing throng provide a fascinating catalogue of current fashion, from flaring mini skirts to luscious cashmere jackets. Here, students clearly participate in urban chic. I wonder what Parisians must think upon arriving at an American university, where the prevailing style veers startlingly toward blue collar grunge.
We had a simple mission for this first foray into Paris. After resting this afternoon to recover from the flight and from less than ideal food and way too few fluids, we wanted to top up our transit passes so they work again (every week requires a recharge, and the last one had been in May), to get a directory of events in Paris for the coming week, to eat our first Parisian meal, and, on the way home, to stop at the corner grocery store to get basic provisions. It was enough for a first afternoon and evening. As we walked, we avidly devoured announcements for shows and events – from posters plastered profusely on walls and windows. It prompted us to start our list of things we want to do – places to eat, experience, see, and learn. At this point, our visit is all potential – a wonderful moment in any new experience. We feel grateful for being able to be here and enjoy!