Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” He was referring to World War I, specifically, but the human condition generally. Travelling to Paris within a few weeks after watching Woody Allen’s latest movie Midnight in Paris, its hard not to feel the breath of some of these famous, ex-pat author’s from the first half of the century on your neck. To visit such spots as the Cafe de Flore and Les Deux Magots and not picture where exactly they found their inspiration for such works as A Farewell to Arms, de Beauvoir’s Second Sex or the existential writings of Sartre.
This trip to Paris was a real treat. It was more relaxed. I had time over a few days to really get to know this great city better–a city visited more than any other in the world by the world–a world that is broken, seeking solace for a few days, weeks or years for some. This time, with an opportunity like the Tour to get me to this wonderous city, I was determined to linger a bit longer… to string several moments together and claim an experience.
It was difficult to remember that it was summer in Paris. Each day saw goosebumps at noon, grim clouds and even the changing of leaves (that can’t be right). My summer dresses remained at the base of my bag. I was grateful for the jacket I brought, for I wore it everyday.
Regardless, the weather couldn’t dampen my spirits. I just pretended it was autumn–my favorite time of year. Paris seemed more poetic with a chill anyhow. It suited me after 95 degree Colorado heat.
Paris is best understood on foot (though the occasional taxi and ‘metropolitain’ subway line is very available–and necessary–at times). Every block, it seems, hums a different tune. It reminded me of New York in so many ways. Place Vendome had an Upper East Side shopping district feel to it. The bohemian beat to St. Germain was much like the arty, coffehouse pockets of the Village. The Trocadero, lined as it was with art centers and one museum after the next, brought to mind Lincoln Center. Even the Champs-Elysees, home once to the finest hotels and high end fashion boutiques, now seemed to recall the flashing lights and tourist propoganda of Times Square. Every major city is rich with these relics of diversity. It is what makes these grand cities of the world so interesting, inspiring and rich with thought.
You will scarcely find me intrigued by the major landmarks others crowd around to see. I’m certainly not above such incredible structures as the Eiffel Tower and the Arc d’Triumph. I am merely impatient. I approximate its grandeur by simply passing by them a couple times a day. Even with a place as remarkable as the Louvre, I just couldn’t imagine creeping one or two inches per minute, as I found myself tired just surveying the long line to enter. One day, perhaps I will see it. But this trip was about covering as much ground as possible while still finding the time to savor stillness–to stop and watch the city breathe in and breathe out.
Paris is magical. Layered. Offering moments of escape, and moments that have never felt so real. To document beyond those moments is superfluous.
And so, my souvenirs are snapshots of the naked moment, frozen in prose. La creme de la creme…
The sound of the floor beneath my feet as I climbed the rickety old stairs inside Shakespeare & Co.
The way it smelled walking the pathway to Restaurant Les Ombres for the Team Garmin-Cervelo ceremony dinner–lined with birdsong and sweet honeysuckle.
Getting lost on a run and rounding a corner that took me to a Spanish-speaking neighborhood on a cobblestone street, while a small boy in an oversize suit with a bowtie hopped to keep up with his dad.
The days seeming never to want to end as the last rays touch ground past 930p.
Sneaking in to an exhibit at Les Arts Decoratifs of Ralph Lauren’s private collection of automobiles… thanks to JV’s relentless spirit…and need to see the ’55 Porche 550 Spyder (man, that is another hilarious story in and of itself).
Surrounded by stiffs and laughing too loudly while I sip on Billecart-Salmon rose at the fancy-schmancy Le Cinq–looking at my guy and registering that this might be why he likes me.
Insisting on heels to go shopping (only a few blocks, right?)… and bandaging my blisters that evening. Resorting to the All-American flip-flop for the rest of the trip–only mildly better than the Nike tennis shoe. And noticing how everyone stares at your feet here. Ugh.
Amused by their sandy ‘beaches’ that line the Seine. People actually laying out in 65 degree overcast weather…under umbrellas, sipping on fruffy drinks.
Reveling in French Onion soup at the Cafe de Flore, trying to picture how Jean Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir ever got any work accomplished in the bustling, noisy little restaurant. Remembering this is a tourist trap when I get the bill.
Listening to a bunch of British highschoolers play music in a park behind the Notre Dame. Scanning the many four-eyed, nerdy types (I can say that, for I was one), and realizing their culture’s band members looked much like ours in America. Funny that.
Grateful for modern stemware, as we saw many centuries of styles at the Musee du Vin.
The stillness on the streets before 9 am, when Paris feels more like a village than a major metropolis.
Wishing we had found more time to eat at the Bistrot Paul Bert, as we slipped inside to peruse their unbelievable wine list.
Sipping on my one minute espresso, I wonder why they take time with everything other than this. I just want a very large, large coffee as soon as I get back. One that takes me a good hour to finish.
Those morning runs along the Seine.
Strolling with little purpose from lunch in St. Germain past the art galleries towards the river.
Getting lost at 1 am with a taxi stand nowhere to be found. Discovering new pockets you promise yourself you’ll return to in the daylight…but probably won’t.
People strolling by with very large ice cream cones wearing happiness that is universal.
Watching ladies try on hats at a shop meant only for that. These quaint images reinforce the idyllic stereotypes I like to imagine when I think of Europe.
The sheer amount of butter you consume in a week.
This collage of events seems to sum up everything I really want to expound upon, but as a photograph, even words can’t quite approximate the feeling I had. The best advice I can give is: spend less, walk more. A nice dinner here and there is worth it, for sure. But every meal would just numb your appreciation after a few days, plus it keeps you on the inside looking out. Just walk, watch, observe, reflect. That is what any vacation is really for–to pause and feel alive. My best trips were the ones I didn’t micromanage. Sketch a plan, for sure… But use a pencil.