Squandering time in Paris is the epitome of luxury for people like us. The joy of guilt-free goofing off in one of the world’s great cities makes up for times when we are exhausted, frustrated, lonely, bored, too hot or too cold, tired of each other, or just plain tired of being on the road. We had each been to Paris a number of times, but only for short visits, which created a sense of urgency and seriously inhibited spontaneity. Ambling is not an option when there are only three or four days to cover such a treasure-house of culture and beauty.
We rented an apartment in the 15th arrondissement for the month of June. It’s a homey neighborhood away from the tourist action, and it offered the amenities of French living we adore: bistros, cheese, wine and meat shops, newsagents and flower stalls, tiny shoe and clothing stores, and the chance to live with local people who are just going about their lives. We were treated kindly by the denizens even though we don’t speak French. The French people were kind and helpful, and we felt at home almost immediately. Our landlords, she American, he French, were lovely, fun, and very generous with their time. We began what we’re sure will be an enduring friendship with them.
When we planned to spend seven months in Europe, we thought a month would be plenty of time see and do the things that interested us in Paris. Within days we knew we were wrong. A year wouldn’t be long enough for us to have our fill of the city’s considerable delights, let alone a month. Strolling to the market or the Metro stop, wandering through our local park, taking in a little street fair, going to the movies, all the things we would do in our “real” life at home were possible in Paris at a pace we found entirely comfortable. Ordinary life in the city thrilled us even in the chilly rain. When we wanted more, the Seine, with its gorgeous views and constant traffic invited lingering inspection, the great museums and exquisite buildings were available to us, and the restaurants, oh, the restaurants, made us very happy.
We revised our 2013 plan and we will spend May, June and July next year frolicking with the French. Knowing that we will be returning for an extended time allowed us to relax and just BE in Paris without an agenda.
The weather and our inclinations determined our daily life and we embraced all side trips and distractions enthusiastically. On a typical day, a little trip to the Apple store, led to a stroll along the Rue Royale, gawking at the Vuittons, Diors, St. Laurents, and the rest of the big names, and ending with purchases in a store we could actually afford, The Gap.
All that exercise warranted a stop at a sidewalk cafe, where we frittered away a hundred bucks and two hours of our lives watching seriously wealthy patrons battle for the best table and campaign for best-of-show in their designer togs. C’est la guerre.
Being free in Paris allows all kinds of feckless behavior. I spent an afternoon at Dessange International, a wildly luxurious salon right off the Champs Élysées , where color and cut were administered a pure white blaze of perfection. Patrons’ jackets were whisked away and replaced with soft white kimonos, every snowy towel which touches a client comes out of a warmer, and instead of the tacky tin-foil strips that make women look like space creatures during the coloring process, Dessange used sparkling iridescent cellophane. We looked like Christmas gift baskets waiting to be delivered.
Being at large also allowed us time to watch other people doing their thing. The French Open was in progress, so people were plopped down in front of the Hôtel de Ville, Paris’s city hall, drinking wine and watching the action on a giant screen TV. The French seem to know more about enjoying themselves than we do, but Tim and I are trying to learn their ways.
There were days when we chose to simply stay at home in our jammies, which is also a luxury for us. We have learned that the excitement and stimulation of living in different cities requires that we have some down time. A day of reading and watching movies on TV is restorative. And just as it is at home, we have laundry to wash, sometimes in pretty primitive conditions, usually without a dryer, and someone has to schlep to the market, so a day devoted to domestic chores is essential. Even living in Paris, a menu must be planned, lists made, and ingredients purchased, dragged home and put away. Potatoes must be peeled, lettuce prepared, and the meal put together. The kitchen must be cleaned up afterwards whether it’s in Paris, Istanbul. Florence, or San Luis Obispo.
Every day gave us some small insight into the French temperament and mind-set. We fell in love with the French regard for beauty and their restrained and civilized way of treating one another and their visitors.
Finding off-beat sights down little side street knocked our socks off every day and by the time we left we had just about decided that even three months in 2013 might not be enough time for us to feel completely satisfied. Six months in 2014? We’ll see!