Sunset

Sunset in summer in Paris was late, at 9 or 10 sometimes. On nice days, I stay out as long as possible (I think this comes from growing up in a place where the cold months outnumber the warm). However, in Paris if I aimed to be outside as long as it was light outside, it meant that I went home quite late.

It’s like that in other parts of the world too, of course, even in my own country, like in Chicago. Paris was the first time I had lived somewhere where the sun set so late, though, and so the first summer I was there, I was surprised. It was easy to lose track of time in the evening. Not for too long, though—I could always count on the guard at Luxembourg Gardens to jolt me out of my reverie with a whistle blow and a bellowed “Ferrrrrrmature!”

100_6231

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, 9:15pm

via Photo Challenge: Rise/Set

Advertisements

Easy Breezy

A nighttime scooter ride around Paris with someone you hardly even know? Why not!

Well, there are many reasons why not—if it’s someone you just met randomly on the street or you don’t know the city, your gut should tell you that public transportation with your own money and your hand firmly on your sac à main will do.

In my case, I had just had a drink with the other volunteers I work with once a week. I left at the same time as a volunteer who usually participates at another site but came to ours for the first time as a one-off au cas où there wouldn’t be enough people to help out. I told him I was going to go home on foot. He offered to drop me off on his scooter. I had to pause and think for only a second before answering, “Oui !”

On the walk to his scooter, he asked if I wanted a little ride around Paris before going home. I was not going to say no to that. He said it was un cadeau for himself too, as it would be more enjoyable than heading straight to his apartment.

I undid my bun so the casque (helmet) would slide more easily over my head. We put my bag in his top case and my bike helmet under his seat. I climbed on after him, and we were off.

We passed Bastille, the Tour Saint-Jacques, rue de Rivoli, the Louvre, and the Pont des Arts. Everything was lit up in the City of Lights. As we scooted at a leisurely pace through Concorde, the Eiffel Tower started sparkling. It was eleven o’clock.

As I held onto the side handles of the scooter, I began to relax. I’ve had a tense few days. I recognized this moment for what it was: a gift. One of the first times I rode on the back of a scooter, I held on for dear life and felt my heart beating out of my chest. This night, I leaned back and loosened my grip on the handles, my light sweater fluttering as I watched the buildings and lights and river go by.

No contact information exchanged, no promises, just a summer ride around the city and a “bonne soirée.” Life can be complicated, but sometimes it is wonderfully simple.

A Preview Imprévu

Recently I wandered into an art gallery in the shadow of the Pantheon. Actually part of the fifth arrondissement’s city hall, the gallery’s unassuming entrance on a side street contrasts with the grand columned façade of the building.

The vibrant, colorful paintings by Zareh Mutafian formed an exhibit called “Peindre après le génocide” (Painting after the genocide). This year marks 100 years since the genocide in Armenia. Mutafian was a survivor. Without knowledge of the title of the exhibit, one would not know it; the paintings’ subjects are brightly colored figures and landscapes. They’re quite beautiful.

I was surprised to see some art supplies on the table in the center of the gallery. I walked around, looking at the works. There were a couple of people conversing in the otherwise quiet space. After a few minutes, the man who was there told me, “Feel free to look around, but please don’t go upstairs since we’re not done setting up yet.” “You’re not open yet!?” I said. “When do you open?” “Tomorrow,” he replied.

I finished my tour of the ground floor, thanked him, and left. I looked more closely at the banner outside, and effectivement, the exhibit was to open the next day.

116.art.2015

It is not the first time that I’ve walked through a door that yielded to me, then later found out that it was not open to the public. I highly recommend it. Of course, to avoid feigning ignorance, it must be an honest mistake, so the key is to not read signs too carefully.

Long Days and Long Nights

Last Saturday I went out into the sunshine. If you live somewhere where periods of the year are rainy or cold, you understand how glorious it is when a beautiful day arrives.

Sometimes when I see a church, I stop in and walk around the inside and look at the stained glass windows and statues of saints. How utterly tranquil and filled with light this church was.

115.church.2015

People who don’t live in France sometimes ask me if I shop at outdoor markets. The answer is: not often enough. Like many other city residents, I usually make a one-stop shop at the supermarket. But once in a while, I remember that there are markets open every day, in every arrondissement, and I go.115.market.2015a 115.market.2015b

My fridge is now stocked with broccoli, carrots, turnips, garlic, eggplant, tomatoes, and leafy greens.

I picked up mozzarella from a small grocery and fondant au chocolat from the frozen food chain Picard before heading home to make lunch.

Next was a stroll on boulevard du Montparnasse for a little shopping.

This month I didn’t buy the 70 euro monthly metro pass, so I am walking and biking everywhere. According to the weekly vélib email that shows up in my inbox, last week I biked 3 hours and 45 minutes.

My purchases and purse fit neatly in the metal basket of the heavy gray bike.

Unbelievably, the sun was still warm and shining at 7 in the evening. I took the opportunity to sit in the Luxembourg Gardens and finish Deborah Moggach’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I had borrowed from my favorite library.

After a quick munch on the broccoli I had cooked earlier, I headed out for a group rendez-vous at Belleville. A sit on a terrasse was followed by dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant and a night out.

Is it any wonder that this is my favorite time of year here? When the nice weather rolls around and the days grow longer, I struggle to think how I spent my free time during the winter season!

Shades of Beige

A couple of years ago a friend gave me Paris in Color by Nichole Robertson for my birthday. A book of photos of the city seen through each color, it was the perfect gift for me. I had seen it in a bookstore before but wouldn’t have bought it for myself.

Yesterday I saw a huge block letter sign advertising “PHOTOCOPIES THESES,” which made me laugh. I suppose if your eyes are strained from writing that thesis, you will not walk by without realizing that you can copy it here. I wondered, has that sign been there for ages, or was it purposely made to look vintage? You sometimes can’t tell in an old city what’s really old.

As I took my camera out of its tattered black case (actually falling apart, not purposely vintage), a man drove up to park his scooter.

Sometimes the city seems perpetually gray, but yesterday it was definitely beige.110.beige.2015

Thank You, French Cell Phone Plan

The other Saturday I took advantage of the sunshine that made it just warm enough to sit outside, a rare winter treat.

I chose a quiet spot in the Luxembourg Gardens and called my dad. Cell phone plans have made leaps and bounds here within the past five to ten years. All the major competitors offer calls to the United States at no extra charge, which means that with a regular cell phone I can walk next to the Seine and speak with my sister, who is in the States. My plan costs twenty euros a month and includes unlimited calls and texts in France, unlimited calls to all phones in the United States, Canada, and China and to landlines in many other countries, and data. It is amazing.

About a month ago a friend and I spoke about what happened to our relationships when we left our respective countries and came to Paris. She said that she cut off her ties there, not because she had any animosity towards her circle, but because she wanted to be fully present here. She was actually quite happy before she left, but now she is immersed in her Parisian life. Our conversation made me think of a fellow college student I knew when I studied abroad here; he was adventurous and liked Paris, but he spent a lot of time Skyping with his girlfriend in the States, whom he missed a lot.

I think it’s hard to have strong ties in your home country when you live abroad because you will feel a part of you is missing. On the other hand, I value those ties. As I told my friend, although my close friends and family are not physically in Paris, they are present in my life. At one point I realized that much of my emotional support circle is not here. However, I don’t think that depending on them prevents me from forming liens in my current adopted country. I have some close friends here and am always open to meeting new people and potential “kindred spirits,” as my friend Donna would say. At the same time, I don’t consider people replaceable. I’m of the mindset that once you find a good friend, you better hold on to them.

Certainly, I am not still in contact with every friend who has ever entered my life. Sometimes people are there for a specific period, even a very short one. Sometimes people are not good at keeping in touch or drop out of sight with no warning. I’ve learned to let those go. It’s precisely for that reason that the people who stick around are all the more important.

Later that day, after my foray in the Luxembourg Gardens, I took a long walk with a friend in her neighborhood. Then I had dinner with two other friends, the couple that hosted me during my first week in Paris while I looked for an apartment.

I leave you with a photo of the Luxembourg Gardens on a cold, clear day with an uncommonly blue sky for Paris.106.luxembourg

The Lights Are Going Up

I saw the first strings of street lights on October 30th.

I like how they stay up late in Paris, well into mid-January, but I’m not in a rush for Christmas decorations in the fall. Unlike Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March and many other people, I love November and prefer to enjoy this season from beginning to end before putting my antlers on.

I was quite enchanted by seeing the magic happen one recent night on rue Mouffetard, though.

98.christmasdecorations.2014

Journées du Patrimoine

This year was the first time that I was available and aware of Journées du Patrimoine, or Heritage Days, in France. For one weekend, historic cultural and political institutions are open to the public. Some, like cultural centers or national museums, are usually open to visitors but offer extra hours, free admission, or special exhibits. Others, like government offices or not easily accessible historical sites, are only open for Journées du Patrimoine. I picked up a program listing all of the places participating, and it made me wish that this event lasted a whole month. There are so many things to see that a couple of days are hardly enough.92.journeespatrimoine.2014aAt some sites like the Elysée, where the president lives, you should be prepared to wait for hours. While I would be interested in seeing the presidential residence, I didn’t want to spend my whole day there, so my first stop was a quiet location with more staff representatives milling around than visitors. The Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur et de la recherche houses the national office of high education and research. I know a number of people who are pursuing their Masters in Paris, so it was interesting to think that this is where decisions are made regarding their education and those of students all over the country. 92.journeespatrimoine.2014bThe building used to be the Ecole polytechnique, a school of science and engineering that is now at another site. I was standing in front of this memorial to students who died in the First World War when a security guard told me that I could take a picture. So I did. How often are we encouraged to take pictures?92.journeespatrimoine.2014cInside the building I was delighted to see this work by the artist Ben. I discovered Ben a couple of years ago when I bought a series of postage stamps with his playful expressions on them. His art is words and his words are art. This piece was a very American phrase in French.92.journeespatrimoine.2014dThe line to enter the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Site Richelieu was longer than the nonexistent wait at the Ministère, but it fed my love of beautiful libraries.92.journeespatrimoine.2014gInside I also browsed the Musée des monnaies, médailles et antiques and the temporary exhibit of Greek vases.

Smaller but quite pretty too was the sunlit library in the Ecole des Mines, a school of earth sciences, engineering, math, and economics.92.journeespatrimoine.2014eThe library contained this ubiquitous rug. One time as my colleague and I were climbing the stairs to our office, she pointed out the rug and said that it’s the tapis you’ll find in every building constructed during a certain time. From then on I noticed it everywhere. I realized that it was the same rug in the building where I live, and the same one at the Ecole des mines.92.journeespatrimoine.2014fIn another area of the building, I walked through room after room of glass cases displaying rocks. Their collection is a feast for a geologist.

In the Journées du Patrimoine program, I read that you could see the Arche enceinte de Philippe Auguste, which is at other times closed to the public. I didn’t know what that was, but it sounded intriguing. The only meaning of enceinte that I knew of was “pregnant.” Philippe’s pregnant arch?

The address of the site had no door, but a locked gate that seemed to lead to a driveway. A young woman stood in the entrance. I tentatively approached, and she asked if I was there for the Journées du Patrimoine. When I answered in the affirmative, she said that a group had just been let in and that it would be twenty minutes before a new group could enter.

No problem. I walked to the nearby Seine River to take a breather. Lo and behold, a little further along the banks, I saw a man drop to one knee to propose to his girlfriend. It warmed my heart.

Back at the mysterious gate to the pregnant arch, a crowd had gathered.92.journeespatrimoine.2014hThe volunteer let us in, and our group of a couple of dozen people descended a dimly lit staircase underground. We seemed to be under a parking garage. We passed through a heavy metal door, and there it was. The arch.92.journeespatrimoine.2014iA volunteer explained the history of the enceinte to us. In the late 12th to early 13th century, King Philippe Auguste had a wall constructed around Paris to protect the city from potential English invaders. The arch we saw is a remnant of that wall. Tucked away, it was restored by volunteers.

Apparently, enceinte can also mean “outer wall.”

No doubt about it, there is a lot of heritage in this city. The great part about Journées du Patrimoine is that not only does it open private spaces to the public, but it also introduces us to places that are always accessible but not necessarily on our radar.

Welcome, Summer

Fête de la Musique is my favorite day of the year.

Fête de la Musique takes place every year on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. It started in France and now is celebrated in other countries around the world. In Paris, musicians perform free outdoor concerts all over the city from late afternoon to the wee hours of the morning. There are so many performers that you could walk down a small street and see several groups playing.

This year, I felt like we lived dozens of nights in one night. My friend and I started out at the Centre Culturel Irlandais and watched Moxie, an Irish band, perform. I love Irish music, so I was in heaven.  72.fetedelamusique.2014a 72.fetedelamusique.2014b

They were followed by Gavin James, an acoustic guitarist and singer-songwriter. He had a sweet voice. In addition to his original songs, he sang classics like “What a Wonderful World” and “La Vie en Rose.”

Later that night, we saw:

– a male brass band in funny uniforms performing covers of popular songs in the Luxembourg Gardens

– a cool Christian band in a dark church courtyard strung with colorful lights

– a huge outdoor gay nightclub with smoke coming out of surrounding buildings’ windows

– a band outside a restaurant where we watched old and young people dancing for a while before joining in (I asked my friend if he wanted to go dance, and he said no. A few songs later, I asked if he was sure. He said yes. He looked at my face and astutely realized that my actual question was, Can we dance? He asked if I wanted to. I nodded my head enthusiastically. He said, Okay, let’s go. I figured he was humoring me, so I was surprised when he began to dance like crazy. If he really doesn’t like dancing, he did a good job of pretending he does.)

– a group of musicians sitting in a circle and playing traditional Irish music in only the glow of lamplight—magical72.fetedelamusique.2014cI went home humming.

Does your city participate in World Music Day?