What does Paris mean to me? It means a variety of little things, it’s Paris’ intimacy that I adore and the first time I tasted hot chocolate at Cafe de Flore the rich gravy like soup of hot chocolate tantalised my taste buds and I was left dreamy and almost soporific. It left an everlasting memory thus began my love affair with Paris which has only intensified with the passing of time and with every visit. I can’t quite define why I love this city so much, perhaps I was Parisian in a previous life! It’s difficult to comprehend why anyone wouldn’t feel the same about this city as I do.
It’s so much more than the romantic cliché that is so often depicted, it is so much more than the predictable tourist traps, It’s a different kind of Paris that appeals to me now. My husband often says he doesn’t know anyone quite as obsessed about Paris as I am, you see, he is very much Italian at heart therefore loving Italy more and as much as I adore Italy, Paris took my heart firmly in it’s grasp tightening a little bit more every time I visit. Italy is our go to city for holidays as a couple, you couldn’t wish for more, Italy has it all from the stunning scenery of the Amalfi Coast, the history and romance of Venice and Rome, the grandeur and glamour of Portofino and the Italian Lakes and of course, the culture of Florence but Paris is a city I can go to on a whim, I can hop on the Eurostar and be there by late morning even coming back in the evening if I so wish, I can experience the European culture that I love so much in two hours.
The Paris that I love is about discovering little cobbled streets on the Left Bank and Latin Quarter, the small but characterful shops with the detailed facades that are so unique each offering something very different not forgetting the mouth-watering, elaborate and quintessential Parisian patisserie and boulangeries. It’s about spending hours in the historic bookshops like Shakespeare & Company, the romantic botanical gardens with their little maze like passages each leading to a magical discovery only you thought had made. Its about the village within Paris, Montmartre, the only way to describe this delightful separate slice of Paris with it’s little but nonetheless charming museums and hotels, it’s teeny weenie streets with picturesque cottages and of course the regal Sacre Coeur Basilica.
My Paris is wandering around the lesser known museums such as Musee Carnavalet, Gustav Moreau or Musée Cognacq-Jay steeped in history but so much more exhilarating than the better known. The little cafes you find on every Parisian street corner with those quintessential chequered chairs tumbling onto the pavement with Parisians unwinding watching the world go by whatever the weather.….how I look forward to placing my derriere on those familiar chairs and relaxing with a glass of wine and a simple but mouth-watering lunch of cheese, charcuterie and my favourite delicacy, foie gras, so silky soft and rich, I never feel guilty of indulging in Paris.
Walking off my hefty but oh so scrumptious lunch, I find myself at the Place de la Concorde where the majestic Hotel de Crillon stands proudly not far from the famous Rue de Rivoli, I don’t waste my precious time queuing for a table at the wonderful Angelina coffee house like the many tourists, instead I cross the richly opulent Pont Alexandre III from the Right Bank of the city to the Rive Gauche made famous by Yves Saint Laurents’ iconic perfume named after this part of Paris which actually means the Left Bank, just the word “Rive Gauche” evokes a dark mystery so reminiscent of a bygone Paris. I am at the Left Bank again at Paris’ islands – Ile de la Cite and Ile Saint-Louis where the bistrot Le Petit Zinc off Rue Saint-Benoit takes pride with it’s beautifully ornate and Nouveau style, I feel strangely at home.
My Paris sees me wandering off to explore the many galleries each quite different such as my favourites Galerie Vivienne, Passage des Panoramas and Cour du Commerce St Andre which connects Boulevard St Germain with Rue Saint Andre des Arts. The sheer wonderment of the foodie market streets of Rue Montorgueil and Rue Mouffetard and not forgetting the historic Rue des Martyrs just at the bottom of Montmartre – half a mile of culinary wonder is how I would describe this street. Before I know it, I am strolling along Quai Voltaire and Quai des Grand Augustins by the romantic Seine where the Bouquinistes sit quietly amongst their historic old books and magazines contemplating the day ahead…a special song by Stacy Kent always comes to mind and I am momentarily lost in it’s romantic magic as I imagine the crispy golden autumnal leaves beneath my feet arm in arm with my lover, as the song comes to an end, I am by the Pont Neuf discovering my favourite Square, Place Daupine dotted with cafes where children play on the triangular sandy playground.
Cour du Commerce St Andre
The Left Bank and Latin Quarters’ can be a bit of a disappointment to many tourists, I have no idea why but I assume that countless books have led them to believe that the area is somehow the quintessence of Paris, I’m sure Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris might have something to do with this but in reality, all they find is a touristy jam of pricey and not so good restaurants however, not so in my Paris as off the beaten track, I know of many bistros that have overtaken haute cuisine. Not far from Le Petit Zinc, I find myself at Place Saint-Germain des Pres – The luxury brand Louis Vuitton have a store on this square, a bit of a blemish in this fine historical landscape but we all need a bit of luxury to indulge in I guess. But, the best part of all is that the iconic Café des Flores and Le Deaux Magots reside here and it’s where the cliché of “café terrace intellectualising” was coined but nowadays, most of the local clientele of both cafes are in the fashion business and couturiers have largely replaced novelists, poets and publishers. Still, the real gem of the area is definitely the quirky and trendy Marais which has remained untouched by Haussmann and is so charming, there are real architectural glories especially ecclesiastical. The Marias or Jewish Quarters’ main hub is the Place des Vosges, a beautiful square with lots of charming shops and cafes along it’s perimeter, here is the birth place of French poet and novelist Victor Hugo now a museum and the very enchanting boutique hotel Pavillon de la Reine. I wander around the Marais taking in it’s mythical enchantment, gazing at it’s charming boutiques and getting lost but I don’t care because it’s how I discover another beautiful square, Place du Marché Sainte-Catherine which is buzzing with atmosphere, people devouring authentic and appetising French food in the little bistros and cafes lining the square, chatting and laughing, locals and tourists loving Paris as much as I do.
So Paris….this is the Paris that I love, evoking memories of a bygone age on every Left Bank corner, did I say that I could have been Parisian in a past life? As I sit at Café de Flore sipping their unctuous hot chocolate, I envisage Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgeralds’ era, Oscar Wilde before them, I imagine them sitting at this iconic cafe late into the evening contemplating, their lucubration rewarding us with their prose and memoirs. Seductively Paris casts and weaves it’s magic on me once again, tantalising me and bewitching me until I am blind to everyones’ clichés about this city, this is my Paris, this is what Paris means to me and how apt is Audrey Hepburns’ now infamous quote “Paris is always a good idea“ and indeed it is…..
All thoughts are my own from memory and all photos are my own apart from Le Petit Zinc Bistrot and the black and white photo above which is my favourite photo of Paris in the 1950’s.