The People of Paris

 

“Though I have often looked for one, I finally had to admit that there could be no cure for Paris.” — Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife.

One day last September, we took the Metro to the Republique stop in Paris’s tenth arondissement and set out for the Canal St. Martin. We bought sandwiches and found a canalside bench, ate our lunch, then walked along the water’s edge. As we headed toward Port d’Arsenal, our walk took us down tree-lined sidewalks and pretty waterside parks. I spotted a couple kissing passionately on a bench, like a scene from a travel poster. We passed quaint bridges and the locks that help move the barges along.

Last week, scores of people were killed in places near Canal St. Martin by ISIS terrorists.

I think about Veronica and Patrice, a couple we met on the second night of our four week visit. At L’Ecurie, a café steps from our door, we sat beside them at sidewalk tables. That stereotype of the standoffish French? Mais, non! Before long we were chatting about Patrice’s motorcycle, the accordion player hovering nearby, and the longevity of our marriages. Patrice urged us to try Calvados, a strong liqueur, and we toasted each other and took pictures.

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We met George, the owner of the Pomme d’Eve, a subterranean sports bar around the corner, when Mike needed his NFL fix. Pomme d’Eve showed games every Sunday evening, so on four September Sundays, we ate George’s chili, saw a little football, and learned about Parisian lifestyle and history from George and Sylvan, a bar regular who loves American football.

Jean-Jacques was our private tour guide, a volunteer for Paris Greeters. This soft-spoken, gentle man met us in Montparnasse and soon we were absorbed into Parisian life in the 20’s. On another morning, he walked us through the Ile d’Cite and the Marais where we explored courtyards and churches we never would have discovered on our own. Jean-Jacques’ well-researched tours revealed his love of Paris; his quiet warmth endeared us to him.

One morning, at a café at Place de Vogues, we joined Trish, an American expat I’d “met” on an online travel forum, for coffee and croissants. What fun to dish with an American who’d taken the plunge and moved to Paris!

So many other Parisians whose names we don’t know are woven into the fabric of my Parisian memories.

  • the patient woman at the fromagerie on Rue Moufftard where I struggled to choose some cheese
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  • the owner of Au Port du Salut, who kissed both my cheeks when we left his charming restaurant
  • the proprietor of La Dame Blanche, the vintage jazz record store across from our apartment, who stood by his record bins each day, greeting music-lovers browsing through the albums
  • the sweet Vietnamese couple who owned the nail salon I visited and who told me just how to get to Canal St. Martin and where to buy a good sandwich
  • high school kids who hung out after school on the steps of St. Étienne du Mond church
  • elementary school kids who whizzed down the sidewalks on their Razor scooters
  • the grandmere at the Luxembourg Garden carousel who smiled at me and said, “I came here when I was a little girl”
  • chess players in the park
  • old men rolling bolle in the Arenes de Lutece, an almost-hidden ancient Roman ampitheater
  • the owner of the soccer gear shop who helped me convince Mike to buy a very cool Paris St. Germain jacket and hat that he loves to wear

Patrice and Veronica, George and Sylvan, jean-Jacques, and all of the rest, I remember each of you with such fondness. From so far away, I can only wish you peace.

 

 

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