Here’s how it goes in Paris. We remember the sour faces when we were young, and remember the changes after the turmoil of ’68. Those “young” people, now 60, have raised a generation, and what a difference! And then I look at us…returning in our 70s….
QUESTION: What happens in Paris when rain quits, drops stop, puddles dry, and sunshine explodes over the city of light? What happens in Paris when the spirit of winter retires and the spirit of spring arrives smiling and bright?
ANSWER: From nowhere people appear like blossoms on naked branches, from everywhere like green leaves on hibernating trees. In the midst of this fantasy, how to imbue the magic and join the festival of color and dance and extravaganza?
By taking to the streets old man! Bathe in the Paris fountain of everlasting youth, a Shangri-La youth still young at 900 years!
Walk! Walk along Boulevard de Clichy, but don’t stop for a dozen oysters at Wepler’s sidewalk cafe. Continue past the Moulin Rouge toward tawdry Pigalle down the four-lane park dividing cars and buses and raging motorcycles.
Find a street going south toward the center, always the center.
Maybe rue des Martyrs with Montmartre and the mushroomed domes of Sacre Coeur at your back, among mouthwatering, nosetempting, eyepealing shops—bright red strawberries neatly arranged in vertical boxes, cheeses of every region, color and odor, meats bold and red or subtly shaped, folded, encased in unidentified membrane, restaurants new and brash of plastic and neon or old and warm with scripted paneling set in shining walnut frames that say history, continuity, tradition.
Or perhaps sur le rue d’Amsterdam, cleaned up since Jacque Brel sang about it at the Gare St. Lazare,
Or turn left on rue Clichy at the corner near our apartment, pass theaters, wine shops, boutiques,
Always heading to l’Opera or Rivoli or the Louvre, Concorde, Tuileries among sun happy crowds walking with a spring or sitting-sipping in cafés released from the cold hold of winter rigor. Infused with heated vigor, the world opens like overenthusiastic tulips, pistils shooting skyward.
And if you’re lucky, pass through passages with exotic ware into tiny squares you’ve never stumbled on: this restaurant, that café or the other bistro tempting you with tongue teasing tidbits.
But you have already stopped for lunch or coffee or beer to see what world passes by when you look.
Later sated, arrive at the river or perhaps Place St. Eustache, at the foot of a monumental church, filled with families sitting on grassy steps watching children kicking balls or just running for the joy of running,
Or a grassy tree-lined confine like Place des Vosges. Having stood in long lines to pick up a falafel in the Marais, spread out now in view of Victor Hugo’s home and not far from the intimate “hotel” filled with work by Picasso.
That’s when you might decide to head home: by bus through the crowded ways you’ve already passed, by speeding through dark tunnels of the Metro, or if your “dogs aren’t barking” you might just rewind the experience on foot.
Because finally, in the end, the heart of Paris for any visitor, is in the character of his sole.
Bernard della Santina