Upon waking up on this gray Saturday morning, I told Kathleen that if we held on tightly enough to the lampposts, no one could drag us back to real life. We could stay in Paris forever, eating macarons and drinking champagne until we drifted into sleep every night. Write brilliant prose and poetry in the gardens, spend our days floating through museums and boutiques, walking through the light rain quickly enough to keep our baguettes from getting too damp. And wake up every morning to our morning-after music, of course… there’s something wonderful about soft accordion music to accompany a croissant at breakfast.
And yet… London was calling. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Thursday morning began like every other Paris morning– Kathleen’s storm or fire sounds subsided, and gave way to Tracy Chapman or whatever other kind of “morning-after” music Kathleen and I laughed ourselves into picking. We had a mission on this crisp fall morning: to find the best crepes in Paris.
Half the battle was won, though; we had the name of the cafe that was reputed to have the best crepes. Le Petit Josselin, in Montparnasse (which is on a small street lined with about 20 other crêperies.) We had to traverse half the city in our walk there, and when we finally arrived at noon, we wound up having to wait outside for a table (as the tiny cafe could only hold about a tight 35 people at a time.) But, undeterred, we waited patiently, pouring over the menu (which comprised about 40 different crepes, both savory and sweet, a few salades, and enough tea, coffee, and alcohol to please the British army.
Our wait was worth it. We popped a bottle of the restaurant’s homemade cider and ordered crepes laid heavily with spinach, goat cheese, and cream. And when they appeared in front of us, massive and dripping off the plates, we knew we were in for the best food we had had the entire trip.
The best part? This was just part one of lunch. We each ordered a sweet crepe to finish off our day– Kathleen with one overflowing with homemade chocolate sauce, mine bursting with homemade almond paste and pears, and Kathleen’s mother… well, the waitress lit hers on fire and began spooning rum over the coconut ice cream and liquid chocolate filled pastry. By the time the fire burned out, half the rum had crystalized over the crepe, and the other half was running down the crepe and soaking through the bottom.
Needless to say, we thoroughly enjoyed our desserts.
We hopped around the area, popping into different shops in the area, picked up handmade leather journals and cards that we passed. Kathleen and I had talked about reading in a park in Paris since the beginning of the term, so we wandered back to the Latin Quarter, passing the Sorbonne and ducking into Luxembourg Gardens to pass the time.
Stephen’s Green may still be my favorite green in the world, but Luxembourg Gardens now vies with it for my favorite park in the world. I pulled my blazer tighter as the cool autumn breeze rustled through the changing leaves, and I realized that it was the first time Europe truly felt in the midst of fall.
Not that I mind the 60-degree weather we’ve had in London at all. But there’s something enchanting about autumn. Then again, what isn’t enchanting about Paris? The impeccably dressed children, who point out every single thing that fascinates them while running through the park in front of us; the wafting aroma of baguettes around every corner; the buildings, which are art in themselves; and the parks with their lazy fountains, which are home to toy boats that weave slowly through the nearly still water in the cool fall breeze.
I of course forgot my book back at the flat. But I didn’t mind at all; I was perfectly content merely sitting and watching for an hour. I watched the families, the lovers, the trees and the boats, and took in as much of Paris as I could.
We strolled around the gardens for a bit more, and right before leaving the garden, I found the fountain that I have sitting still on the wall of my room back home: The Medici Fountain. The photographer was right; it is perhaps the most gorgeous spot in Paris. And tucked away from sight, so much so that the crowds that fill Luxembourg Gardens seem to have forgotten about it. Making it even more perfect.
We spent the rest of our afternoon ducking into boulangeries and patisseries, boutiques and paperies. A walk along Boulevard Saint-Germaine, and a duck into an alley entirely dedicated to food, had us salivating. So much so, that we decided to do dinner at the flat.
We were also still a bit full of crepe
We found a shop with olive and eggplant tapenades so delicious that we moaned, and wound up getting half our dinner there without any intention of doing so. Oliver and Co. provided the olive oil, the boulangerie on the Île Saint-Louis provided the bread and macarons, and the grocery provided the dates and other antipasti delicacies.
We were very happy returning to our flat to partake in excellent food. With excellent French music, of course.
Since our first full day there, Kathleen, her mother and I had finished our day with a French movie. Well, “French” movie. Midnight in Paris was Monday night, Chocolat was Tuesday night, Moulin Rouge was Wednesday night, and we had no choice but to adopt Ratatouille for Thursday night
Although, I still have only seen half of it. My family FaceTimed me right in the middle… but I was more than happy to skip the rest of the movie and talk to my perfect moronic siblings (relax, they’re my favorite people in the world. And we’re taking over the world one day, so you better love them as much as I do.)
But… by Friday, we still had not seen the Eiffel Tower. The Arc de Triomphe. Champs-Élysées. So… the only reasonable thing was to fit them all into one last, marathon day.
We started off on Boulevard Saint-Germaine again, and back into that alley we’d found the day before. To La Jacobine… where we again had crepes. In the words of my dear friend and flatmate Glory: “Can’t stop won’t stop.”
I couldn’t resist popping into the different shops along Saint-Germaine, even though I won’t be buying anything from them until I am, well, not a student on a student budget. But the saleswomen still loved our company, and I fell in love with their clothes. In fact, I was occupied enough to not mind the cold wind as it whipped along the streets, as it slashed across my face while I walked by all the government buildings and National Assembly, even as it led us to one of the prettiest streets in Paris:
Gorgeous, no? But of course, no one else was looking at those buildings. Because in the backyard of those highly established households is a small piece of art that half the world dreams about seeing.
Small is perhaps an understatement.
But I will say, it’s something to see. Pictures don’t do it justice; it’s beautiful.
Eiffel Tower: Check.
Arc de Triomphe: … one fast walk past embassies and tree-lined streets later… Check.
And a stroll (frolic) down the Champs-Élysées… Check
We did hop into some stores for shopping. But, shamelessly, Kathleen and I’s favorite store on the strand was Ladurée. The best way to describe Ladurée is the Sugarplum Kingdom manifested. A fairytale land full of macarons, chocolates, tarts, pastries, and every other delectable sweet known to the French. The line to get into the boutique was easily 100 people long, but again, we didn’t mind. Because what awaited us inside was so, so worth the time.
And these are just the tarts. I was too busy ordering macarons and chocolates when we passed those…
We feasted on our macarons in Starbucks across the street (because macarons go excellently with cappuccinos,) and then walked down the rest of the grand shopping mecca, until we were back at the Seine and the Tuilerie Gardens in front of the Louvre. We made an executive decision not to see the inside of the Louvre (we had too many other things to enjoy in Paris.) But I suppose that will require a trip back to Paris…
Still, the Tuilerie Gardens are gorgeous. And we couldn’t go Paris and not at least walk by the Louvre. The light rain was perfect as we drifted through, admiring the statues and modern art that seemed to overflow from the Louvre not 100 meters away. Paris knows how to do gardens.
The rain followed us, perhaps comforted us, as we walked back along the Rue de Rivoli one last time. “You know… I think we’ve been in every single big Parisian store,” Kathleen said to no one in particular. And as we looked around… we had. 100 stores in 5 days? Check.
We had one last vegetarian / vegan / gluten-free restaurant picked out, Cafe Ginger, for our last meal. We headed to Bastille, determined to find it. And upon finding it… we found it closed.
Of course, our last meal had to be falafels and hummus. Nothing else would be fitting
We stopped at King Falafel’s Palace… but don’t let the name deter you. It was a few steps from our flat, and actually very nice. Modern. Amazingly delicious. Almost good enough to send us into food comas for the night… but as it was our last night in Paris, we needed something sweet too. Hello, Lindt and Côte d’Or Praline chocolate.
Two movies were in order that night: Something’s Gotta Give (because it ends in Paris,) and Because I Said So (because we were all a bit drunk on red wine and needed some Mandy Moore and Diane Keaton, although I’m more partial to the former.)
None of us wanted to go to bed. But by 2AM, we had all found our way to bed, the sounds of fire and a storm seeping slowly into the room from Kathleen’s phone. “I don’t want to go back to work,” I said softly. “…Me neither,” Kathleen replied even softer. “I mean, two 15 page papers and a 20 page paper? WHY.”
*Our conversation turned loud and a bit explicit fairly quickly*
But as we strolled through our neighborhood one last time Saturday morning, before our taxi came to take us to Gare du Nord, we took in Paris one last time. And realized that maybe it wasn’t the place to stay indefinitely.
“Paris is enchanting,” Kathleen said, to which I replied, “Entirely so.”
“But it’s the kind of enchanting that you couldn’t live indefinitely in. You couldn’t work here. In fact, you couldn’t live here full time unless you were literally an artist or a writer.”
“It wouldn’t keep its charm. It’s like living in Miami,” I said, brushing my finger along the stones in the wall of the building passing us. “Sooner or later, you have to return to real life. But a life that feels like home, not a fairy tale.”
We silenced, stopped, and looked at the city in front of us. In all it’s beauty, and for all the times in my life that I’d visit it… it wasn’t home.
Flying back across the Channel, pulling to a halt in St. Pancras, and seeing London again… that felt like home.
Sitting on the Victoria line headed back to Waterloo… that felt like home.
Paris is my favorite pastime, but London is home.
Besides, I fit a London personality much more closely. I’m staunchly mannered, a bit distant, take Burberry over an oversized Chloe coat any day, and quite like being a hurry sometimes. It feels more purposeful.
Au Revoir, Paris. I’ll certainly be back to kill time again. But I’m in the mood for a purpose right now.
- Claire Rembecki (London Undergraduate Program, Fall 2014)
View Claire’s blog Trying London For Size.
Images ©Claire Rembecki. All rights reserved.