An American in Paris

So, what do you want to hear about? I could go into the places I went and the sights I saw here in the City of Lights, but you know what the Eiffel Tower is like, you know what Sacre Coeur is like. You’re in Paris, you gotta do ’em (or some of ’em, at least).

I hit my share of cliche Paris attractions but I skipped a lot of them, too. In keeping with the mode I’ve been in all summer — being a tourist via sailboat, you’re perceived by the locals much differently than if you just stepped off an airliner — I was trying to immerse myself in some semblance of the Parisian lifestyle, however briefly.

To that end, I rented a small house/apartment, I didn’t stay in a hotel. I used and the place I wound up in was cozy, comfortable and quite charming. It featured a loft area with a big, comfy bed, and a main-floor living area with a kitchen and bathroom. The place was off the street: you’d pass through the coded front door and then a small courtyard. Unlock the gate and travel down a narrow outdoor corridor between rose-covered walls, walking on a cobblestone path before turning right, through an ivy-covered gate and into a small patio of your own. It really was an oasis, a haven from the city that seemed light years away through those doors.

Not that it needed to be. The area I was in — the 17th arrondissement — was nice and also useful. I was a two-minute walk from the La Fourche stop on the Metro’s 13 line, in the trendy Batignolles district. There were plenty of cliche ethnic restaurants (Turkish, Italian, Indian), plenty of brasseries and bars with sidewalk drinking and dining, and useful services such as a supermarket 100 meters from my front door in one direction and a coin-operated laundromat 50 meters in the other. All things considered, I dug being somewhat out of the mainstream — not in the 7th or 8th, for instance — but having easy access via the Metro to any destination in town.

And tour Paris I did. I typically made a mental note of a place or two I wanted to see, or more likely a general area I wanted to head toward, and then I’d just wander. As a result, I covered a ton of ground — which I also dug since it enabled me to see and experience a wide range of Paris. I like to think it helped me learn some things along the way.

For instance, what a change from England to Paris in one major way. In the former, you can’t smoke anywhere public anymore, not even football matches or pubs. In Paris, everyone smokes everywhere. Kids, adults; men, women; indoors, outdoors. OK, that’s not true: they couldn’t smoke inside the bars or restaurants but that meant they just stepped outside the door and created a nice fog for you to walk through on the way out. And by the time 90 minutes of football was over at the Parc des Princes, my lungs felt like those of an asthmatic with a bad case of pneumonia. Not pleasant.

And what is it with the women smoking? Who told them that smoking makes them look good? I’m sorry if it’s a double-standard (though it’s not because I detest smoking by anyone regardless of gender), but talk about a turnoff.

Which is a shame because the beauty on display in Paris was awe-inspiring. There’s such a focus on style and fashion and just plain looking good that even unattractive people looked, well, good. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to me but that’s why I’m able to offer this observation: I was on the outside looking in. A dispassionate observer, if you will.

Maybe it’s just a result of the city’s size, maybe it’s the same thing in New York. But as a fan of beauty, I quite enjoyed the scenery in Paris.

Which is not to say that I took a lot of photos. In fact, I didn’t take any. I shot two quickie photos with my iPhone of the Champs Elysee, but not once did I take my real SLR out of the bag. Nothing from atop the Eiffel Tower or Montmartre; nothing from the garden at the Rodin Museum; nothing from along the Seine. Not that any of the photos would have been any good anyway: every location that I might have shot had eight gazillion people swarming around. So the memories will have to suffice.

Though I might look into making more memories. One thing that occurred to me while in Paris was that if I were going to do city living, I think I’d do it somewhere overseas. I am most assuredly NOT a city mouse so if I were going to live someplace as foreign as a city I’d just as soon do it in a place where EVERYTHING is that foreign: the language, the culture, the mentality…everything. And I may just do that. I was looking into apartments in Paris before I left.

That may or may not come to pass. I find myself torn between heading back to someplace a little lower key (Reykjavik? Back to Alaska?) or even heading back to the States…I’m even feeling an urge to get back into the game with regard to working for someone else. Hell, I’m even very intrigued by a sailboat that’s for sale in Maryland right now; I may go check it out in the next week or two.

But living in Paris really intrigues me. No, it’s not a case of a fan doing something oh-so-Hemingwayesque because really, that era is so long gone that any attempt to recreate that Lost Generation thing is more doomed to failure than Deadheads thinking a Further show is gonna recreate a show with Jerry on guitar (and, to be honest, my zeal for Hemingway fades as I age). But it does feel as though maybe going out of my comfort zone — living someplace where I don’t have easy, regular access to the things I normally do and love such as surfing, fishing, hiking, hockey, etc. — might be a good way to force a really deep dive into the creative side.

And Paris is someplace that really encourages the creative side. The emphasis on art at the high end and style at the everyday low end can’t help but encourage one’s creative side to come out. Standing in the Musee d’Orsay and contemplating a painting by Monet inspires whether you want it to or not. Contemplating what in the world Rodin had going through his mind as he created The Gates of Hell gets you thinking about what it means to be alive and be human even if the main thing you care about in life is how the Red Sox are doing.

To experience the art that is all around in Paris — from the buskers on the Metro to the masters in the museums to the hacks sketching Notre Dame to listening to the whispers of departed greats at the Pere Lechaise cemetery and other historic sites around town — and the importance placed on art by the French as a whole makes you want to go out and create something of your own, something that puts your voice out there into the universe. Tapping into that urgency might be worth exploring.

And in that case, maybe that would be doing something Hemingwayesque. As I said: there’s no way to resurrect anything resembling the Lost Generation. Literature is so discounted in modern American society that there may not be enough would-be writers left to fill even a bar or bookstore discussing their work. And there’s nothing like a just-concluded world war to cause a great sea of people asking the big questions; nowadays everyone just seems to want to know how to get their own piece of the pie. It seems as though the whole world is just so jaded now. But settling into a foreign culture in order to enforce the living of an artistic life, well, if that’s what Papa and the others were up to then maybe I ought to sign up.

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