Bonjour from Paris! I write this blog from our Airbnb bed, it is 4:48AM and I have yet to fall asleep, which means today calls for a double espresso. Actually, make it a triple. On the plus side, I’m watching the Parisian sky slowly turn pink from my window and listening to the clear chirping of the birds grow steadily louder by the minute. It feels like a treat, especially because I have the luxury of no responsibilities today. No kids to look after, no work to go to, no agenda to keep, no place to be. I’m not sure I’ll get over the novelty of it all.
Daniel and I arrived on Monday afternoon and took the train into our Airbnb, which is located in the charming northern Parisian neighborhood of Montmartre. Despite varying degrees of extreme exhaustion, we cleaned up and headed out to explore the neighborhood. We walked up the some 300 steps to the top of Sacre Couer and were rewarded with expansive views Paris below, including the Eiffel Tower in the distance. We wound through the cobblestone streets of Montmartre, stopping to take photos of the quirky street art and graffiti that seem to be a hallmark of Paris. We dined at one of the lovely street-side cafes, sitting at a table on the sidewalk, a lovely place for taking in the posh balconies wound with wisteria and bougainvillea, with carefully tended flower boxes – perfect private oases within the city.
Tuesday I groggily woke, thinking it must be around 8AM, as I knew Daniel had already left for his conference. I got quite the shock when checking my phone and it was 12:30PM! I had slept for at least 15.5 hours, I suppose due to catching up on jet lag, no sleep on the flight, and over 3 years of child-induced sleep deprivation. I spent the rest of the day wandering the city, walking all the way from Montmartre to the Eiffel Tower. On the way I stopped at the Musée Cernuschi, an Asian Art Museum. The Museum is housed in the former mansion of Henri Cernuschi, the founder. At some point in the mid 1800’s Cernuschi made an inaugural 18-month trip to Asia (from what I remember) spanning from China to Indonesia and he returned to France with some 5,000 pieces of art. The main exhibit when I visited was showcasing Lee Ungno, a Korean artist who ended up living in France. I quite enjoyed his works, especially the combination with the traditional Japanese calligraphy-style aesthetic mixed with more modern colors and shapes, and his use of texture and unique mixed media backgrounds.
I met Daniel at his conference venue, just past the Eiffel Tower, and we dined on savory and sweet crepes with new friends Alain and Carole, from Luxembourg. Alain works on WP-CLI with Daniel. Carole introduced me to Kir, a traditional French drink that is crème de cassis (black currant liquor) and sparkling white wine. Quite refreshing!
This is my second trip to Paris. The first was in December 2012. We found cheap-on-miles flights to Paris, but stayed for only four days. During that trip I was six months pregnant, had a terrible respiratory illness the entire time, and was extremely jet lagged and couldn’t take a sleeping pill due to said pregnancy. It was my first trip to Paris, and to Europe in general, and I was hell-bent to not spent the trip convalescing in our room, but that being said, it was extremely difficult for me. So, I’m thrilled to have a second chance at Paris – not pregnant and not sick (though I’m still jet lagged). The mid-summer light at this time of year makes Paris even more magical than I remembered. The glowing pink skies at dusk light up the regal beige exteriors of the apartment buildings and make the city come alive.
Paris observations and impressions
- A lot more people smoke cigarettes in Paris than the US (at least the parts that I inhabit/visit). Smoking in Paris seems to be pretty normal, for all ages. I see teens smoking, young people smoking, old people smoking. People smoking with friends, with spouses, with their kids (teen kids, that is). People smoke unselfconsciously. Part of it is because you can smoke anywhere, there aren’t so many designated “smoke free” areas like the US. My initial gut reaction when I see someone smoking is, “don’t they know that’s so bad for you?” That reaction is probably thanks to some very successful public health campaigns in the US over the years. I think Parisians do know smoking isn’t good for you (how can you not know when there are pictures of corpses on cigarette packets here?), but they seem to simply not care. The obsessive trend of “wellness” that is present in the US doesn’t seem to be present here. The juicing-working-out-staying-fit-staying-pure-additive-free-organic-yogapants-lifestyle doesn’t seem to have caught on here.
- Coffees are smaller but people take a lot longer to drink them. Also, I think I’ve seem approximately no one walking around with a to-go coffee. The coffee culture here is one of slowness and connection. People drink espresso coffees in tiny cups (probably one to two ounces in size), and they drink them sitting at a cafe with a friend. No one seems to rushed to get their caffeine dose in and continue on-the-go, as is true in the US. They drink their coffees and enjoy sitting and talking with their friends. Parisians must be absolutely horrified by the idea of a “venti”.
- Paris is so multicultural! That was my first impression upon alighting at Charles de Gaulle, and the impression has held true throughout Paris. The variation of people here is astounding, and quite refreshing. Portland area, where I’m from is quite homogeneously white. I’m pretty much guaranteed that anywhere I go within my normal life’s activities, almost everyone will look like me, look like my kids, and look like my husband. There are many redeeming qualities of Portland-area, but diversity ain’t one of ‘em. In fact, Portland is the whitest city in America. So, it is so refreshing to be surrounded by a diversity of people. There are people speaking all different languages, of all skin colors, wearing all types of clothes from hijab, to saris, to colorful kaftans, to kofi caps. In some neighborhoods, I might even be in the minority.
- People’s personal space bubbles are smaller here. I keep noticing this: people talk to each other, but they talk very close. Two friends sitting on a park bench, but they talk so close it lends a feeling of intimacy that I’m just not used to seeing in the US. Tables at cafes are quite small, so you are always sitting very close to the person you are dining with, and close to the people dining around you.