|Imagine a month without English newspapers,
television, radio or any conversation more than “Where ya, from?” or
“where’s the Louvre?”
Imagine a Canadian not seeing
snow once during the month of January.
Imagine too a month in a small Apt. no bigger than my
kitchen at home and
a bathroom so small you hit your elbows on the walls when
you turn around or get out of the shower. Well, it sounds too much to bear
but the truth is, I’m coming to the end of one of the best months I’ve had
in five years. Here I am in the city of my dreams, in the best district of
Paris and on the cutest street I know. I look out of my third storey window
through tree branches barren of foliage at a narrow non parking corner with
one of those cute little French hotels you see in pictures. The sounds are
muffled but the street is the answer to all my desires right now. Its home
while I escape my real home and get back to why I work so hard and why I’ve
learned to be aggressive, motivated and anxious.
It was a month in Paris with warm clothing and my laptop
that I waited for these long months since I last ventured from home. Here I
am surrounded by strangers and without a car I have learned to walk again
and I actually find public transportation fun.
Unlike my regular routine, I rise late, walk to the bakery
for my fresh baguette, that long crunchy bread fresh from the oven and under
the arm of all my neighbors as they too wend their way home for breakfast of
the best bread I know, hot coffee and total relaxation. The sun enters my
tiny space through two twelve foot high windows and warms my semi heated
room while I gather my thoughts, check my email and plan my day.
There are chores like laundry and shopping but I try to
see at least one museum a day and find the hardest part selecting which one
to see. The fact that they are not open every day solves my problem,
especially on Mondays and Tuesdays. So far, I’ve managed to visit the
unbelievable Bibliotheque Nationale, the National Library. It’s on the edge
of the river at the south eastern end and consists of four towers on each
corner of a huge treed space standing tall and looking like four open books.
Inside there is everything you think a library should offer and more. It is
spacious, well stocked, well staffed and modernly comfortable. It is a
recent addition to a great library system, inaugurated by Francois Mitterand,
who, I might add, lived only a block from my apartment. I’m sure his was
I’ve managed to visit the Museum of Shah, Fragonard
Perfume Museum, The Jewish Art and History Museum, The Paris Crypt, The
Cluny, The Jacquemart- Andree, The Carnavolet Musium of Paris, and a special
private collection viewing of the Senate including Cezannes, Renoirs and
many of the greats of past.
I have seen Rodin’s beautiful manor and collection and I
walked in awe of those great Frenchmen who lie in the Pantheon. I have seen
the War Museum at Les Invalides and a small manor house filled with the life
work of painter Gustave Moreau.
And between visits I’ve eaten at sandwich shops, bistros,
out of the way restaurants where I tried food from all regions and many
countries. I had crepes in the Brittany area of Montparnasse, coffee and
cake at Le Coupole, Hot chocolate at Le Flore and a long list of drinks at a
long list of watering holes. I visited some of the great spots like the
Relais Christine, Hotel Laetitia, Hotel Des Grandes Ecoles on rue Cardinal
Lemoine and discovered new places to add to future lists like Bouillon
Racine near the old Odeon Theatre and available in a wonderful art deco
ambiance since 1906. On rue Buci across from the market, I discovered Café
Jade, a place filled with atmosphere and large letters spelling out the
great figures of the French Arts scene including Gertrude Stein, Niki de St
Phalle, Picasso and Max Jacob.
And speaking of Picasso, I visited the Bateau Lavoire
where he and Max Jacob once lived and was happy walking around the Alexander
Nevsky Church where Picasso and Olga Koklova were married. I even walked by
their apartment on rue Boetie but was disappointed that there was no plaque
on the door.
I saw other plaques while I walked around like the one
showing Hemingway’s house on Cardinal Lemoine, Gertrude Stein’s on rue de
Fleurus and another on a tiny street that said both George Sand and Isadora
Duncan had lived there.
I laughed as I watched people learning to skate on the ice
rink in front of the Hotel De Ville. They laughed too. It was very
I ate crepes on the street, sipped wine standing at my
window and walked, walked, walked. I walked from the Etoile to Parc Monceau
where I watched people doing Tai Chi. I Crossed the bridge behind the Notre
Dame a dozen times on my way to the Ile St Louis or the Marais district.
There is art for sale everywhere in the city and on street
corners. I already bought three this month but I won’t leave for a few days
and may find something else.
My trusty camera worked overtime as did I but each day I
returned to my tiny space filled with the sounds, tastes and smells of the
city I dream about when I’m not here. My wife says I take so many pictures
because I want to carry the whole city home with me. She may be right. I am
recognized at the bakery, the market, the cyber café, and at the corner
Bistro where I stop for coffee on my way home.
Right now I’m filled with Paris. It is the only city I
know where I’m perfectly at ease. Speaking French is an asset but you can
get by without it. Gertrude Stein was right.
“Its not what Paris gives you that’s important. It’s what
Paris doesn’t take way that’s important.”
I walked through the rows of graves at Pere Lachaise
Cemetery. Like every visit here, I ended with a visit to Gertrude’s grave.
It was through her life that I came to know Paris and after all these years
and all these visits to her grave, I’ll say thank you, once again. I went to
visit her two homes last week as it was her birthday. I always do.
But her Paris has changed but that’s to be expected. I
wonder if they had so much affection for their dogs. I know Gertrude had a
dog most of the time she was here. But did she take the dog to restaurants
as they do today or to a shop or on a bus? I see them everywhere. This is
I still plan to see some of the many market streets like
Mouffetard and Montarguil. They bustle with people and great food shops And
lets not forget that Paris abounds with cheese, wine, pastry and a large
number of chocolate shops. There’s a bistro with drinks, food and wonderful
hot chocolate at every corner.
There is now skating and museums like the Museum of
Natural History that attracts families with children. And even though it was
the coldest month, there was no snow and almost no rain. And sitting outside
of a bistro in the winter is still possible as they have heat lamps to warm
you if the wine doesn’t.
Paris is gaily lit, upscale and
always changing. Hemingway was right.
It is indeed a “Moveable feast”.
Next week it’s all over. I leave here but I’m not sad.
Gertrude was right. “We all went to Paris. It was where we had to be.”
I’ll be back.
You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at:
Over the past few years, Professor
Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece,
Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of
Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the
globe including Italy and most of
China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters
from St.Petersburg to Moscow.
"He took a group to Greece and another to northern
Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour
groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They
winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico. His newly found spare time
is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His
current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders.. "So
You Want To Be A Tour Leader."
Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing
Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel
writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.
Keep reading his web for travel ideas. His next
novel HELLSTORM'S Folly,
will be available this fall. He now
lives in British Columbia.
www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at
(More about the writer.)