Monday, September 18, 2023

Paris walking – Rediscovery and discovery


[Sacre-Coeur - Paris*]

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post expressing my anxieties about revisiting Paris after so many years. Well, having returning from there safe and sound (and feeling younger), I can say that the city is as alive as ever, albeit with changes, both positive and negative. On a personal note, Paris still retains its magic touch of 40 years ago on me even if I have aged a little bit.

To be fair, Paris is not exactly the same city it was some 40 years ago when I lived there. Bicycle lanes now occupy at least 1/3 of the road space, which has significantly helped clean up the air (no more black residue in one’s nose at the end of the day due to diesel emissions). The price has been to render the act of crossing the street even more challenging but it is a good deal overall. The faces have changed, with the city truly becoming rainbow of colors. To be fair, Paris has always been a blend of locals and immigrants with each party loving to complain about the other. Tellingly, I even found a long series of streets mainly with stores specializing in skin and hair care for dark-skinned people. The neighborhoods have evolved too. For example, the street on which my apartment was located, Rue St. Denis, used to be known for its working ladies  is now dominated by clothing stores (next to my location) and restaurants, a few minutes away. I found most of the changes natural but was saddened by the transformation of the Marais, the neighborhood where my mother and her family grew up and which I knew so well. It has become a concentration of high-end brand stores and gay clubs with almost no Jewish identity  remaining aside from a few official signs. That disappointment has more to due to my nostalgia than to its new character. Thus, Paris has changed a lot in terms of specific details.

However, its heart have remained the same. First, Paris is energy, a fountain of youth for those that embrace the city. Regardless of  a person’s age, Paris is about living now and enjoying life in all of its aspects. Maybe New York and a few other cities also have the same aura. As a visitor, life is waiting just outside the door. Despite its relatively small size, each neighborhood has its own unique mix of buildings, stores and people. Ten minutes by foot in any direction take you into another world. It turns detours into voyages of discovery. As for food, Paris is having an endless choice of restaurants almost anywhere you walk, none with the same menu or style.  African or Asian, American or French or anything else you may want, it is available and close by. For example, I found a restaurant 20 meters from apartment that featured food from five different African countries and three Caribbean islands. Above all, Paris is sensatory heaven: architecture and art, open and covered markets, perfume stores, cheese shops and bakeries, jazz, swing and rap music in the street. One evening, I went out for a drink in the Louvre square and ended up dancing a swing, something I hadn’t done in years. La vie est belle á  Paris.

On a personal note, I experienced the trip bachelor-style, i.e., by myself, due to an animal health crisis at home that prevented my wife from joining me as planned. I returned to my youth of 40 years ago when I lived there, walking the streets as I did in my 20’s, some five to eight hours a day, and eating anything I wanted, including lots of bread, pasty, chocolat and café Liegeois, crepes, both sweet and savory, and even a Grand Marnier soufflé, to name a just a few. I saw family that I hadn’t seen in forty years. We even recognized each other as our faces had not changed even if our bodies had, just a bit. My French immediately came back, granted with some interference from Hebrew and too many grammar errors to suit me, especially after a beer, but with a better vocabulary. I discovered that neither my love of the city nor love the life style had changed. I immediately felt at home in Paris.

Admittedly, I had aged somewhat as I admitted when I begrudgingly took the metro back from the Champs d’Elysée back one evening instead of walking (50 minutes) because my legs were simply too tired. On a positive side, I found the 3+ hour lunches quite pleasant unlike in my younger days. Curiously, just as I thought all those years ago, however much I love Paris and it is in my heart, I could not live there. In short, now as it was then, in my opinion, it is impossible to be too sad in Paris if you have money to spend and even if you don’t have very much but I would not like to reside there.

Thus, to those who have nostalgia for the Paris of their youth or those that have never been there before, I strongly recommend visiting the city and exhilarating whatever senses you want with its magic. Paris d'antan est morte; vive la Paris d'aujourd'hui


* Picture captions help the blind fully access the Internet.

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