Paris, April 2015
"I found myself walking like someone half asleep up the quai du Lourve, toward Chatelet and the big white Renaissance Revival Hotel de Ville. I walked until my feet hurt and I was soaked to the skin: past the Pont Neuf and the smooth round turrets of the Conciergerie and past the Michelin-starred restaurant that once had been a cheap brasserie. The urine-soaked odour of the metro wafted up through a sidewalk grate. The facades of the 18th century ile Saint-Louis looked luminous against the gray Parisian sky." -- "My Paris Dream", by Kate Betts
I recently finished reading "My Paris Dream", and when I got to this passage I felt such a strong sense of being understood. Whenever I make it to Paris, I find myself making at least one long walk across the arrondissements, letting myself fall into a Parisian reverie. This the the romance of Paris I never tire of - winding my way through the Left Bank and letting the sense of history and now collide and wash over me.
My love of Paris is not always understood, and in fact it amuses my friends that I am such a cliche - the Asian girl who loves Paris! I can only say that the city got me at the right age (when you are 21, is there anywhere else better to learn the ways of the sophisticated?), and having the chance to make multiple visits over the years and slowly getting to know the city has only made me love it more.
The Seine is my North Star. I like starting somewhere near the Grand Palais, crossing over to the Left and making my way down towards the ile Saint-Louis, making long, looping detours as I go, depending on my mood. If I'm rambling without purpose, I love the numerous art galleries and book stores of the area, or the stalls selling books and drawings along the river - I like buying old French magazines as keepsakes and once I found a French guidebook to Paris published in 1955, complete with a pullout map.
For the fashion-minded, you will find the amazing Dries Van Noten boutique, the Golden Goose store, and L/Uniform on the Quai Voltaire stretch alone. The Left Bank is also home to my favourite Parisian department store - Le Bon Marche - and of course once you reach the delightfully posh St Germain-de-Pres area, you'll find a good mix of the major names at a variety of price points, from Hermes to Muji.
For the food-minded, there is of course Poilane and Pierre Herme, and a never-ending parade of bakeries like L'eclair de Genie and others whose names I can't remember. Not far from Le Bon Marche you will find the beloved Mamie Gateaux, and if you are willing to make it far down enough to the Cimetiere du Montparnasse or Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, then I recommend grabbing dinner at La Cantine du Troquet, where the food, atmosphere and service are all excellent - you have to love restaurants where the staff don't mind explaining their all-French menu to you with patience.
The Left is also home to my favourite museum in Paris - the Musee Rodin. Apart from his unbelievable sculpture, the beautiful mansion that houses the museum is also dreamy to wander through, to say nothing of its gardens, which are perfect for picnics on good days. You can also see his drawings, as well as the works of the underrated Camille Claudel, which I love. The Eglise Saint Sulpice is of course also a draw for tourists, as is the wonderful Luxembourg Gardens, the perfect place to unwind after a day of tramping around the Left.
Any any point, it is possible to wind your way back to the Seine, and bear straight down to the ile de la Cite, and any of the bridges that traverse the river is a gorgeous place to watch the sunset, not to mention the people. You may also wish to make for Sainte Chapelle on ile de la Cite, the prettiest church I have ever seen.
A vast swathe of the Left Bank is dominated by the Sorbonne, which seems to add to the area's tradition and history, and slowed the tide of commercialism somewhat. Yes, there are chain stores and pricey boutiques, but you only need to cross the river to the Marais area to see what "commercialised" can really mean. The Left Bank isn't the haven it was for artists, writers and philosophers in an earlier era, but the romance remains, which isn't easy for such a storied district.
Yes we travel to open our eyes, but sometimes we also travel to dream. Paris, for all its changes, remains very much a dreamscape for me. I leave to a fellow Francophile (or shall I say, Parisophile) to say it best:
"Behind me, a breeze suckled the blinds from a large open window. The view spanned Paris, one of those views that came with sunshine and clarinets, from the Eiffel Tower to the Grand Palais, to the fondant of the Sacré Coeur.
I wanted to levitate right out of the room." -- "Paris I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down", by Rosencrans Baldwin