It may be almost cliché to speak of Paris and how it draws expatriate writers (James Baldwin, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, to name a few). No doubt a trip to Paris inspires the muse of most of us who regularly put pen to paper. (Or mouse to screen, if you insist.) The lure of the city for writers has never waned. As evidence, last month sci-fi writer Susan Kaye Quinn traveled to Paris. There, she met local writers and signed copies of her work at a bookstore.
I have had the good fortune to visit the city four times. Recent, sometimes tragic, events have taken me back to my last visit once again—in my memory. Those memories are all pleasant ones.
Spending more time than I ever have at the Louvre. Exploring artifacts from ancient Egypt and beautiful pieces from their Islamic collection. Being introduced to the mystical work of Gustav Doré at the Musee D’Orsay, my favorite place to spend time.
Wandering the streets near our apartment located between the Belleville and Republique metro lines. Pretending I actually live in Paris by enjoying eclairs from a neighborhood bakery and cheese from a local cheese shop. Meeting with a French tutor in a café near the Bastille.
Finally making the trek to Monet’s home and gardens in Giverny. On each trip, we never miss a few hours in the Luxembourg Gardens. From a park bench we spend at least one afternoon watching people walk by.
I recently saw someone post on Facebook a common belief about the city—Parisians don’t like people from the United States. I have found the opposite to be true, with one observation. I’m not the only person who will say that the reception will be much friendlier if a visitor knows a little French.
The best phrase I use if I get into any difficulty is: “Excusez-moi, je ne parle pas très bien français.” “Excuse me, but I don’t speak French very well.” I have never had a problem after that as whoever I’m speaking to graciously helps me. It is also important to say, “Bonjour” during the day and “Bonsoir” in the evening when first approaching someone.
Once in a bakery, I politely asked the man behind the counter about the éclairs we had not yet received with our tea. He threw his head back and cried out, “What a catastrophe!” in a way that made me laugh . After I took the plate of two eclairs, someone walked up to the counter and immediately said, “I’d like…” and started his order. The demeanor of the man behind the counter shifted from playful to deadly serious.
I suspect that customer came away with the belief that Parisians are all rude based on that one experience.
Pay Attention to It All
All the expected sites—the Eiffel Tower lit up at night, the boats on the Seine, the Notre Dame Cathedral—speak the loudest. On the other hand, I very much value the quieter voices of the city. The murals, the small tasks of daily life, and the lovely hair of three French schoolgirls on a boat floating down one of the city’s canals.
Residents of Paris may tire of the constant bustle of a big city and look forward to fleeing for quieter locations. I will always be one of the many outsiders—many of us writers—drawn to that city and continually find inspiration there.