Paris Journal 2014 – Barbara Joy Cooley Home: barbarajoycooley.com
Seventeen summers in Paris. Say it loud, and it sounds like many. Say it soft, and it’s almost like singing.
Seventeen summers in Paris. So much has changed, and so much remains the same.
Seventeen summers in Paris. Life is easier, and life is more complicated. But it is always sweet, somehow.
In the first few summers, the air was dirtier. Internet connections were rare and unreliable. It was nearly impossible to buy groceries or to find a newsstand open on Bastille Day. August’s arrival meant many favorite places were shuttered, their owners and operators gone south for some sun.
Now, Paris is cleaner. Black smoke from belching buses doesn’t happen. The internet connections are everywhere, reliable, and fast –much better than at home in Florida. Plenty of grocery stores and restaurants are open on Bastille Day and throughout August. Parisians’ vacations are shorter and more scattered throughout the year than they used to be.
Now English is spoken nearly everywhere in the city. Parisians know it is expected. But I was floored at the airport to hear two Russian visitors in the taxi queue insisting on a taxi with a driver who spoke Russian! And they were assigned one! And it only took and extra minute or two!
They were the only visitors in the taxi queue ahead of us. Almost everyone takes the train, or someone picks them up at the airport. When we were exiting the Customs area, the usual mob of people waiting to take a visitor home was much, much larger than usual. Limo drivers and relatives or friends waited anxiously, many holding signs with the names of their expected passengers.
These people were crammed into a space that needed to be three times larger than it was. We, the exiting passengers, had to squeeze our way through this mob to get to the exit where a few taxis waited for us. I don’t remember that crowd ever being so thick.
We would have taken the train, because it is faster, but it is inconvenient when we are coming to this part of Paris. We’d have to switch from the train to the subway, and Paris subways involve plenty of stairs and long corridors and turnstiles. Normally, that’s fine, but not with luggage.
Even with only two carryons, one briefcase, and one handbag, it was too much. We were jetlagged.
Every year the taxi fare is higher. Now it is nearly 70 euros. Plus the tip, which we decided would be 10 euros. We didn’t care; our driver deserved it. Even on a Sunday, there was a bit of traffic jam on the Periperique. These taxi drivers have so much patience!
And they have GPS. That’s another thing that has changed life for the better in the past seventeen sweet years of coming to Paris. GPS helps. It helps to ease life in every big city.
City life is why we are here; city people who live in the swamp need to go live in the city for a few months. We need history, old buildings, and everthing just around the corner. We need to not need to drive a car for a while.
Paris has always been a fine city for walking. But it keeps getting better – especially down along the riverbanks, where former highways have been converted to pedestrian/bike/rollerblade ways.
This city just cannot seem to disappoint us. The only time it came close was 2003, the summer of the Great Heat Wave, when 15,000 people died in France – from the heat.
That was an exception. Usually, Paris cannot disappoint us with her weather. Take yesterday, for example. We would have been happy if the weather were sunny and beautiful. It so happened that it was cool and rainy when we arrived. Skies were gray.
Well, the weather had been so darned hot back home for so many weeks, and our end of the island kept missing out on all the thunderstorms that every other part of South Florida seemed to be receiving, that we were ecstatic to see gray skies, drizzling rain, and temperatures in the upper 60s F yesterday when we arrived at about 11:30AM. Cool, we thought, literally, COOL!
The taxi driver tried to apologize about the weather. We told him we were delighted with it, and why. We are very happy, I said. He was pleased.
He brought us into the center city in a way that we hadn’t come before, but it made perfect sense. He took the second Boulogne exit off the Peripherique; there had been a traffic jam at the first one.
I think the first Boulogne exit would have taken us through Etoile, that grand roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe -- always a thrilling traffic experience!
But instead we came in along the avenue du President Kennedy, where I remember the Tour de France entering the city one year – maybe 1999? Then we crossed the Seine on the Pont de Bir Hakeim – that romantic, two-level bridge with pretty hanging light fixtures.
The middle of that bridge is being renovated, so there will be no picturesque wedding pictures taken there this summer. But after the work is done, I suspect there will be more wedding photos shot on that bridge than ever.
The work along the elevated line 6 of the Metro affects not just the bridge, but also the boulevard de Grenelle for such a long distance that it considerably shortens the area available for our neighborhood’s twice-a-week outdoor marketplace. The Sunday market was still there yesterday, and was still open at 1PM, but not for long, and there wasn’t much to it.
We’ll have to go to the market on rue Saint-Charles instead. It is almost as close to the apartment.
Ah, the apartment. It was a welcome sight to these weary travelers. We came in, turned on the TV to watch the Tour de France, and promptly fell asleep. Jet lag had us in its talons, and carried us off to dreamland.
We did manage to awaken and dress in time for dinner at 8 or 8:30PM, though. We chose to dine simply at the brasserie that is our favorite neighborhood pub, the Café le Commerce.
That place was teaming with locals, who were mostly there in groups of four or six or so, chattering happily away. Tom ordered his usual beef Carpaccio with salad and fries, and I had a duo of salmon and bass (two small filets, cooked perfectly in herbs and butter). Dinner came quickly, and it was very good.
After dinner, we strolled down to the church and then back up the rue du Commerce to the apartment, where we were suddenly tired again.
I sat on the balcony during the late sunset (9:30 or 10?), grooming one of the many potted geraniums out there. Tom sat near me in his rocking chair, just inside the French doors.
It was a sweet domestic scene, and we’re so glad to be here, soaking it all in.
Monday, July 7, 2014
Scenes from the balcony, after dinner.
Walking to dinner, down the rue du Commerce.
The blackboard menu at Café le Commerce.
The main dining room has this interesting, coffered, mirrored ceiling.
The bread was really good, as it should be!