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Viva La France! Things I Love About Paris

I’ve been to Paris several times, and spent summers there as a child. It’s an amazing place, and I know that each time I arrive in the City of Light, there are a litany of rituals and tasks I must attend to—each one special and symbolic.

These are my top ten must do’s:

1. Email my upstairs neighbor, Evelyn. She works for the Meridian, and always knows what’s au courant and bon chic, and will happily catch me up while I bask in the glow of her effortless Parisenne cooking and preternatural chic/thinness/bon-vivant ‘tude.

2. Trot down to Brasserie XVIème Avenue for un café, and to watch the locals on their way to wherever it is that they’re going—and for once not be annoyed by people who are wearing my annual salary on their backs.

3. Wander down to the Trocadero, pick up a roast chicken on the way (pommes de terre in the bag, s’il vous plait) and a bottle of something wet, doesn’t matter what. I then head through the Trocadero, down the steps and along the fountain that shoots water balls from canons, past the carousel and over the river, under the Eiffel Tower and through to the excellent green grass on the Champs de Mars, where I sprawl out for a replenishing chicken feast.

4. Hit the flea market at Clignancourt. It’s half open-air market with dirt-cheap tchochkes, amazing costume jewelry and merciless pick-pockets. The other half is genuine antiques stalls, complete with grandmother’s furs and Sun-King armoires.

5. Peruse Notre Dame & Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore. These two venues are happily situated adjacent to one another (and a hop away from the rue du Chat Qui Peche), and my pilgrimage to each is a touchstone for every Paris trip. (Shakespeare & Co.’s sister store is located in Berkeley. Go figure).

6. Visit open air markets for food. My favorite happens to be in the 16th arr., rue de Levis, 17* M* Villiers, Tuesday through Sunday. Service might be a bit frosty the first couple of times, but the ice melts by the third. If you have the opportunity to become a regular, then leave for a few months, then return, the welcome back you receive is tantamount to a soldier returning from war—a wonderful and unexpected warmth.

7. Wander through the Père Lachaise Cemetery. I spent several years during my adolescence trying to find Jim Morrison’s grave organically, sans map. Eventually, it was the tell-tale trail of cheap marijuana that led me to his grave. This cemetery is absolutely huge, stuffed with the artists, scientists, politicians and thinkers of France. Some of my personal favorite graves to visit have been Honore de Balzac, Colette, Maria Callas, Edith Piaf, Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Richard Wright, and of course, the massive above ground lipstick-kiss covered rocket-ship to the sky belonging to Oscar Wilde.

8. Enjoy patisseries. Any and all. A boulanger is for bread, all well and good, but a patisserie is for pastries, marvelous fruit-chocolate-butter-sugar extravaganzas that are really not very expensive and come in a massive array. The fact that this is standard fodder for Parisians boggles the Yankee mind, and I accept my post food-orgy coma as my personal sacrifice to the gods of gluttonous indulgence at every patisserie I pass.

9. Shop at Printemps. Although I can’t wear French sizes by a mile, and my Viking-sized feet warrant sales-girls giggles and fetching of colleagues for group smirking, this department store is ground-zero for what’s being marketed to the French as a trend. I like to check out what’s in the store, what people are wearing, and what people walk out with. And if I happen to wander through the fur department to fondle the chinchilla coats, maybe I’ll run into Kanye West. You never know.

10. I’m going to split this last one into two answers, fair weather and foul.

Foul: I’ll head to Mariage Freres for tea. Their salon is quiet, beautifully appointed, and their tea service is excellent. This experience is the quintessential port in the storm.

Fair: Visit the Musee Rodin. Although I happen to have the twin of this museum in my own backyard at Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center, this location is smallish, tucked gracefully behind high garden walls, and situated privately in a quiet, residential neighborhood. Visiting is a conduit to introspection, philosophical thoughts, and the deeper consideration of things in general.


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