The transition from mountains to high rises was a bit more startling than I expected. Though I'd spent just a couple days in Savoie, I had quickly fallen in love with the landscape, the lifestyle, and those beautiful, little girls. Paris felt gloomy and it didn't help that it was grey, stinky and overpopulated with tourists.
I arrived on Saturday in the evening; I took the train to the metro which dropped me off across the street from Hôtel de Ville (city hall), just a few blocks from my air bnb, a studio in the heart of Le Marais. I face timed with Jack, trying hard not to show my slight feeling of homesickness, before leaving for a bite at a wine bar around the corner.
The spot was called L'Alsacien and it was absolutely wonderful. Almost at full capacity and booming with energy, one of the waitresses found me a seat at the community high top where I squeezed myself between two couples. Suddenly, the lights turned off and we all sang joyeux anniversaire to one of the employees. My mood shifted quickly. The waitress, Naomi, and I became friends almost immediately. She was kind, cheerful and contagious. She suggested a Paradis Meyer glass of wine (which was incredible). I also ordered one of their famous pizzas ; it was basically perfect. My good friend, Lea, joined me in Paris last minute, flying from Fez, Morocco. It was cool and unexpected; we had always talked about experiencing Paris together!
Unfortunately, she became ill with food poisoning leaving me alone to wander on Sunday. I rose slowly, grabbed brunch and walked over to the Bastille where there was a huge flea market filled with Parisian antiques, vintage clothing, accessories, art and home goods. I walked in and out of shops, admiring the eclectic collections.
Next, I walked to the Pantheon where I exercised my terrible tourist skills. I don't like crowds, lines, or masses. I don't like commonality and I can't stand admiring a beautiful object while hundreds of people are taking the same picture of it with a device that was originally designed to make phone calls and send messages. So I stared at it for a while from the outside and watched other people stare at it. I took what I thought was an interesting image of it from a different perspective and then I moved on to the Luxembourg Gardens which I enjoyed thoroughly. The flowers were gorgeous and the sculptures complex, strange and evoking. I sat on a bench, breathing it all in. It was definitely the highlight of my day. I walked down St. Germaine street which I found pretty uninteresting and commercial, though there were some incredible looking restaurants and stores. I crossed the bridge and briefly admired Notre Dame before letting an eighth tourist know (I started counting) that I don't live in Paris and I don't know where 'such and such place is'. I tried not to flip my hair. Merci beaucoup!
I met a Congolese ambassador, Margi, of a restaurant/lounge/bar/dance club on Instagram called Le Comptoir Général. He invited me to a Sunday party where I could have dinner and hang out with the locals. Ecstatic for this opportunity, I took the metro to Gacour and walked through an adorable neighborhood along the Seine to Le Comptoir Général. Margi was hospitable, fast moving and generous. We stepped inside a simple cafe, freshly painted pink and blue. Almost everyone inside was African. We ordered quickly, for me the chicken mate, a traditional west African dish. It was my kind of meal, rich yet light, nutty, tangy; I ate every last bite and followed with a mango, papaya rum drink. We talked about Paris and a photography exhibition at the Louis Vuitton Museum. He told me he had moved to Paris in '86 and was in love; so in love that he had made it his mission to make others fall in love with it too. Later, I sat with his friends in the VIP section (a small, homey area filled with old furniture and African art). We watched professional dancers tear up the dance floor. The people were fashionable, gorgeous and exotic. Hundreds of ethnicities filled the space. Big curly hair was everywhere. Though I didn't speak the language, though I was in a foreign country in a place I'd never been before, I didn't feel different, objectified or alone. It was absolutely wonderful.
Monday was a national holiday, therefore difficult to navigate. It was hard to know what was open, what was closed, what hours were different. Lea and I did our best to go with the flow despite my eagerness and her post food poisoning fatigue. I made a plan the night before so I could cover everything. It was a lot but I am ambitious. Of course, our first stop, an adorable French cafe called Claus, was opening late- 90 minutes past my scheduled time. It was worth it though, the menu provided four options of pre planned coursed out breakfasts. Baguettes, elderflower and apricot jams, eggs, an array of meats and vegetables, espresso, juices and cocktails flew through our table leaving us in total bliss.
The Louvre proved to be a bit of a let down. The line was long and once inside it was packed. We got whiffs of many different (i.e. horrible) smells. It was yet again, difficult to appreciate a piece of art while humans swarmed it like bees trying to capture its beauty on a 1x1, 2 dimensional screen. But we had fun people watching, art gazing, architecture appreciating. Next was the Eiffel Tower which was so much taller and larger than I ever imagined. It was so, so massive. I was stunned. I finally understood why it's a spectacle of the world. Before leaving, we stood before it, staring at it for a while, admiring its beauty (while dozens of people pretended to hold it, hug it, kiss it).
The rest of the day was challenging. Everything on my list was closed, restaurants included. The popular streets I had been recommended weren't their usual bustling selves. We walked miles out of our way to get the best sandwich in the city only to find it was closed. These attempts thankfully led us to quaint, local wine bars and sandwich shops where we had local, authentic experiences and finally delighted in Parisian lifestyle. Thanks, adventure! That evening, after decompressing, we walked a couple blocks to Pain, Vin, Fromage- a hole in the wall gem. We ordered fondue and a plate of goat cheese paired with a half bottle of red wine. It couldn't have been a better way to end our time in Paris.
The next day I wandered Le Marais, popping in and out of boutiques, ending at a popular spot called Merci. Paris had grown on me. There was so much to see, too much for three days. I loved the style, the passion for food and wine, the balance between work and play, the stunning architecture. It was refreshing to see diversity. The people, though arrogant, were friendlier than I expected; 'As you want' was a popular phrase. (What if I don't always know what I want?!)
I decided that I'd grown a lot, being independent in a big, foreign city. I learned more about my likes and dislikes. I made my own choices and didn't have to ask anyone how they felt. I sat with myself listening to my own thoughts. I realized how accustomed I am to adapting, maybe feeling comfortable had more to do with me than with them. However, after all of that, I learned that even when I'm by myself, I'll always find a way to have company. I may not like crowds but I love people. And Paris is a city meant to be shared.
Oh, one last thing. I looked at my Fitbit App at the end of my stay. I walked 32 miles.