There’s a certain romanticism synonymous to France- Paris in particular. I would watch Marion Cotillard talk about Paris in that Woody Allen movie and only wonder how I couldn’t identify with anything she said. With the excessive photographs of a myriad coloured sky behind the Eiffel Tower, my hatred towards baguettes balanced by my equally measured love for the idea of an espresso-at-the-street-corner and lavender from Provence, France seemed like a crochet of a few things familiar and those I’m not naturally drawn towards. I was reading this book called Glory Road the other day and was reminded of my time there.
With popular places for tourism in the world, it almost feels like you’ve already been there vicariously through your favourite travel blog/show. I believe that sometimes, there is an advantage to that. Borrowed memories push you to make your own better, and there are a few overlaps that words can describe. My mother would underscore that a week for Paris alone is just too less to experience any of it and I disagreed until I got there. Seeing the Eiffel Tower blink on a casual stroll at night, hearing ‘Viens sur le trampoline’ by a duo in a subway in a completely bizarre arrangement after thirteen years (my French teacher at Alliance Française used to sing it to us in class when I was a child) and stumbling upon the first edition of my favourite book at Shakespeare and Company were the first few moments I was sure I had to extend my time in Paris.
I don’t know what it is. I was looking for a particular dessert shop (eternal search for real choux pastry would come to an end) and stumbled upon this gem of a store that had an excellent compilation featuring a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young live show that I’ve never heard before (The owner of a record store in Amsterdam told me about it but I didn’t end up buying it there). Following me, but ended up buying a rare recommended French Blues record instead. Apart from the little things, there are pockets of enormous inspiration everywhere you go. I love how the city is water-centric. Acitivities become water-centric, making it so ideal. Watching ripples on the Siene with vin dans la matineé , spending an afternoon by Canal Saint Martin because of a missed train, walking through a cemetery that is the least bit banal- everything seems like it’s part of a grand, beautiful Parisian plan.
I extended my trip by almost a whole week. I enjoyed staying at Montmartre more than the 7th arrondissement which is close to the major attractions, firstly because the Airbnb was way more comfortable than the hostel I tried and also because if Paris is a walking city, Montmartre is a walker’s dream. Quaint alleys, stairways that lead you to independent art markets and really great crepes while you’re walking are a deadly combination.
You know some musicians are legendary. You grow up listening to them and see their sound evolve into something outstanding if you’re lucky. I watched Thom Yorke at the Pitchfork Music Festival the same night I watched Rhye, whose performance videos I watch everyday. Thom Yorke was someone I wanted to watch with company and as strange as it is, meetup.com worked for me. What are the odds of going to a music festival with an architect your age you spoke to only an hour ago online? Only in Paris.
In Paris, it’s better to skip the metro and walk. Sing, walk, stop for a crepe/beer/ magic cup of espresso, read a book and walk on. I walked to the 12th arondissement from Cimetière du Père Lachaise with multiple stops to see an abandoned rail road I read about. 79 years since it last functioned, this rail road is now shrouded with overgrown weeds. You can see empty spray paint bottles strewn around and if you look down, even the iron rails have art on them. Three kids smoking marijuana was all I saw sadly, but this place has such potential to turn itself into an artists’ paradise, currently being used only by a certain few as an open canvas.
To take a break from the city life I decided to go on a day trip. Here’s some advice: Skip your usual chateau visit, take a detour and visit Provins an hour from Paris. Charming medieval town with unique French food, unlike anywhere else in France. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site- has castles, caves and a grand church, known primarily for it’s medieval champagne fairs. Stop by at Little Cafe on your way back. Warm, delightful, cosy with great coffee and a reinvented bruschetta recipe you won’t regret trying.
As hard as it was to leave Paris, I got myself on a train to Nice. The smell of lavender and the blue sea reflecting the undeniable, very welcome sunshine for a tropical being and scaled down intimacy sum up Côte d’Azur. Nice, Èze and Menton were my destinations of choice. It helps that it wasn’t tourist season so I had to share the beach while the sun set in Nice with two other people. I heard someone read out from a magazine that in France, cooking is an art form and is treated like a national sport. Niçoise seafood has flavours that I crave for every now and then accompanied by musicians playing on the streets long after dusk, complimenting the salt and a slight chill in the air. If only. Magnificent colours and too much beauty to take in in just a week. While I was on a hike in Èze, there was not a single cloud in the sky and the ocean was so blue-almost blurring the horizon. I love when the sun commands everything else to be a mere silhouette. There’s a quote from Glory Road that’s relevant here. He says, “Yes, sir, there are things to see and do on the French Riviera without spending money.”
Part III of the series ‘Chasing Lights and Parallel Stories’.