15 In Europe/ France/ Travel Planning

Savoring the Simple Life in Paris

I moved to Paris with my family for six months in 1978 while my father worked for an energy organization there. We lived in a three-bedroom apartment on Avenue Carnot with a close-up view of the Arc de Triomphe and shared many of the kind of memories that make people smile and sigh just saying the city’s name. We ate waffles with powdered sugar from street cart vendors and sipped on syrupy sweet grenadine drinks at brasseries on the Champs Elysees. We visited Versailles and my ancestral town of Mouy. My sisters and I attended Ecole Active Bilingue with other international students, using the Carte Orange to make the metro part of our play time after school. Of course, not everything about that time sparkled. Some Parisians and our strictly French-only schooling could be intimidating. And one Sunday after we spent the day playing in the Bois de Bologne, we  opened the front doors to our apartment to find it ransacked. The drawers and cabinets were flung open, the mattresses flipped, and the coins in my tiny change-purse–all of my savings as a 7-year-old girl–emptied.

I returned twice after that for short sejours with friends. When I came back this August, staying for about five weeks, I was surprised at the changes from my last visit. The Champs Elysees still has its brasseries, but it is now lined with chain store after chain store. To me, it felt like a mall. Much like New York City, tourism is booming, and parts of the city are too packed. I noticed the English language seems to have crept in to French culture much more than in the past–both in everyday language (while I was corrected in the past for saying “ok” instead of “d’accord,” saying “ok” now seems…ok), on T-shirts with English sayings, and in music I heard in boutiques or restaurants. Some Parisians still have a tendency toward the sour mood. One Parisian woman described it to me as as “sport.” Imitating them, she said, “It’s like, ‘It’s a sunny day….meh,'” as she shrugged her shoulders. Most people, though, were kind and even friendly. I wondered if Parisians had softened a bit.

I made a nostalgic trip to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, explored a bit of Montmartre and spent another afternoon in the darkly lovely Pere Lachaise cemetery. Pere Lachaise is, of course, the resting place to so many famous people, including Chopin, Moliere and Oscar Wilde. But it also just beautiful, with a mix of simple and elegant headstones; shards of sunlight and speckles of yellow-green leaves dusting the graves; and cobwebs on some markers that look as if they were strategically placed there by a Hollywood set designer. I was especially moved seeing the tender gaze on an old man’s face as he stood in front of the grave of Allan Kardec, who is considered the father of Spiritism, and a headstone I passed which read simply “Tant Aime” (“So Much Love”).


A view from the top of the Arc de Triomphe



Sacre Coeur


Steps in Montmartre


Mostly, though, I avoided the heavily trafficked spots, happy to live a simple, settled life after many months of travel. I cooked confit de canard and chicken soup with carrots and celery in my tiny apartment in the Marais. I swam twice a week at the piscine Suzanne Berlioux at Forum des Halles, dodging the arms and legs of fellow swimmers in the crowded 50-meter “libre” lanes of the pool. I saw films such as the premiere of “Histoire de Jeunesse” (“Testament of Youth”) where the producer and the female lead gave a brief talk. And I took slow walks along many streets, poking my head in shops and taking in the colors of the local markets–the Marche rue Dejean for some African flavor, as well as rue Montorgueil, Place d’Aligre and Saint-Ouen for general Parisian food/flea market experiences. Here were some of my favorite discoveries:

Gambetta/Menilmontant: With a more relaxed, local feel than the most touristed spots in Paris, this was the first neighborhood I felt like I could call home. I saw a mix of the old and the new in its buildings, people of a variety of ethnicities, and what seemed to be a strong creative element. I especially enjoyed going to La Bellevilloise to hear African music on Saturday nights and seeing an Algerian band called Bania at Studio de L’Ermitage. Twice I ate at a French/Thai restaurant called L’Echappee with a friend visiting from New York. We both agreed that it was the best food we had in Paris.


Place Gambetta

Belleville: On a narrow street called rue de la Villette, I wandered in and out of local shops selling vintage and modern clothing, as well as crafts and jewelry. Signs offered classes in classical singing, guitar and woodworking. A corner restaurant had a flyer for a writing workshop. It was another place that felt like it could be a home. The street ended at Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, where people were lazing on a late summer day. One family was celebrating a small boy’s birthday with a “Joyeux Anniversaire” sign and balloons. A few 20-somethings had tied a wide yellow band between two thick trees to practice tightrope walking. A couple snuggled by the water, and friends sat on the grass talking.


rue de la Villette

Parc des Buttes-Chaumont

Buttes aux Cailles: I spent an afternoon exploring this quiet neighborhood with walls decorated with street art and progressive political statements. Another night, I ate with a friend at Chez Gladines, a casual and lively restaurant specializing in Basque cuisine.


Hammam: I spent two afternoons at the Hammam Medina in the 19th arrondissement, sinking into the heat of the sauna and steam rooms before getting the skin I had sun-dried all over Africa sloughed off during the gommage. Relaxing, revitalizing and recommended.

Parks: While much of Paris reminds me of New York City, its parks easily beat NYC. I especially enjoyed Parc des Buttes-Chaumont and Parc Bercy. One day after a walk along Canal St. Martin, I wound up at Parc de la Villette. Couples were dancing to tango music, seemingly lost in the bliss of the dance and deeply in tune with the moment.


Parc Bercy


Tango dancers in Parc de la Villette


Street Art: I love the grit and energy of graffiti and street art. These are some photos from my many walks throughout the city. Who knew I would see leopards in Paris?

Fred Le Chevalier has street art all over Paris. This piece was along the Canal St. Martin.


Graffiti on a wall near the Canal St. Martin


In Buttes aux Cailles



In Menilmontant

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  • Reply
    Barb Roberts
    October 7, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    As always, such a joy to read and also thinking glad you are close to fast internet:) I really liked the pictures of the dancing. But all the others, too. Video would have been great on the dancing but I don’t know if you can post that on this blog or not. Take care hon and on to the next thing!!

    • Reply
      October 7, 2015 at 5:32 pm

      Thank you, Barb. Yes, I am glad to have decent Internet, though actually it kind of went kaput shortly after I posted this :). It may be in and out while I’m here.

      I don’t really do video. I had thought I would but it turned out to be a problem to load with wifi issues, and then I also don’t want to take up all my storage with it.

  • Reply
    Deborah Giffin
    October 7, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    Mon dieu, c’est magnifique! Lovely to be able to spend some time back in your old stomping ground!

    Date: Wed, 7 Oct 2015 09:22:24 +0000 To: [email protected]

  • Reply
    Her New York
    October 7, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    Every entry on this blog has been amazing – We had just been to Paris – me for the first time – but only for 48 hours. This post of your stay is so beautiful and I want to return to experience the city in that quiet, simple way.

    • Reply
      October 7, 2015 at 5:34 pm

      Thanks, Claire! I hope you enjoyed your time there!

  • Reply
    Janet Baffi
    November 12, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    Don’t know if you got my previous reply, I am in awe of you and very very jealous. Amazing images, and the way you write is incredible.

    Your bravery and commitment leave me speechless. All the best and wish you safe travels.

    • Reply
      November 13, 2015 at 8:16 am

      Thank you, Janet! Just saw your other reply and…replied. I hope all is well for you! 🙂

      • Reply
        Janet Baffi
        November 16, 2015 at 4:23 pm

        If you are still in Paris, hope you are safe. My heart goes out to all. Come home soon

        • Reply
          November 17, 2015 at 8:05 am

          Thanks, Janet. I left Paris in September and am safe in Jordan at the moment! 🙂 Hope all is well with you there. Thanks for checking in.

  • Reply
    Jane DeMouy
    November 18, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    The street art is stunning! What wonderful thing to include. Your photos are almost as good as your writing. Love you.

    • Reply
      November 18, 2015 at 5:12 pm

      Thank you! 🙂 I love you. — Bridget

  • Reply
    Patricia Schneider
    April 11, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    Chere Bridget,

    I’m just now catching up on your WordPress postings and am loving them! Naturally, I beelined for the one about Paris and your words and photos were so tactile and layered that it brought me back to “la cite de mon coeur”! So gorgeous. I’m loved today’s post about how you funded your trip-will comment on that on the blog site. I do hope that you’ll be putting together a book (with photos!) about your two years of wand’rings…Have a feeling it’s already in the works. Merci!

    • Reply
      April 12, 2016 at 9:33 am

      Thanks, Pat!

      • Reply
        Patricia Schneider
        April 12, 2016 at 1:11 pm

        De rien, Chere B. Hope you’re having more adventures for us to live vicariously through this week!

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