I will say this about Paris – it makes me feel absolutely happy to be a woman here.
It could be in my perception of things, but in Paris, for whatever reason, I take tremendous pleasure in all that makes me different from that other gender. At the superficial level – the identification comes in the style of dress and the presentation of self. But not only. A woman's tastes and pleasures are respected in so many venues. Many of them having to do with food to pick up for home.
I make no claim that this joy in womanhood is universal here. Or that men do not partake in some of the pleasures traditionally handed to women.
Or, for that matter, that men and boys, engaged in manly and boyish routines aren’t pleased as anything with their own masculine world. Indeed, I watch them and I smile at their exuberance and joy in life. It’s all quite beautiful. (Ed says – and they’ve got great hair! I’ll add – and hats.)
And, too, I’ve paid homage on Ocean to mixed gender partnerships. You’ve seen couples here lots of times, right? Happy to be together. Mostly.
But, as I sip a rosé on the park bench and munch on a baguette with Ementhal and crudités, I think – let’s focus on this one essential truth: to be a woman here is grand!
And what I see around me – the flowers, the chairs that fit my body so well, the public spaces that make me feel protected – it’s all so terrifically woman-friendly.
(Even as I do understand that here, as elsewhere, men do continue to tower in so many professional and artistic environments.)
Okay, granted. Still, at least in Paris (in my opinion), women of all shapes and sizes and importantly, of all ages, seem to understand their beauty and valor, their unique beauty and their unique valor. They walk with pride (and so I, too, walk with pride). As if they know they’re being watched, admired, respected. For what they bring to the table.
Late in the day, Ed and I are in a shop that sells lovely summer clothes. (There are so many! Sweet boutiques, sometimes even affordable – Maje, Zadig & Voltaire, Et Vous – beautiful and tempting.) I’m fingering a dress the color of a pale rose.
Should I try it on? It’s way less than 100 Euros.
How much way less?
The clerk turns to Ed. You’re American, aren’t you? You have to know that in this country, the woman has the final word.
Well, I don’t know about that. But it sure feels good to be there in that dress, or to be at Le Bon Marche sampling paté and apricot almond “milkshakes.” Or to be anywhere at all.
We walk a lot in Paris. I love my routes around the city. For example, the one to the Bastille and back. This time, I want to stop at the Centre Pompidou. My musician hosts from last year told me that I should revisit it, because it’s superb now. I remember their words when I see photos of Obama and his daughter here just this past week.
We ride up the escalator…
…for a glorious view of Paris…
We look first at the special exhibitions – of works by Calder and Kandinsky. The first is completely fun – coat-hanger art. (Well, a little more elaborate than that, but in that style.)
I think about the audacity of assuming you can survive (and raise a family?) on creating coat-hanger circuses.
At the Kandinsky exhibition, we look at paintings donated to the various museums by his wife, Nina. Wife, and not necessarily lover. He had another woman (more?) who served that role. (I’ll bypass here the entire discussion of Paris and sex and marriage and sex in addition to marriage – I’m not going there with this post.)
In the permanent exhibition rooms, we look at art by women artists. Their art is strikingly absent from so many collections, even of modern art (I say “even,” as if we can forgive the previous centuries for being unkind to women).
The art here covers the range of expression. It’s bold and sometimes very disturbing. But the fact that a major museum in Paris devotes so much space to it is, to me, extraordinarily gratifying. Paris: a place where the difficulties of being a woman artist are openly confronted and talked about. Paris: a place where your failures in reaching any level of prominence are made more palatable because you are in a community of others who have had greater things to show, paint, and describe than you and yet, they, too, felt themselves to be at the margins of success.
So I’ll end with this womanly side of Paris. Even as I walk past Sorbonne and I am tempted to take a photo of a handful of men who look so, well, Parisian-male-professorial. I resist it. This time I’ll stick with what feels right here for me. From childcare to family life to beauty and the idolization of creativity, from food to conversation and to open spaces where both can combine – Paris. If you were a person, I’d say I love you. Even as I am so happy to be returning home today.