Saturday, August 24, 2013

to Paris

All roads, for me, eventually lead to Paris. I remember my favorite yoga instructor telling us -- let's meet up in downdog... take a couple of deep breaths there and get your bearings. Paris is my downdog.

I haven't always come here with a heart full of joy. There have been passing through trips, returning from Poland trips, in between life's events trips, trips where I have wanted nothing more than to curl up on the bed in my tiny Parisian room, listen to the footsteps on the sidewalk outside, and go out maybe only across the street for dinner, nothing more.

Paris was my first glance at the big picture. I passed through it when I was 7, leaving the safe haven of Poland to move, for a while, to New York. I liked what I saw then and I liked what I was offered -- the first ever pistachio ice cream cone.

Since Ed came into my life, the entry point to Europe has become mostly Barcelona. Paris is now the place I travel to nearly always alone. And so it should not surprise you that, equipped with a rail ticket and a few days of travel left, I come to Paris.

It was, in the end, mighty hard to get here.

You wouldn't think so: there are so many fast trains running between the south of France and the capital! But, the migration to the north (after les grandes vacancees) has begun and so I had to take the last seat, at a premium price, on the 10:52  out of Nimes to Paris.

But this did leave me with a little bit of time for a pre-breakfast walk in Uzès and it was a nice walk -- out to the periphery of town, where people were just starting to ease into their work routines...

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The sun's out, the air is still deliciously warm. Uzès is heading toward a final weekend of dizzying crowds. I see the deliveries have been made to Terroirs. I give a nod and a quiet thank you once more. May they prosper.

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My breakfast is at the little patio of my guest house...

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...and I rush through it so to catch the 9:05 bus to Nimes.

Goodbye vineyards and garrigue hills of northern Languedoc...

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Hello Nimes. My, but we're early! An experienced bus driver this time. Cut the trip to thirty-five minutes. So now I have more than an hour to kill. I push myself (or rather I push my little suitcase) to go further than just the fountain up the incline from the station.

Nimes, too, is waking up. It's a working town -- much quieter, tourist-wise, than Uzès. Like Perpignan, it's the departmental capital (Perpignan is the capital of Pyrenees-Orientales, Nimes is the capital of Gard -- both are departments within Languedoc-Roussillon). So it has a certain seriousness to it that I normally don't associate with the south of France.

But truthfully, I don't really know Nimes at all and my walk through it this morning is rather without direction. I end up at a cafe right next to the amphitheater, taking in a shot of espresso and running through those emails that require a more immediate response.

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The train to Paris gives me time to finally do some work. 700 kilometers in three hours, with the view of France out the big picture window.

The last scraps of Languedoc:

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And now we're north-central France.

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Paris. Finally here! Along with a million returning families...

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I come in at the tail end of a heat wave (the next day the rains will wash it all away, they say). It's been a long long time since I've worn a sundress in Paris!

I walk from the Gare de Lyons -- point of arrival...

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...across the River Seine...

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... to my wee little hotel room...

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...which this time has the best view -- right toward the Odeon Theater.

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And what do I do on a brilliantly sunny and warm afternoon and evening in Paris? Honestly, first, I lie down on the bed and indulge in the greatness of WiFi at my hotel!

Then? A never ending walk through the city -- one that began decades ago and just keeps on going, with an ever evolving destination. So, pictures from my walk:

First destination: Luxembourg Gardens! They don't spare resources on their summer planting. Stunning arrangements of annuals.

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Outside of the gardens, cafe life is at explosive levels. All generations, all sipping something or other, at (nearly) all street corners.

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But here's what struck me as very unusual -- there are a lot of children in the streets of Paris. This is a different Paris than the one I know from the other seasons, when I catch glimpses of kids only in the parks, or in the morning, on their walk to school, or in the evening walk home. Today, they're buying books at the store, skipping rope on the sidewalks, doing the kid things that I'm just not used to seeing so much here. Paris looks good with kids in it.


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And speaking of kid things, I finally purchase some ice cream. Pistachio. Time for a self-photo.

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I walk and walk and walk, not stopping for other food or drink, even as I pass so many old and new cafes (note waitstaff pride -- at  Café de Flore)...


And now it's evening and I have an early dinner reservation. I rush, not wanting to miss it -- I only got it because I was willing to be the first one to arrive: the place opens at 7 and it is tiny. The name -- Le Timbre -- means postage stamp. It is that small.

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For once I did my homework ahead of time. I wanted what everyone on a budget wants: that perfect combination of great food at bargain prices. Paris is a tough old city because it has food of every type and at every price and sometimes it's great and sometimes it's not. And when the traditional French bistro closes, usually what opens in its place is a sushi bar or a fancy pizza place. Who wants to fuss with sauces these days... So it was not easy to find Le Timbre and now that I've eaten there, I can tell you it's joining my list of top three favorites in Paris.

Did I mention it's small?? Two rows of seven tables, very close together.



By 7:30 every seat is occupied. There is the owner-chef and there are two waitresses. That's it. The man is a powerhouse, in that he does everything: plate and cook appetizers, main courses and desserts. And while he's finishing a sauce he's also picking up the phone and writing down reservations. And greeting people as they come in (the kitchen is right there, behind a counter) and remembering to thank each customer as she or he leaves.


I also was lucky in that I ordered well (you can't always hit it right and the experience is different if you're wishing you were eating what your neighbor ordered). Market chanterelle mushrooms to start with (I told him they were better than my grandma's and she cooked chanterelles all summer long when I was growing up)...

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Le Timbre had a mostly young adult clientele. I was the second oldest there -- out-distanced only by one couple -- a pair of academics (or at least he was that), Americans, spending the summer in Paris.  When the restaurant was at capacity, they faded from my field of vision and earshot, but initially, we were the only ones there. They spoke too loudly (because they were obviously hard of hearing, due to age) and she misordered the wine and then got fussy about it. The chef was hugely patient with them -- they obviously have been coming all summer long, except for when it closed for vacation and so he was used to them, I suppose. I would say they were difficult characters, only because they were feisty with age and with life's toils. (Even as they clearly do love this place or they wouldn't keep coming back).

I write this little description, because it made me wonder about when that change happens -- when you become too picky and not that fun anymore, especially when traveling. There was no smile painted on either face for the whole meal. When did it disappear? Was it once there and then it faded?

I left with the image of them in my head, juxtaposed with the images of all the other happy people at Le Timbre and I swore that if I become that person who can no longer smile at the waitstaff or the genius chef, it's time to cut the passport in half and stop traveling.

The walk back can be accomplished with a shortcut through the Luxembourg Gardens. (I had to take this photo -- he was explaining to her how she should be filmed and in his tone and manner he reminded me so much of a younger Woody Allen that I had to wonder if life just repeats itself, only in different incarnations.)

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And now the police whistling begins. It's dusk. Time to close the park. What good luck that I should have a chance to walk through it at this beautiful part of the day!


As the park goers walk toward the main gate, the benches slowly empty out. 

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The statues breathe a sigh of relief. The place is theirs again.

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I could have ended the day there, but I thought that a pretty evening sky should certainly be witnessed by the river. So that's what I'll leave you with -- a pretty evening sky, by the River Seine.

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