Bonjour mes amis,
This will be my final blog from Paris for 2022, a year we will always remember for many reasons— some very good, some not so good! What started out as a disaster evolved into resignation, then acceptance, and eventually pleasure because we were just glad to be in the city we love. We’ve made the best of it with the help of enjoyable visitors, local friendships we cherish, and your support and encouraging comments on the blog.
These are basically my thoughts and perhaps don’t align in every regard with Bernie’s. Paris is his hometown, and he’s very protective of it as he should be. But I think a dose of honesty amid the fairy tale is not a bad exercise. So here goes.
What’s different about Paris?
There seemed initially to be a pall over the city, a dull gloominess if you will, which I thought was linked to COVID. It evidenced itself in things like more litter, dirtier streets, less enthusiasm, closed shops, fewer smiles from the locals. Somewhat of a sadness seemed to envelope the city. This is not a criticism but just an observation. I don’t feel it as much now as I did in July. Perhaps it was the heat or the summer vacance which led to those impressions. It surely is a representation shared by the whole world agonizing through the pandemic for the past two years.
Given that we have the most informed young people ever in regard to the dangers of cigarette smoking, I am completely dismayed to see the throngs of young people vaping and puffing away. It seems much worse to me this year, again perhaps due to the anxiety produced by COVID. And it’s not just the young people. Life was truly locked down here in France for months creating some pretty devastating isolation and confinement, much more so than in the States.
There are many more dollar stores which is a reflection of the economy, more tennis shoes (that’s really all you see now for both men and women) and OMG, the tattoos! They are the norm, not the exception. I know it’s a global phenomenon but I’m old-school, and it’s hard for me not to stare at arms and legs (and other body parts) that are totally inked up.
And the precious bees are everywhere! They love to drink your wine, attack your dessert and go straight for your mouth. It’s so aggravating but everyone tolerates their presence because it’s the right thing to do.
It seems there are more Americanized menu items in the cafés such as tacos, chips and hummus and avocado toast. There are more ethnic restaurants especially Japanese, and larger portions. Cafés offer the same, same, same everywhere you go. The green salad of choice now is overwhelmingly arugula. Certainly food in nicer restaurants is still exquisite but quite expensive. And it seems there is more emphasis on beer and fancy cocktails as opposed to wine which has always been the French staple; Coke products are intensely popular with the young people.
Then there are the wretched odors that creep up on you as you’re walking. That has always been the case; but this year, they are worse. I always say that Paris has a very distinctive smell—a combination of freshly baked bread, cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, and sewer. Oh, and let’s not forget that brief whiff of urine! I know it sounds pretty gross but it’s actually not; it’s just Paris. And you get used to it as part of the cultural experience.
The very best positive difference this year has been the euro and dollar relationship. Of late, it’s been 1 to 1 and that has been a balm to our wallets!
What have I (we) learned this year, especially about myself?
We learned how to ride the bus with great ease. It’s a complicated system which takes practice. There are definite rules of engagement and occasionally we’ve been yelled at by the bus driver! We don’t like the long wait times which can be up to 30 minutes, the stuffiness, the crowds, but the buses do offer alternate routes and have saved us this year since our location was off the usual beaten path. And you get to take in the above-ground scenery!
We learned that Metro Line 4 is just as convenient as Line 1 in traversing the city, getting us from Right Bank to Left Bank.
I learned not to order “le plat de jour” at a very nice restaurant!
Bernie learned from his friend Jerome how to save the bubbles in an opened champagne bottle. Just stick a teaspoon in the bottle, handle first, and the champagne will keep for another 24 hours! Of course, some of you are saying, “Whoever has any champagne left over?!!”
I’ve learned that St. Germain des Prés is an area of the Left Bank, not a street. St. Germain is the street.
I’ve learned that the subways always run left to right. Who knew? I’ve never paid attention to such but Bernie does!
I learned the hard way not to ever use the restroom at a street cafe unless you are a patron. I slipped into one on rue de Rivoli out of necessity but was accosted by the manager the second I came down the stairs. She insisted brusquely that we had to order something; Bernie sternly refused. She insisted again and he gave her a 2-euro coin. It was embarrassing and a hard lesson, one that I already knew but sometimes circumstances dictate. The place was jam-packed, and how she spotted me is incredible.
We’ve learned to co-exist with any number of vehicles: cars, buses, bikes, scooters, roller blades, regular skates, skateboards, unicycles, taxis and the loud aggressive motorcycles. Paris streets are more and more dangerous. I was almost hit by a car at Pont d’Alma. No one (including us) pays much attention to the traffic lights. The bicyclists see themselves with the same rights as pedestrians. It’s a free-for-all and if you’re watching from the sidelines, sometimes, it’s hilarious. Sometimes, it’s quite scary.
I’ve learned a greater respect for the BBC as I watched days of their coverage on the death of the Queen. They did an amazing job filling so many hours with class and elegance. Their sidebars on the Queen were touching and brilliant. With my career in television, I was glued to the coverage, real time. Three cheers for them!
We’ve learned that the big heaters will not be fired up to keep patrons warm in street cafes this winter. It’s a new city ordinance issued by the Mayor of Paris. Parisians like to eat outside even in the bitter cold, especially so they can smoke. Now there will be nowhere to smoke, inside or outside. Will it hurt business? Time will tell. One proprietor said to us tonight that “the most important thing is to protect the environment.” So good for him.
We’ve learned that St. Antoine/St. Paul in the fourth arrondissement is just about as good as it gets as a place to stay in Paris. We have missed it every single day. It has everything at your fingertips—-four grocery stores, dozens of cafes, dry cleaners, three cheese shops, three chocolate shops, four boulongeries/patisseries, a deli, a butcher shop, a honey shop, hair salons, three wonderful fruit stands, a foie gras shop, wine stores, two beautiful flower shops, delightful gift shops, great clothing shops, ATM’s on every corner, and the very wonderful St. Paul/St. Louis church which is the heartbeat of everything. Oh, how I have missed the church bells!
We’ve learned that Paris is not Paris without easy access to the River Seine. Walking the river in the evenings is what I have missed the most, that and the church bells.
Maybe the most significant lesson for this year is that even the greatest apartment in the world cannot replace the best location. Despite the frustrations, our friendships have risen to the top of what has sustained us and brought us happiness. Reconnecting every year with the same people is like fine wine that has aged. We treasure our French friends!!
I’ve learned a lot about myself this year, much of which is not easy to admit. I don’t like change so I don’t adjust well to it. Flexibility is not one of my better assets. Unexpected change especially puts me in a bad mood. That leads to anxiety and stress and on and on it goes. Bernie on the other hand, goes with the flow. Nothing much gets to him except possibly having to deal with my distress and unhappiness. For sure, this year has emphasized that he is the best man I know because he has held my hand through it all! I have seen signs of our age… we have slept longer hours, napped more, almost fallen more and given in to eating out more because it’s simply the lazy way out.
Just as in life, some years here are far from ideal and some are sublime. It’s a commentary on life in general. Paris is not perfect but it is our slice of heaven, and we are so delighted to have shared it with all of you. We are indeed blessed.
So, the question of the hour for me and from many of you is —-will we return next year? The answer lies in the hands of fate, of good health, of continued financial stability. Bernie gives a resounding “Yes!” I am not so sure. Certainly my heart will lean in that direction if I can get my body to cooperate. It’s been difficult being sick here away from home and away from personal doctors, easy access to the appropriate medicine, etc. So let’s just say that we dearly hope to return and to share our intriguing escapades with all of you for yet another year.
Au revoir for 2022,
Linda & Bernie