While I was in Paris for three weeks this July and August, I found often that Parisians were not that aware of the beauty surrounding them. Of course I was on vacation; they were living real life. They deal with the everyday challenges of living in a big city–trains that stall mid-ride, long commutes, and high rents for tiny apartments.
But still the beauty of Paris is so pas mal. (So not bad.)
One night I joined some friends–new and old–by the river Seine at an outdoor milonga (a milonga is a place where people dance tango). As is the custom in Paris in the summer, we gathered for a picnic–wine, cheese, and also potato chips. At times I felt overwhelmed, flooded by beauty even, of the Seine, the boats floating by, the Haussman-era architecture, and the people dancing outside. The Parisians around me, as much as I enjoyed their company, seemed a bit eh about the scene.
My American friend Alexa who has been living in Paris for the last year had invited me. I turned to her and said something along the lines of, “These people don’t even see how beautiful Paris is!” She laughed, “It’s a metaphor for life, we’re all living in Paris but we don’t even see it.”
Isn’t that true?
The eye can become accustomed to beauty. The “hedonic treadmill” theory posits that human beings return to a set point of happiness no matter what positive or negative events happen to us. Would I be happier if I lived bathed in the beauty of Paris? Would I even see it if I lived there? I don’t know. I would be curious to find out.
Not everyone who comes to Paris finds the experience so blissful. Some people come to Paris and get Paris Syndrome. Paris Syndrome mainly afflicts Japanese people who come to Paris with larger-than-life romantic fantasies of artists wearing berets and high-fashion models. Tourists who suffer from Paris Syndrome get disappointed by the reality of a sprawling, chaotic, extremely multicultural city not matching their hopes–they may even enter a state of psychological turmoil of anxiety, depression, irritation and prejudice. There are doctors who treat patients for Paris Syndrome!
You need not suffer from Paris Syndrome, nor act like Paris is just blah. The difference, I believe, is the willingness to be a flaneur.
To be a flaneur is to wander the city streets, to see and be seen, and there is no city better for wandering than Paris. The concept of the “flanerie” (the wander) was itself created in Paris by Charles Baudelaire. You can certainly go to museums like the Louvre in Paris, but the city itself is a museum: all you have to do is walk at random. Parisians also call this a “balade” (a “stroll”) and “balader” is an important verb.
To discover the beauty of Paris it doesn’t hurt to meet Parisians. You can go on a solo balade (stroll), as a solitary flaneur, or you can balader with a friend or lover. You can also meet people for strolls through couchsurfing.org (join the Paris group and look for their events–the Paris couchsurfing organizers are quite nice and friendly) and look on meetup.com. I joined a Paris Shut Up and Write and went on a Hidden Places of Paris tour. If you’re online dating, go ahead and change your location to Paris! Who knows? You’ll either meet the love of your life or maybe you’ll find a tour guide, or at least someone who gives you a different perspective on the City of Light.
Speaking French helps but it’s by no means necessary. Most Parisians speak English. I found Parisians to be friendlier than their reputation and made new friends.
By the way I also had some really terrible things happen to me in Paris during those three weeks. On my very last night, I was a little too carefree with my purse at an outdoor milonga by the Seine and someone stole my purse–containing, my airbnb keys, my phone, my wallet (credit cards and driver’s license, and an amazing G-spot vibrator that I had just bought at a very cool sex shop Passage du Désir in Le Marais!) while I was dancing. The horror!
I will definitely have to get back to Paris soon to repurchase that stolen G-spot vibrator!
I also experienced seven instances of sexual harassment in one day in one of the edgier neighborhoods that I stayed in. Paris is cracking down on sexual harassment now and Parisian women are marching to call attention to the problem.
It was not all La Vie En Rose.
Still, though, I loved this time in Paris and I dream about returning. It is absolutely clear to me that Paris in summer is a kind of heaven. If I don’t live in Paris in this lifetime, I want to spend more summers in Paris.
Here are some hidden – or not so hidden – things I think are great in Paris. I found these off-the-radar spots by being a flaneur (wandering at random), checking out events I found online, and making new friends.
Picnic by the Seine
Paris in summer is exuberant with picnics! Picnicking might be a spring and fall activity too. Check the many parks.
In my first week I joined two picnics by the Seine and the park Buttes-Chaumont, and by the time I had left I had been part of at least seven picnics all over the city! When in my life have I picknicked so much?
The picnic phenom is great:
1) it’s a universal way of being social; everyone is outside, gathering with friends by the Seine, canals, or in parks
2) it’s cheap and easy, you just pick up food in a Franprix or another supermarket
3) Rosé (rosé seems to be the official wine of summer picnics).
Go on a Hidden Places Tour of Paris
I joined this tour of “Lieux Insolites” (“Hidden Places”) of Paris, which I found on Meetup.com group “Promenades et Randonees.” Every weekend the organizer Christophe gathers people by a metro stop in an arrondissement and shows them unexpected places in Paris. It costs 5 euros. We walked around and discovered a Russian Orthodox church, where we learned about Russian immigration to Paris after the Bolshevik Revolution; a Turkish bath; and the Cimetiere de Montparnasse (where we saw the graves of Serge Gainbourg, Sartre and de Beauvoir, and Charles Baudelaire).
Above is the grave of Sartre and de Beauvoir in Cimetiere de Montparnasse. Note the lipstick kisses on the grave. The grave was also covered with Paris metro tickets left as a memorial to the writers.
The tour was not only great for seeing hidden spots of the city, it was also great for meeting people–Parisians and visitors alike. The niceness level of the group was very high. I met a woman from Georgia (the country) studying political science in Paris and we have stayed in touch.
The tours are ongoing so check out the meetup group”Promenades et Randonees. to see what’s going on.
Practice your dance moves by the Quai St. Bernard by Jardin Tino Rossi
During the summer months (and I believe starting in the spring) you will find people dancing along the Seine every night of the week by the Jardin Tino Rossi (metro: Jussieau).
Every night of the week people gather in a series of circular areas lined by steps (like the above) to dance kizomba, tango, salsa, swing, lindy hop, folkloric dance, and more. It’s stunning.
If you wanted to you could go from circle to circle dancing different dances.
Most of the activity seems to be pure social dancing but I also saw a few dance classes. At the same time, people also gather nearby just to picnic, and the Paris Bla-Bla Language Exchange meets every Thursday (and in the summer in this general area) for their picnic language exchange. So you can also go just to enjoy some wine, socialize, and watch the dancing.
Walk Rue de Belleville
I stayed in Belleville for my first week in Paris and adored the neighborhood. It’s the perfect multicultural, friendly mix, so friendly I couldn’t believe that I thought Paris was not friendly before. Walking the Rue de Belleville is a fun urban flaneur experience as you move through ethnicities. If you make it to the Metro Jourdain area of Belleville (a very charming spot) you absolutely must visit this great bra store which I wrote an entire blog post about.
Wander the grounds of La Reciclerie
I found La Reciclerie completely “par hasard”–randomly. It’s really quite extraordinary. La Reciclerie is in the 18th arrondissement right by the metro and it’s quite possibly the most amazing establishment I have ever randomly stumbled on in my flaneries (wanders). Why?
The Reciclerie is a cafe, a restaurant, a workshop/atelier for repairing electronics and household goods, a garden where they grow the food they serve at the restaurant, and an urban farm and this all overlooks the old train tracks of the old train that circled Paris. It’s also a workshop space. While I was there, an “atelier de conversation” – conversation workshop – to help immigrants practice French was going on. Sunday was a sophrologie workshop – which I gather is about the art of relaxing the body. If I do the Quirkyalone Paris Adventure surely we will come here.
Watch tango by the Eiffel Tower
Whether you dance tango or not, it would be well worth your time to drop by the metro Trocadero by the Eiffel Tower to watch the tango. I don’t know that I ever saw a more romantic backdrop for watching people dance tango. The most romantic dance in the most romantic city. It’s well worth the trip.
The Trocadero milonga was happening nightly in the summer when I was in Paris last. You can find out about tango events including the nightly Trocadero milonga here.
Shop during the soldes!
The soldes are the sales, and the sales come at quite specific times in Paris in January and July. These are the times to shop! I got those gorgeous silver sandals during the summer sales at a great price.
Buttes-Aux-Cailles is a quiet hilltop neighborhood in the 13th, a kind of isolated village, that’s very charming and little known and very worth your while for the stroll. Here’s a walking tour itinerary.
Read a book in the Jardin de Luxembourg
The parks in Paris are the best of any city I know. Jardin Luxembourg and Buttes Chaumont are my favorite parks. Life is better when you can sit on one of these extremely comfortable publicly provided chairs. Such a zone of peace.