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Friendly, tasty, assured
I hope you had a good week. Here, the days are just a little longer, warmer and brighter and it feels like spring really isn’t too far away. This is good news, because as I have written before, Paris is not particularly good at winter, but the city is very good at spring: think trees in blossom, the Seine spangling in the sun, happy café-terraces…all that good stuff! So we look forward to that.
My brother and sister-in-law were visiting this week and we’ve been busy. We walked, we ate, we walked some more and ate some more. We went to a nearby forest, we saw some live jazz, we mooched about and watched videos on YouTube. It was splendid.
I always feel a responsibility when people come to visit me in Paris to make sure they have a good time and also have a really good experience of the city. When I first moved to Paris I worked as a tour guide and I also write about Paris travel and culture professionally, but I’m not actually sure those are the reasons I feel the pressure. Maybe I sort of want people to get it, to understand what it is that I find so special and interesting about living here, and I also feel a responsibility to show them a multi-faceted Paris, beyond the clichés (like I try to do with Pen Friend).
The trick/challenge when people visit is to find the right balance between showing them everyday Paris, but also making sure they do some proper Paris-y things, and that line is different for different people. Some people want to go see the Eiffel Tower, some people are happy just to glimpse it, some people don’t care about seeing anything famous at all; my mum once came for the day and we spent most of it doing admin, and she still claimed to have a great time!
What I find about living in Paris is that it is never just a neutral place. People have their own preconceptions and emotional reactions and I think it’s hard for some people to imagine this city as a place where people actually live. I’ve lived here for more than six years, but still I have friends who will ask me “How is Paris?” instead of “how are you?” or “how’s your life”, as if I am just staying here. I don’t mind this, I understand it. Before I lived here, when Paris existed to me more as a possibility than a place, I probably would have asked the same.
One of the many nice things about receiving visitors is the chance to see where I live afresh again through their eyes, and it’s always interesting to see what they take to, what they notice and what stands out to them most. Sometimes it’s the things you can guess at: in the case of my brother and sister-in-law, we went back every morning to La Boulangerie du Square, a nearby bakery that makes some of the best pains au chocolat in Paris. But my sister-in-law also enjoyed going to the supermarket to see what kind of Haribo they have, while one of my brother’s professed highlights was a quiet morning spent playing with my dog at my apartment.
When I was a tour guide I always found it interesting to hear different visitors’ highlights and I found often that the people who had the best time homed in on something they liked in their own lives, and found what it looked like in Paris. There were the retired ballroom-dancing enthusiasts who went to a tango meet-up by the Seine; the architecture enthusiasts who hunted down some of the few Le Corbusier buildings in the city, or the tank-obsessed little boy whose parents took him to the military museum at Les Invalides.
I asked my family to describe their impressions of the city in three words at the end of the trip:
For my sister-in-law:
Friendly, tasty, assured.
For my brother:
Tasty, tiring, community
How would you describe Paris in three words? I’d be curious to hear yours. Let me know in the comments or by email.
Nice Paris things we did this week
We did lots of nice things this week. Here are some highlights:
The Kimono exhibition at the Quai Branly museum (until end of May)
A walk in the forest at Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Pain au chocolat at La Boulangerie du Square, rue Hermel 75018
Dinner and live jazz at CO, rue esclangon, 75018
Watching the chic ducks at Parc Monceau
Book-snooping at San Francisco Books, rue monsieur le prince in Saint-Germain
Macarons at Pierre Hermé
The dog park at the top of Montmartre
Thirty-second book club
I have been continuing to read Changer l’eau des fleurs (Fresh water for flowers) by Valérie Perrin, a novel about the gardienne of a cemetery in rural Burgundy. As the plot advances gently, we learn about her quietly heroic history and her sad connection to her non-living neighbours.
My brother is a lifelong gamer and when he was here we watched the first feature-long episode of The Last of Us, a drama series based on the hugely popular game of the same name. The game came out a decade ago, but its story of a mutated flesh-eating virus feels particularly eery after the pandemic. I wouldn’t say it is a fun watch, but it is entertaining and thought-provoking.
Et voilà ! Rather short and sweet this week.
Have a good few days and thanks very much for reading. Thank you also to all those who wrote back last week and wished my foot a speedy recovery – it’s getting there!
I’ll write again next week with more updates on French life.