Monday, January 28, 2013

A Little Corner of the Left Bank

Maybe it's because of the name (rue Monsieur le sweet!) but I wanted to tell you about a little corner of the city that I love. It's in St Germain between Saint Sulpice and the Luxembourg Gardens, not far from metro Odeon. I was in the area last week for an appointment and took a little detour to stop by one of my favorite English language book shops, the San Francisco Book Co. It's one of only a handful of similar shops in the city and I always find something wonderful (usually on the shelves out front before I even walk through the door.)

I don't know about you but I much prefer second-hand books (and the shops that sell them) to the piles of shiny new releases at the big chains. Something about finding that perfect book among slightly dusty stacks and feeling like it was meant for that. It's also great knowing that someone else has relished it before you. Books aren't meant to be new, they should be dog-eared, loved and ideally, shared. It's as if you're contributing to the life of the book by discovering it, savoring it, then passing it along to another reader.

In fact, several streets in that area are dotted with specialty or rare booksellers, especially along the rue des Medicis near the Palais du Luxembourg. Their dusty windows filled with gorgeous antique leather-bound books feel right out of another time. The fact that they (still) exist here is yet another reason to love this city.

Anyway, I picked up Run by Anne Patchett at the SF Book Co. (a relative bargain at 12E for a hard cover) and continued on toward metro Odeon when I made a happy discovery of a different sort: an adorable boutique called Kyrie Eleison. Do you know this little shop? The selection of slightly retro dresses, candy colored denim and carefully-selected accessories is as chic and feminine as the shop's owner who greets (and helps style) her customers with a warm smile. She's the kind of salesperson you hope for (but don't often find) in Paris. I spotted some fun sale items and what's more, it's an independent boutique -- something that seems harder to find these days on the Left Bank. 
I'm surprised I haven't stumbled upon her shop before because it's just a couple doors away from my favorite restaurant in the area, Le Comptoir du Relais. This gem, helmed by beloved chef Yves Camdeborde, is hardly undiscovered but always worth the wait for its fresh, inventive takes on French classics and great people-watching. They don't take reservations so go a bit early to avoid the dinner queue or arrive before noon to nab a table for lunch (service starts at 12noon).

I then wandered down toward Saint Sulpice and did a bit of window shopping before hopping on the 87 bus and heading home. A fun way to pass a couple of hours on a chilly Paris afternoon. Do you have any favorite spots on the Left Bank? Do tell...
À bientôt!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Paris in the Snow

New Englanders are nothing if not hardy in the snow. There are seemingly born with an instinctive sense of how to dress for it, commute in it and -- above all -- shovel it. Most get a secretive thrill out of the act of shoveling snowy sidewalks (I know my husband did), scraping ice-covered windshields and sprinkling salt over the pavement.

Despite living in the Boston area for eight years, I'm no New Englander. I never quite adjusted to the harsh reality of winter: seeing mountains of snow piled atop my car, wrangling squirmy toddlers in and out of snowsuits, wearing clothing that always seemed better suited to a warming hut on a ski slope than life in a busy city. Alas, I could never shake my inner Californian.

Which brings to Paris and more specifically, to Parisians, in the snow. In case you haven't heard, we've seen quite a lot of snow here in the last few days. And from what I can tell, Parisians bear a stronger resemblance to Californians than to Bostonians when it comes to managing it. It began on Friday like a winter dream: a veil of white descending upon the city, making it glow in a shimmery softness. We enjoyed a morning of snowballs fights and built a mini bonhomme de neige before our feet froze and we heard the siren song of a mug of chocolate chaud.

That was the weekend. Today, Monday, was a different story, as Parisians trudged grumpily through what New Englanders know as a "wintry mix" of snow, rain and ice that clogged gutters and piled in slushy mounds along every sidewalk. No one shovels here, you see. No one owns snow shovels (and they probably wouldn't do it anyway). So the scene on the streets was one of ill-outfitted Parisians (I spotted more than one woman teetering on stiletto bottines) trying to navigate the unfamiliar terrain and grumbling all the way.

Nonetheless, the city looks pretty magical. If the forecast proves correct (always a serious if in Paris, we're likely to see more of the white stuff as the week continues.) As for me, I'll be busting out my inner Bostonian, feeling oddly at ease as snow blankets the City of Light.

Friday, January 11, 2013

New Year, New Moi

It started with a question. If I acted more like a real Parisienne (you know, confident, cool, assertive, unflappable), would I actually begin to feel more like one?

Why, you ask, would such a thing concern me? After all, I live in Paris. I've integrated well into our local community, I'm ridiculously blessed with a great family and good friends and even get to do work I love. But this has nothing to do with all that. It has to do with me. On the inside. I'm ready to make some changes that aren't about geography or fitness or getting organized (although I have some of those on my resolutions list, too). These changes are of the inner variety; the idea that it's high time to embrace my own power, to stop waiting for the world to give me what I seek and to simply go out and get it. No apologies.

And so in the spirit of the motto, "fake it 'til you make it," I turned my question into a challenge: What would happen if I acted out (on the outside), the changes I seek on the inside? If I act stronger, would I feel stronger? If I speak up, forcefully and clearly, albeit in my perfectly imperfect French, will the grouchy boulangere give me fresher baguettes? If I take to the streets like I'm worth a million bucks, will I feel like a star inside (no matter what I'm wearing?) If I venture a conversation with that mom at school, can I blow it off as nothing if she does the same? Basically, can I bring a new level of confidence and resilience to all (or most) of my life's interactions?

If I do, I believe more of what I seek will come: deeper connections to my loved ones and friends; greater joy in my daily life in Paris; the courage to write (and speak) what's true, even if it's hard or uncomfortable. These are things I resolve to do.

There are lots of great reasons for me to make these changes: to be a better role model for my daughter, to be a better partner, friend and even writer. But mostly I want to do it for me. And isn't that what getting older is all about?

And so in this spirit, I tackled yesterday. I strode the rues as if I owned them, greeted strangers with a shoulders back, my-French-may-not-be-perfect-but-it's-just-fine confidence, finished a piece I was writing and didn't apologize for a thing. And you know what? It worked. Nothing revolutionary actually happened, but I felt better, stronger -- more the me I want to be. And maybe even the tiniest bit Parisienne. :)

How about you? Any resolutions you care to share? Happy and healthy new year to you!