We are in Paris this week. For me it is the first time visiting this amazing city and it has not disappointed. Even in the darkness and pouring rain on the evening of our arrival, this city sparkled with beauty and energy, living up to it’s name: The City of Lights.
Back in September, we were lucky enough to stumble onto an amazing little rental flat in Paris, smack in the middle of the Latin Quarter, in the 5th Arrondisement along the left bank of the Seine. And so we find ourselves in Paris this week, looking out the window of our studio apartment onto the Rue Saint Severin.
This apartment is in a building known as La Madeleine. It is considered the narrowest building in Paris, sandwiched by other buildings on 3 sides, and has been around since the 13th century. Over 300 years ago, in our small apartment, Abbé Prevost sat by this same window I am looking out today and wrote Mannon Lescaut, one of the most influential novels of the 18th century, and of all French literature. It has been made into 4 operas and 6 movies.
Published in 1731, as the 7th (& final) volume of Mémoires et aventures d’un homme de qualité (Memoirs and Adventures of a Man of Quality), it contained such heretic ideas as “equality for all men”, and was condemned by Louis XIV to be burned. But the manuscript survived and was republished in 1753. Rousseau and Voltaire both borrowed ideas from this novel, and those ideas led to “Le declaration des droits de l’homme” (a declaration of rights for all men) in 1770…ideas which spawned the French Revolution. It is a bit humbling to think that such grand ideas originated in this small space. And it leaves me grateful for the opportunities we have, and the liberties we enjoy, that have enabled us to go on this grand adventure, and share in small pieces of history around the world.
But there are many other things that I love about this place. We are in a building full of local Parisians rather than tourists…even though we are in the heart of a touristy area (Notre Dame is a 2 minute walk from here). There is a girl who lives on the floor above us. And every evening she practices singing…first diligently performing her scales, before singing songs in both French and English. Last night, as we were sitting down to dinner, she began rehearsing “I Dreamed a Dream”, one of my favorite songs from Les Miserables. Quite possibly one of the most surreal experiences we have had in Paris, or anywhere.
The owner of our flat is a lovely French gentleman, who was incredibly kind to us over email for the past several months, sending ideas and suggestions for Paris and some of his favorite spots both from when he was a boy and now. He has given us tips on where to go to shop & dine with all the rest of the Parisians. He even stopped by yesterday to say hello, bring us a welcome bottle of wine, and see how we are getting on.
He directed us to the oldest tree in Paris, a 500 year old Acacia, which, as a young boy, he used to visit to whisper his secrets to the tree he referred to as Oncle (uncle). And tomorrow evening we will dine at his favorite restaurant, which has been around for centuries. We know just who to ask for, what to order, and that we might get to visit the wine cave below the dining room in order to select our own bottle of wine. I cannot wait.
Thanks to him, we now know that if you go into the back (or the lower floor) of Monoprix, a store that upon first entrance looks like a health and beauty store, there is actually a full scale grocery store. And the cashiers are kind enough to help us stumble through our transactions in our rusty french, and make wine and cheese recommendations.
He (& his wife) have effortlessly explained the ins and outs of navigating and experiencing this city as more of a local and a little bit less of a tourist. It has made our experience both richer and more meaningful.
It’s nice to feel these small connections as we enter our 21st month on the road. Because of the warmth and generosity of strangers, once again we feel like we are a part of this community in small ways. And it makes me love Paris even more.
And hey, if you ever need a place to stay in Paris…a cozy, affordable, and perfectly appointed studio flat in the Latin quarter awaits.
Merci beaucoup, Claude et Violaine!