This summer I visited Paris for the first time. It was hot, really hot, like stores-ran-out-of-fans hot; I couldn’t have picked a worse time to visit a city so clearly meant for outdoor adventures. Ideally, this should have led me to the museums and there are plenty of excellent ones around. Instead, I chose sweat, misery, and blisters.
Despite the littered sidewalks, beauty indeed is the word for Paris. The ornate architecture is lovely, the people effortlessly chic, and the cafés as they should be—boisterous and plentiful.
I dutifully started my days with an espresso and a croissant. And learnt to always ask for croissant au beurre (made with real butter); the other ordinary kind, croissants ordinaires, really should be banished from all boulangeries and pâtisseries. I would then proceed to board the metro train and arrive at my chosen neighborhood of the day and walk for hours.
Having read so much about it in other people’s Paris memoirs, one day I decided to treat myself to a lunch picnic in a park. I picked up some bread from Poilâne bakery, cheese from Barthélemy, macarons from Pierre Hermé, and found myself a chair in Jardin du Luxembourg. Sounds nice, right? Unfortunately, however, the heat had melted the macarons out of shape (still delicious though) by the time I got to them, and the garden was less green than I wanted at that particular moment. It would have been much nicer to move this picnic to Bois de Vincennes, Paris’s largest public park-cum-botanical garden that I liked enough to have visited twice during my short stay!
Another hot evening turned out far better. After two scoops of ice cream (glace) from Berthillon (good, but not as good as all the hype suggested; I preferred Amorino) and a hurried photo in front of Notre Dame, my friend Seb and I walked into a quaint little bookstore called Shakespeare and Company. I would have loved the store even without their table fans and water fountain, though admittedly they were quite welcome on that heat-stricken day. This bookshop was established in 1951 and reflects all that history in its every corner. A good bookstore offers not just books to its patrons but also respite from the outside world. Shakespeare and Company goes one step ahead, and offers free beds to aspiring writers in return for two hours a day of work. Over 20,000 people seem to have slept at the store thus far. How fun!
That evening ended with a solitary glass of rosé and some potato chips at Café de Flore, a legendary and popular coffeehouse with prominent alumni visitors like Camus and Sartre. After all the walking, it was therapeutic to drink something cold and people-watch. Although the American in me kept wishing for a smoking-free Paris! The cigarettes make it so hard to sit outside and truly relish anything, at least for someone like me who no longer finds smoking as charming and intellectual as I used to during my teenage years.
The blue hours were no doubt my favorite part of each day, with daylight extending well into night-time. As the heat subsided, everything gleamed in a beautiful mellow cool light, and Paris came alive. It was so magical to see almost everyone out of their homes, sitting in parks or next to the river, doing nothing more than simply sharing that gorgeous summer evening with friends and strangers. And for that alone, I would go back in a heartbeat.