It’s been 30 years this month since I first came to Paris, where we lived for awhile before getting married. Since then we have been back only briefly, so we decided to take advantage of a trip to Normandy to spend some time again in la capitale.
Plus ça change, as the saying goes. The more things change…both the city and myself.
Then, as now, the weather was not so much chestnuts in blossom as changeable skies with a lot of cold and damp. April in Paris has been romanticized in so many American movies that my expectations, and my clothes, were completely unrealistic – I remember shivering in my thin cotton jacket. This time, I came prepared for cold and was pleasantly surprised. We had quite a bit of sun in between the cloudy periods. I even saw blossoms on some of the trees!
In 1986, we lived in the 7th arrondissement, close to the lively Rue Cler market and the Champs de Mars park by the Eiffel Tower. This time we stayed in the upper Marais. It is an artsy area with a very old-world feel. Bustling with quirky boutiques, markets and restaurants, it retains that very Parisian feel of narrow streets and slightly crooked buildings.
Our rental accommodation, my first experience with Airbnb, was a fashionably decorated flat on three levels. We picked it for the location and the fact that, for what we would have paid to stay in a nice hotel, we could live like locals with all the comforts of home. It was beautiful, although the stairs were a bit tricky.
The streets of Paris are somewhat cleaner than they were the last time I was here. It is now obligatoire to pick up after your pet (although sidewalk art is still in evidence) and, according to ads we saw on the side of garbage trucks, you can even be fined for tossing your cigarette butt on the street (although what you’re supposed to do with it is not clear).
There are now recycling bins on all the street corners for glass (why not plastic?) and these new transparent trash bins in all the city parks.
The last time I was here they had removed all the garbage bins after terrorists hid bombs in them. This time the recent attacks were still on everyone’s minds. We remembered the victims of Charlie Hebdo, and stopped by the Bataclan, which is undergoing renovations. The makeshift shrine across the street was a moving reminder of the January attacks.
We found the food to be much more varied this time round. The international influence of les cuisines du monde has finally reached Paris, although my favorite French bistro food is still ubiquitous. I am not a huge fan of shellfish, but Z-Frenchman enjoyed a sumptuous platter of seafood along with his cousin.
I got lost. Back then with a map, now with a GPS. Everywhere I went the star-shaped street patterns confused me. The difference was that this time I knew I would my find my way. That it is, in fact, better to get a bit lost in Paris. That way you can enjoy some of its surprising sights and sounds.
Much about Paris felt new and different this time, yet so much was just the same. I guess that’s the thing about old friends, especially the ones you’ve known for thirty years. No matter how long it’s been, when you get together again it feels like yesterday.
Old friends: where were you 30 years ago?