I’m going to start this blog post off with a #humblebrag – this was my fourth time in Paris, and Mark’s third time. Regardless of how many times one has visited, one should never pass up Paris. It possesses a timeless charm and elegance that isn’t easily matched and this time Paris had the ultimate treat — my parents!
I harassed my father for his summer itinerary until he reluctantly gave me the dates he and my mother would be in Paris, along with the stern rhetoric of “Isabel, your mother and I will be very busy.” I then spent too many hours finding the closest hotel I could (but pay less #bolinnstyle) so I could spend every waking moment with them while we were in the same city. Unfortunately we had to take a later train out of Barcelona so Mark and I had to miss dinner with my parents our first night in town. I was sad as we checked in to our hotel, but knew that I would see them first thing the next morning, so we headed out to grab ourselves a late dinner. Just as we turned the corner, Mark says, “Look who it is!” We had run into my parents as they were heading back from their dinner. My dreams were coming true! They even walked us to the restaurant and ate dessert while Mark and I had dinner. I was so happy to see them, I missed them so much!
We only had two days with them so I aimed to make the most of it. The weather was stunning so the next morning we headed off towards the Louvre. We decided at the last minute to not actually go inside the museum (again, we’ve all been here before), so we took advantage of the sunny atmosphere and roamed the grounds. The NY Times just wrote a nice obituary on I.M. Pei, the architect behind the famous glass pyramid at the Louvre. Also, another piece by the New Yorker regarding Pei’s impact on modernism.
We drifted through the extensive grounds, pausing only to do photoshoots with my dad so it looked like I went to Paris by myself. After crossing over the Seine, we headed towards the most epic of all Paris sites – the Eiffel Tower. Initially criticized for its design, it is has more than 7 million visitors each year. It’s the same height as an 81-story building, making it the tallest structure in Paris. Maybe you really can see it from every hotel room in the city.
After a quick stop at a nearby cafe, my parents split off while Mark and I headed off on our own. The rest of the afternoon, after some burgers, was spent wandering the streets. We took the long way home, walking along the Seine, people-watching, just soaking it all in. Around every corner I heard myself whisper, “Man, I love Paris.”
Later that evening we took two trains to meet some family for dinner. My mother’s cousin, Helene, lives with her partner Marc just outside of Paris. Her son, Marin, also happened to be in town too, which was a nice surprise because I haven’t seen him since he was six or so.
Shameless plug: Marin is a very talented filmmaker based in Paris and LA. His newest film, Lost in Carranza, was just screened at various film festivals around the world and has won a number of awards. Another film, Born Wild, features a voice cameo from my mom!
In typical French fashion, we ate al fresco, starting with toast and pâté, drinking champagne and catching up while trains whistled by in the background. Marc speaks a little bit of English and Marin is basically fluent so conversation flowed easily. My mom was completely in her element, speaking expressively with Helene in quick French, hands and arms moving about. Marc cooked up a delicious dinner and we sat around as if we just saw each other just a day earlier. It felt good to be around family, we had such a fantastic time that we forgot to take a family photo! Au revoir pour l’instant la famille Troude!
The next day we had another full day with my wonderful parents, however this time we actually went inside a museum. The Musée d’Orsay is a marvelous art museum built within an old train station. If you are a fan of Impressionist art, this is the place for you. The top floor hosts the who’s who of French artists like Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, and Gaugin. If you pronounce their name by swallowing half their syllables and if they painted pretty scenes of idyllic French life, they are probably featured in this museum.
While I tend to admire many permanent collections in museums, I don’t want to discourage readers from also viewing temporary exhibitions as well, sometimes those are really the gem of the gallery. Currently at the D’Orsay is the delightful Le modèle Noir de Géricault à Matisse exhibit. It’s a presentation that reveals the representation of black figures in the visual arts, primarily focusing on particular periods in French history. It was well curated and contained fascinating insight into the relationship between model and artist.
After getting a taste of the arts we headed out to find some lunch. Mark found a cute ramen spot and I can never pass up ramen. The ambience was set up as though you were eating at a ramen bar in a Japanese neighborhood, with background noises pumped through and everything. After scarfing down noodles while forgetting to breath, my parents split off again while the young kids ventured out solo. Where you ask? In search of more food of course, because we’re on vacation dammit. We found a place that made flower-shaped gelato (how can we not) and accidentally stumbled upon the most French thing ever – a bread festival!
Unfortunately we showed up at the tail-end of it but we did manage to sneak in a bread competition! Yes, chefs from all over the world competing to make the perfect baguette. We watched in awe as the judges weighed and measured every single loaf, testing for what I assume to be consistency. If only we could be taste testers! To mop up our drool, we bought a small apple tart and it was heavenly.
Later in the evening we met my parents for dinner at the chic Le Bistrot de Madeleine. Service was impeccable, well-paced, and the food was quite delectable. We started with apertifs, my favorite way to start a meal, especially if whiskey is on the menu. Our opening dishes were fresh radishes with pistachio butter, and a smoked mackerel with eggplant caviar. The radishes were very fresh, crispy, and not at all bitter. I don’t know how to make pistachio butter but anything plus butter is bound to be amazing. My mom’s main was a divine clam dish while the rest of us chose a veal chop with smoked mashed potatoes. Finally, for dessert we had a deconstructed pavlova. I love pavlova and while this one was very different, it was still enjoyable. The waitress only spoke French (you know you’re at a nice, local place when they don’t cater to tourists), so we all communicated and ordered through my mom, who was yet again solidly in her element.
Sadly, we had to say goodbye to my parents after dinner as they had an early flight the next morning. I love my parents, I’m so happy I got to see them, and I was very sad to say au revoir. [Side note: how cool does my dad’s hair look!?]
For our last day in Paris, sans parents, Mark and I took a train out to the magnificent, UNESCO World Heritage site, Palace of Versailles. For those of you who live under a rock, Versailles was the principal royal residence of France from 1682-1789, starting with Louis XIV aka Louis the Great.
Versailles is merely a lesson on humility and modesty. The best way to display to the world that you mean business after your mother tries to stage a coup is to turn a modest hunting lodge into a grand château. If one is feeling more sheepish, consider adding large paintings around your new home, so as to truly express how you feel inside. King Louie for instance, commissioned a prudent piece entitled “The King Governing Alone.” It depicts Louis XIV turning away from his pleasures to accept a crown of immortality from Glory, with the encouragement of Mars. If you don’t have gods for friends, don’t fret, there is another piece in his bedroom called “France Watching Over the Sleeping King.” Much more literal but it gets the job done. After all, it’s your place of rest and entertainment and you should be able to decorate the 700 rooms as you see fit.
As I contemplated how best to decorate The War Salon, I couldn’t help but think of daily life as a royal. Are you ever alone? What if you don’t like hunting? Where do you go to the bathroom? Our audioguide enlightened me a little bit, although I still didn’t get to see the bathroom:
- Salon life was the it life. People would gather at a predetermined time to hang out and watch the king play billiards. It didn’t say “play with or against King Louis,” just watch him play pool … by himself?
- There was a ceremony every morning when the king rose (aka the official awakening) and every night when he went to sleep. I guess wigs helped with the bed head.
- The King’s dinner was public! Every night the king would sit in a ceremonial room and eat by the fireplace – with everyone watching!
- The common folk was invited to come and observe the king eat and play billiards, so long as they followed decorum and code of conduct.
While the apartments are beautiful, Versailles’s real claim to fame is its gardens. The French do many things well and gardens are no exception. The whole complex has massive ponds, shrub mazes, orange trees, and extensive lush fields of green. When expanding your already imposing estate, your modesty should absolutely extend to the landscaping. The gardens at Versailles were built to be viewed from the terrace so as to create a perspective that reached the horizon. The point, dear plebeian, is to illustrate your complete dominance over nature. My personal highlight of the garden tour was when a bird pooped on Mark’s hand.
He still hasn’t recovered.
Our last day in Paris would not be complete without a spaghetti lunch. My dad found a small kosher restaurant near our hotels that had large servings for an affordable price, our kind of place. The minimal interaction is also a plus for me. A man sits in front of a menu chalkboard, you place your order with him, and then sit where you like. You server yourself bread and salad and wait for your food. But with no numbers or names, how do they know where to deliver the food? “SPAGHETTI BOLOGNESE?!” … “SPAGHETTI BOLOGNESE?!” I raised me hand. That’s how.
That night, our last in Paris, I was intent on checking off a couple of “musts” from my to-do list. From my previous two trips to Paris, I wanted to take Isabel to the Latin Quarter. I remember walking around there at night, eating kebabs and gelato, and weaving around street artists posted up on the corners. I remembered it being a hip part of town, and was hoping it would live up to the expectations I seemed to set for Isabel. We took the metro headed that way and wandered around. I didn’t remember it being so crowded with tourists. I couldn’t tell if my memory was off (it had been a decade) or if word just got out and the neighborhood is now saturated with interlopers.
I recently read Paulo Coelho’s semi-autobiographical novel Hippie, regaling about some international travel he did in 1969. Two people that he shared a cross-Europe bus journey with was a French father-daughter duo. In recapping their story and what brought them to this bus destined for Kathmandu, he mentioned the Paris riots of May 1968. This popped up a couple of times in quick succession both right before or while we were in Paris, so it seemed especially poignant. The Latin Quarter was the epicenter of those riots and protests. I was disappointed and blown away that I had never heard about this before. I did some research on my own and was captivated by this massive socio-cultural turning point that ushered Paris into a new age, stemming from a particularly violent and downright awful scar in their history, yet was utterly bewildered that I had absolutely never heard of this before. It gave me much to think about while we walked around the Latin Quarter.
Anyway, it was still cool walking around, there were still artists doing there thing on the sidewalk, and we still got gelato as a dinner-substitute. So there. A nice added bonus that I did not recall about the Latin Quarter was its proximity to the Notre Dame. We tried walking around there a day or two earlier, but from the fire the police have the surrounding couple of streets blocked off. You can’t get close for photos. A lucky turn around the corner and we were as close as we could get, so we could still say we saw the Notre Dame in all of its (current) glory.
Now that we strolled around the hip Latin Quarter and got to see the Notre Dame, two of three items were crossed off my list. There’s only one other thing you must do before you leave Paris — see the Eiffel Tower at night. It wasn’t lit up in shimmering, glittery lights like I thought it would be (and like we saw from across the river on our journey home from dinner at Isabel’s cousins’), but it looked beautiful and majestic as always. We stood on the lawn admiring its presence and the vibe of the crowds sitting in different circles around us, some with wine, some with marijuana, some with kids. Regardless of your vice or joy in life, everyone equally revels in the splendor of Paris’ La Dame de Fer (Iron Lady).
For both of us, we came in to this trip with great memories from Paris. In our separate lives, we’ve already seen and done all the necessities. This was an amazing opportunity to return to a city that we both love (I mean, c’mon, who doesn’t love Paris) and make some new memories together. Once or twice a week Isabel would turn to me and say “I miss my family,” so to say she was looking forward to spending a few days with her parents in Paris would be an understatement. Seeing her smile grow even wider was a bonus for me, too.
Usually we end a post with a long-ish tirade on the glories of travel, #blessed commentary, highly recommend, blah blah blah…but this time it’s much simpler. Go to Paris. Regardless of how many times you’ve been, never pass up Paris.