June 21, 2016 (6:51 p.m.)
I’m sitting at a table on the sidewalk of the first cafe we visited when we arrived in Paris more than a week ago. The same cafe with the server who humored my French (he’s serving me again tonight). It’s drizzling. There’s a black pitt bull puppy chewing on a bone on a patch of faux grass in front of the cafe. His guardians are sitting nearby, flicking cigarettes onto Rue Jacob. The cafe is located on the same street as my apartment, and I’ve decided this is my place. They serve my favorite tea. I’m not drinking tea. The menu claims Hemingway wrote here, too, but it doesn’t have the same snooty vibe (or outrageous prices) as the cafes around the corner. I ordered the large glass of wine. It came with a bowl of sweet-and-salty peanuts. I adore the French propensity for serving snacks with beverages. Peanuts with wine. Olives with cocktails. A square of chocolate with espresso. It’s elegant and sensible all at once.
As I wandered this morning, I started to realize how much I’m reveling in the unexpected. I didn’t think I’d fall in love with a cafe within sight of my temporary home. A few days ago, I found myself in a passageway in the evening where I came upon huge windows that looked into the sculpture gallery of the Louvre. The museum was closed, and I got a glimpse of Greek and Roman sculptures without a soul in sight. Then there was the somewhat spontaneous trip to London yesterday where I quickly learned what John Lennon meant by “standing in the English rain.” The border control agent admitting travelers into the country was full of menacing questions about my profession and my publication – for a minute I thought I wasn’t getting into the UK. Then on the way home, the handsome French border control agent said “Enchante” when he took my passport. After he stamped it, he winked and said, “That’s my phone number. Give me a call.” (Picture me turning 50 shades of red.)
While exploring Paris’ covered shopping passages today (thanks for the suggestion, Camille), I came upon a band sound checking for tonight’s Fete de la Musique celebration. Then I walked into a boutique filled with glittering amber jewelry from the Baltic and fell into a conversation en francais with the shop manager whose daughter loves the U.S. the same way I love France. Other delightful surprises: Being mistaken as a Parisian twice today. An elegant woman rocking plaid pants and a striped jacket all at once. My travels coinciding with the French sale season (yes, sales are regulated by the government here.) Buying pajamas in London on Oxford Street because the godforsaken European washing machine in my apartment ruined mine. The way tripods make tourists look like pros while selfie sticks make them look like asses. The realization that the French really do carry baguettes under their arms. They also know how to make a mean salad. Sancerre is just as expensive in Paris as it is in Arizona. Right now, it’s trendy to serve red Cotes du Rhone chilled. When you stop into Starbucks to FaceTime with your husband, don’t be surprised if there are pigeons wandering around. When you walk into Colette, the toniest fashion boutique in Paris, act like you own the place or else you’ll be intimidated and leave. When you wander upstairs and find yourself welcomed into a party with a DJ using office supplies to create tunes (think tape measure and stapler), hang out for a while. Politely accept the swag sac.
Lastly, when exploring a city on your own, sometimes it’s better to leave the umbrella and map at home. –Erika Ayn Finch