The pleasure of a vacation comes in at least three parts: First is the anticipation. You makes lists, peruse websites, and weave fantasies about the place you’re visiting. Then comes the actual vacation. Finally — and perhaps this is the real meat of the pleasure — you fold the whole experience into stories you tell yourself and share with others, letting you live the good bits over and over, and allowing you to absorb the more puzzling parts.
I’ve only spent a meager three and a half days in Paris so far, but if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to get started on stage three — the telling — in bits and pieces:
- First, the smells. I was barely off the metro, baggage in hand, stumbling to the apartment where I’m staying, and boom! there it was: the aroma of caramelized sugar and butter. Why is it I never smell it at home? Parisian patisseries must have special aroma boosters with fans to blow the fragrance street-ward. The metro itself has a singular scent of sweet rubber on warm metal and something else I can’t name. I forgot, too, how the old wood of a 100-year old building gives off an unmistakable, slightly dry smell.
- I’ve had two meals out, one terrific and one awful. I had a marvelous lunch at Vivant, a tiny restaurant in an old aviary with art nouveau tiles. All the food is market-fresh (jewel-like vegetables, slivers of duck breast, lightly sauced gnocchi, pineapple granita, corn soup) and the wines are biodynamic. Plus, look at the restaurant’s website and check out the hunky staff. Bonus: the bathroom had Aesop soap. My other dinner was a salad in a café. It had sheets of lox, flavorless cocktail shrimp, chopped canned beets, bean sprouts, lettuce dressed too sharply with lemon, and some of the freaky miniature corncobs you usually get with Chinese food. On the plus side, I was with a friend, and we spent three-and-a-half laugh-filled hours catching up. When she walked me home, it turned midnight, and to mark the hour the Eiffel Tower shimmered like a lit pile of rhinestones.
- Things change. Many cafés now advertise, in English, “happy hour” and “after work.” Electronic cigarette shops have sprung up. A few boutique cafés are roasting their own coffee beans. Bike lanes (many directing bicyclists against the flow of auto traffic) and bicyclists are everywhere. I even saw a Zumba class on the Champ de Mars.
- And some things stay the same. The French still like their boxed milk and English phrases. Today I passed a woman’s clothing store called Manhattan Gigolo and a men’s clothing store called Mensch. (Across the street was a guy dressed as a chicken. He was having a coffee.) Down the street stood a hotel appealingly named “Tourism Ave.” At noon, people still scurry home with baguettes tucked under their arms. Church bells still sound at odd times. Despite all the electronic cigarette stores, smoking is as popular as ever, and I saw a group of policemen puffing away outside their paddy wagon this afternoon.
- While my neighbors on the metro are likely to be dressed in the same sweatshop-made clothing that fills American malls, buildings remain solid and beautiful. I love thinking of all the artisans who bent and molded the intricate ironwork on balconies and who crafted the heavy wooden doors and the Pershing roll-sized brass doorknobs planted smack in the middle of those doors. I love the painted glass in the windows illuminating stairwells with twisting wood handrails. I love the engravings dedicating one building to the Society for the Future of the Proletariat and announcing the year and architect’s name of another.
- Last but not least, perfume. I’ve had the chance to smell the newest Serge Lutens, called Vierge de Fer. It’s quiet lily, soft and clean, and it dries down to a gentle sandalwood. I’ve also tried a spritz of the Cartier Baiser Volé Essence de Parfum. It’s a completely different lily than Vierge de Fer. It’s more diffuse, peppery, and earthy, and I’d say it wears closer to the extrait than to the EdP. I might need a bottle.
That’s all for now! I’m finishing up a glass of Bourgueil and need to get started on dinner. The rain is coming down, but it’s warm enough that I can crack open the French windows. In the distance is the “ee-ah” of an ambulance, and Chet Baker is on the stereo.
Yes, life is good. It’s in the telling that it hits home. Really, though, my everyday life is also wonderful. Wouldn’t it be great if we could experience every day with the same attention we give vacation?
Note: top image shows interior of Vivant Table, via Vivant at Facebook.