My final day in Paris I was alone, it was raining and cold and completely miserable outside. I’d completed all my “must-see’s” but one - visit the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore. The bookstore has captivated me for years and I was devastated in December when George Whitman, the bookstore’s owner, died at age 98. Knowing I’d never get to meet this amazing man, who opened his heart and bookstore to traveling writers, hurt my heart. His daughter runs the store now, which is staffed largely by traveling writers who stay in the bookstore on little cots tucked between shelves - under the agreement that they are actively working on something.
I slept a little later that day, opening the doors to the little balcony and enjoying a Parisian morning in a less than comfortable hostel bed. When I finally dragged my sleepy self out of bed, I headed first thing to the bookstore. It was pouring, and a sudden gust of wind caught my umbrella right under Notre Dame and flipped my poor little umbrella inside out. And then, exploring the little pathways around St. Michele, damp, umbrella-less, and taken by the beauty of it all, I saw it - with it’s green trim and stacks of books and big strung light bulbs overhead. It felt like far more a temple to greatness than the cathedral that stood just across the street. Inside, it was more magical than I ever had imagined or hoped or expected. Books stacked in every corner, ever wall space - used and new, some not even able to be purchased. They encourage you to linger, to feel their spines and read them on cushions in corners. In one tiny room upstairs, two men found piano sheet music in a book and propped it against a small, out of tune piano where they played together. We all gathered around reading books on the floor, like an impromptu living room jam where no one knew each other, but we were all best friends for ten minutes.
They don’t allow pictures inside, and for good reason. The privacy, and intimacy of those just enjoying the place should be respected. It seems far more a home than a tourist destination, the words “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise,” written above a door.
This was a trip of sleeping only on buses and seldom in beds, and we woke up super early in the morning, got pastries at the bakery across the street and headed over to the Eiffel Tower. It was so, so, so cold and I was terribly unprepared. Thanks, Billie Holiday - April in Paris had me totally not ready for rainy, cold weather. We froze under the Eiffel tower for probably an hour before finally getting to ascend to the top. Naturally, we had champagne on the top floor feeling all too fancy and silly and cold.
We headed over to Notre Dame, which was utterly breathtaking. I lit a candle and accidentally stole the lid - which I think I might make into a Christmas ornament just to get back some karma points. We also had lunch in a creperie in St. Michele with a cat in it, which was quite possibly the most adorable thing ever.
Kissing Oscar Wilde’s grave has been a life-list moment for me for a long time. The tradition is that while donning bright red lipstick, you would kiss the headstone. About two years ago, the grave was cleaned and glass was put around it, but I was determined still to make it. We wondered through Pere Lachaise cemetery for a while, somehow missing all the important graves (Jim Morrison, Chopin, and Edith Piaff were all ones I wanted to see), but the cemetery is huge and tombstones covered in moss are piled upon one another in no particular pattern or system. As we found our way to the back, I was totally disheartened that we didn’t find Oscar Wilde’s grave. We knew it was near closing time, and I’d be damned if I missed both the Mona Lisa and Oscar Wilde. A few minutes before, a man in a little van had driven around and given everyone a 15 minute warning. Crushed, I made my way towards the exit. Behind us, a honking go kart came to escort us out. With that - Laura spotted the glass covered grave maybe 30 feet from us, and we ran as fast as our tired little feet could carry us - throwing on the red lipstick like kids who got into their mom’s make up. We kissed the grave so quickly and ran back out, I never even really got to enjoy it - but we were all giggles. Life list moment, achieved.
We walked the Champs Elysees during the golden hour, and even the panhandlers and flyer hander-outers seemed pleasant. We watched the sun go down at the Arc de Triomphe and the sky was so beautiful I had to pinch myself to believe it wasn’t a backdrop.
At the recommendation of my French friend and co-worker, we headed to a cramped, hidden Irish bar where musicians gathered once or twice a week for an Irish music jam session. We each ordered a pint of Guinness (naturally), which was perfectly poured in three steps. After the second, I took the glass and was scolded by the French bartender for not drinking it right and instructed to give it back. We walked down a tiny, shaky set of wooden stairs and into the crowded basement, pints in hand, stepping over banjos and concertinas and tapping feet.
It was an entire day of finding Ireland in Paris.
Laura and I woke up at a stupidly early hour and headed to the airport to catch our ScaryDiscountAir flight to Paris, where my attempt to nap was thwarted by a middle seat and flight attendants selling everything from lottery tickets to perfume, caught the bus to Paris, and the metro to our hostel – all of which was miserable with a giant bag. There’s a reason people backpack through Europe and not giant rolly bag through Europe. Our hostel was in an ethnic, largely immigrant neighborhood, so there were amazing, cheap food choices everywhere and a little market set up on the street when we arrived.
The hostel’s shower, toilet, and sink were all in different rooms, and our door didn’t have a doorknob and had to be closed with the key, which needed to be turned some magic combination of times that I never figured out to get the door open. But, it was cheap and we had an adorable little Parisian balcony.
After eating the most amazing cous cous I’ve ever had in my life, we walked to Montmartre and visited the Sacre Coeur. The clouds were white and fluffy, the lawn was perfectly green, and after battling the army of very aggressive panhandlers and street merchants, we climbed to the top where a violinist played La Vie en Rose. We paid the extra few euros and hiked to the top of the dome, which was terrifying, beautiful, claustrophobic, and totally worth it.
After a sudden downpour caught us off guard, we stumbled upon the Dali museum, where we saw the original melting clock statues and all sorts of amazingly weird and totally Dali things.
The Louvre is open late Friday nights and free for people under 26, so naturally that’s when we went.
Though we had a plan roughly titled “Laura and Allison do the Louvre in 30 minutes,” which involved us running through a lot of fancy art - it was extremely overwhelming and we definitely should have devoted more time to seeing it. When they made the “get out, we’re closing” announcement, we hadn’t even seen the Mona Lisa. As if we needed an excuse to come back to Paris!
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