Paris, then and (right) now

The Passage shutters for a few weeks, while we walk, flâneurs in the real passages of Paris.  

Packed: black or ecru on the bottom (all narrow-cut pants), spring colour on top via fine wool and cotton tees, navy/black matlassé jacket, short stack of scarves—and an umbrella.

Plane pjs

Above, ready to fly in the jacket, squashy black and ecru cotton scarf, tee and matte jersey pants (aka "plane pjs"). 

We take one level of attire that spiffs up for a bistro, and forgo dressy occasions. Our French friends, retired or about to be, are in the same mode. 

Our time in that city has changed, over the years. 

From our honeymoon on, Paris with Le Duc was like signing on to a forced march. No downtime whatsoever during the day, treks across the city for massive meals at 9 p.m. The result: deep immersion, from posh Neuilly to funky Belleville, but also inevitable sobbing fits and, on one trip, my request for an escape to the seaside. (Granted.)

Given his encyclopedic knowledge and passion for food and wine, I followed his lead. (The one restaurant I chose on our first visit served borscht that tasted like recycled sewing machine oil.) Because French is Le Duc's home language, Paris opened to me like an exquisite jewel box— a box presented by a guide who ran on espresso and never seemed to need a loo.

Those honeymooners are 66 and 60 now. I've counted five ways in which the years have changed our travel habits.

1. Targeted forays
We used to operate, as one French friend said, "like a monkey in a Christmas tree", with only occasional considerations of efficiency.

Now, we organize errands or outings by neighbourhood, and choose restaurants near friends' apartments, or ours. We're using cabs more, ever since we got into a growlfest that could have been prevented by a €12 ride. 

We visit favourite shops in the first few days, to allow time for thinking or placing orders. We chose the apartment, in the 5th arrondissement, for the ease of operating from a familiar base and proximity to Le Duc's beloved booksellers.

Home base

2. One speed: idle
One major attraction or destination per day, done at a leisurely pace, feels right. We leave ample time for wandering, reading the paper at a zinc, or taking a nap. (I used to think, "You can't nap, you're in Paris!" and then wonder why I was so cranky.) On the list this time, a day at the track at Auteuil and a visit to the hidden gem Musée Nissim de Camondo.

If we find the lines daunting, we return later or ditch; flexibility means the day belongs to us, not the ticket-taker. (At age six, Le Duc's brother Jean made the remark now famous in the family: "I'm tired of having my nose in people's rears.")

3. Splitting up
We have many shared interests, but Le Duc likes to rent a bike and cycle at a good clip, in Paris traffic. I'm a walker, which allows me to stop by a shop, or slip into a courtyard at whim.

I rise first, head out for a few solo hours, then meet him for lunch. In a boutique, I have too often seen the scene where a fidgety, bored partner pressures his or her companion to make a decision; I wonder why they don't negotiate an hour or three apart. 

Also, I have girlfriend time scheduled; Huguette has tickets for the Gaultier exhibit at the Grand Palais.
Gaultier retrospective

Occasionally our split-up strategy results in odd experiences, like the time I had my nails done, with magnificent ineptitude, in an establishment that was actually what the Brits call a knocking shop.

Le Clown Bar

4. More lunches out, dinners in
This time we plan to make lunch our main restaurant meal at least half of the time, and cook or carry in simple dinners. Many of Le Duc's favourites, like Le Clown Bar, serve lunch. (I had to check before he agreed to this major concession.) We have several big dinners out scheduled with friends, but no more multi-course extravaganzas every evening.

This mitigates overindulgence, at least in theory, but an evening stroll that ends with a digestif is a pleasure we intend to keep; we'll be steps from the wine bar Le Vin Sobre.

"Happiness is too brief."

5. No work for him, no blogging for me
Though Le Duc packed his laptop, mine stays home with the house sitter. The days of trying to fit in projects (across five time zones), sight-see, and commune with friends till well past midnight are over.

I'm a travel hypocrite; while I enjoy other blogger's daily photos and commentary, I will pass the time like Joni Mitchell wrote in "Free Man in Paris": "...I'd just walk out those doors and wander...from café to cabaret".  

I will be back on April 28. Meanwhile, here's a treat: breathtaking, rare colour photos of Paris taken at the beginning of the 20th century. Do watch as a slideshow!

Meanwhile, skip into spring, and à bientôt!


You're not reading comments either, I hope!!! But I'm wishing you the most blissful trip ever; your strategies sounds a lot like ours, and we've found that we are relaxed and madly in love by the end of any trip to Paris.
Big hugs,
Francie Newcomb said…
Bon voyage, Duchesse, I loved your description of your plans!

Madame Là-bas said…
To visit Paris at a leisurely pace is perfect.l Bon voyage!
LauraH said…
Spring in Paris, how wonderful.
Susan B said…
Sounds like you're doing it right, have a wonderful time! We've learned to ease up on the meals too, and I've finally convinced le Monsieur not to plan every meal; some of our favorites have been those spontaneous "can't-go-another-step-until-we-eat-something" dashes into a promising cafe for lunch.
materfamilias said…
I love this post, K! I've been thinking the last year or two of the various changes we've seen since our first visit to Paris (with 4 kids!) almost 30 years ago. Paris has changed and so have we.
And I have to chuckle, recognizing that I'm not the only one who has tried to be a trooper and keep up with forced marches. Nor the only one to lose it, eventually, as hunger, thirst, and fatigue set in.
Now that you've got it all figured out, have the most wonderful few weeks. I think the decision to stay offline is a very wise one. Bon voyage!
frugalscholar said…
Love the scarf and the apartment is to die for!
LPC said…
Have a wonderful time! This IS a lovely post, all the years of partnership and the return to a place so loved. xox.
Anonymous said…
Your trip sounds beautiful and just right. I hope you'll share more details on the apartment. In the meantime, Bon Voyage.
Vancouver Barbara
Anonymous said…
I have "travel PJs" too! Best thing ever for long overnight plane rides. Have a wonderful trip!--Martina
Yes, it is splendid, with a little gift to us thrown in in the form of those lovely colour photos. Spring has been early in Paris this year, and so late chez nous. Predictions are that it will have "really" arrived by the time you return.

If I'm there alone, going out is more at lunch, unless I'm with friends. On Mtl foodie sites,visitors want to eat 4 or 5 times a day. They'll just make themselves sick.

Eating in is wonderful in Paris. You probably won't want to do much serious cooking, but there are such wonderful products - and produce. Not to mention decent wine at humane prices.

What a lovely flat - it reminds me of one where two professor friends live, just south of the 5th, in the 13th. Though of course theirs is full of bookcases in every room except the loo. And don't forget the maple syrup for your friends!

Bon Voyage Duchesse!
You've got great things on your will be a lovely's Paris!
Jane in London said…
Love your comment about having your nails done at a knocking shop - priceless!

I am lucky to be just short train ride away from Paris on the Eurostar (and to have a sister who lives there in a convenient appartement...)

I was over very recently with my daughter, to help her choose her wedding dress (she settled on a lovely one by Paule Ka).

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