Keeping Yourself Company in the City of Light
From the little table against the window at the Café Saint-Régis the view of the Pont Saint-Louis, the spires of Notre Dame and the bourgeois Haussmannian building on the back corner of the Ile de la Cité, is perfect. I go there from time to time, mostly on a Sunday, to have lunch, work on emails or write on my computer and watch the tourists go by.
The Café Saint-Régis is one of the cafés run by the same group as Café Charlot and La Favorite, two other of my regular dining spots — where the food is always good, the service friendly, the WiFi free and there are plugs everywhere for your phone or computer. The decor is new-made-to-look-old, like a French café would look if it were in New York City. They don’t advertise themselves as a “chain” and while the decor is similar in each, the menu is always a bit different, but very contemporary café-bistrot with a broad range of fare at moderate prices. No doubt, it’s one of the city’s most successful brasserie concepts so be careful to time your arrival to get a good table.
Going to these cafés is great, ALONE. In Paris it is very comfortable to be ALONE — dining alone, going to a movie alone, going home late at night alone, etc., etc., ALONE. Maybe it’s similar to living in New York, although I don’t think even New York is as much fun being ALONE…especially as a woman.
More and more women are traveling alone, too. Our apartment guests do it — I welcomed a woman traveling alone just the other day and she was thrilled to be on her own. She remarked that many of her friends were amazed she’d be so brave as to maneuver a city like Paris on her own. Lots of my friends do it too, so it wasn’t so surprising to see the article in the New York Times by Stephanie Rosenbloom titled “Solo in Paris.”
Rosenbloom’s article seriously struck home, particularly reading it as I sat there taking in the sights and sounds. As she noticed so well, one can become acutely aware of the present and see the details of life without the distraction of another party bending your ear, sometimes about nothing of importance. While Stephanie tells her tale of her experience visiting Paris on her own, the real message is written between the lines — that alone one can really develop a true relationship with the city — that Paris can be both your friend and your lover, without distraction.
This is not to say that I spend much time alone in Paris…in fact, very little. There has never been so many things to do nor people to enjoy than there are here in Paris. Anyone who lives here will tell you that it is virtually impossible to be reclusive and not be surrounded by a cornucopia of exciting adventure at events and with friends. Even the lone traveler will inevitably meet-up with virtual strangers who will become their pals of a lifetime. Paris has a way of connecting people like no other city can. Sit in a café alone long enough and you are sure to strike up conversations with the people around you. Visit any museum and it won’t be long before you’re discussing a work of art with another aficionado and go off to have a glass of wine together.
After sitting in the café for a few hours, eating too many courses and getting too sedentary, I packed up and wandered across the bridge heading toward the Institut de Monde Arabe to see the “Il était une fois l’Orient Express” exhibition about the Orient Express…again, with friends. Any path was a good path and alone, I had my choice — along the quay of the Ile Saint-Louis or on the Left Bank along the quay past the “bouquinistes.” Choosing the Left Bank, I landed at the IMA early, plopped down under a massive tree with the sun beaming on my face, read from Cara Black’s latest murder mystery, “Murder in Pigalle” and watched the comings and goings of the visitors. In the backdrop was the sound of the train whistle cleverly broadcast to make you feel as if you were really there about to embark from the station.
By the time my friends arrived, the exhibition was sold out and we weren’t allowed to enter. No offense to my friends, but if I hadn’t waited for them, and if I had known or realized the need, I could have secured the tickets earlier so the trip would not have been for ‘nought.’ Of course, in Ernest Hemingway’s words: It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end. Along the way, I took in the warmth of the sun, the fresh green leaves on the trees, the rushing waters of the Seine, the smiling tourists and the glorious spring day in the city that I love.
Over the weekend I also visited the Martin Parr Paris exhibit at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, again not alone, but with friends. His images of Paris are taken from the point of view of a lone traveler, watching Parisians himself as the “voyeur,” they doing what they do in the City of Light: photographing the Mona Lisa, standing in line under umbrellas, reading maps…etc. It may have been through the lens of his camera, but he was alone, being present, taking in the detail of the scene and all the while, developing a real relationship with the city…on his journey. I found it particularly poignant, that as part of the exhibit there is a Photomaton that for 5 will take a double portrait of you Martin Parr style…so that even if you are ALONE, you always have yourself to keep you company…in the City of Light.
A la prochaine…
Director of The Adrian Leeds Group, LLC
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