Where Was Love In The World’S Most Romantic City?
Valentine’s Day took on a new meaning for me in the most romantic city in the world…not just a day when lovers share their deepest emotions, but when all people are able to express their strongest beliefs. That one day in the city seemed like a lifetime of experiences.
Saturday morning always starts with a fresh croissant from Carton on rue de Buci (the best!) as I walk to the Parler Parlor French-English conversation group in the lovely Passage Dauphine at Eurocentres. The group has been meeting several times a week for almost six years, almost 1000 people have attended and in all that time, it has never become dull for a single moment. With people of every age, every nationality and every profession, there is simply a world of fascinating conversation and of course, always something new to learn in both English and French. There is rarely a conflict among us…a global microcosm we could all use an example of how one world can live in peace.
Much of the group usually heads off for lunch together afterwards and sometimes I join them, but that day I chose to wander off on my own, shop for gifts, lunch in the neighborhood on Thai (Palais Kim at 72, rue Lagrange across from Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre — one of the oldest churches in Paris — has great Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine priced for a meager budget). I had planned to visit an American friend whose newly renovated and decorated pied-à-terre (she rents when she’s home in the U.S.) is just a few steps away with a perfect view of Notre Dame. Very few apartments in Paris can make this claim…this is one of those properties that will always be valued at a premium. She’s in heaven, rightly so.
Together we headed to Shakespeare and Company, just on the other side of the church, to hear Thirza Vallois speak on “Romantic Paris,” her most recent book. The bookstore was humming with activity. Sylvia Beach Whitman, owner George Whitman’s young, beautiful, smart and very talented daughter, who now runs the shop, was sitting at the “helm” in a bright red beret, selling books and chatting with customers. Readings take place in a tiny room on the first floor that you must reach via a very steep staircase in the rear. About 20 people were “cheek-to-cheek,” Thirza was in her favorite burgundy velvet hat and sat silhouetted against the light beaming in from the windows overlooking the Seine. Every inch of the room is crammed with tomes and it is a wonder the building is still standing under all that weight. She was her usual brilliant self, lecturing on why Paris is the most romantic city in the world and where the most romantic spots are to be found (late night on the quais of the Seine under the glow of the street lamps when there is literally no one else there is top of her list).
Next on the agenda was to stop in at Joe Allen (an American restaurant in Paris for more than 30 years with what I think is the best Salade Niçoise in the city!) at 30, rue Pierre Lescot. In the back room, Americans Abroad were helping people register to vote absentee. This was one of three points over the weekend where one could do that. (To find out exactly what is required in the U.S. state where you have voting residence, consult the Federal Voting Assistance Program: http://www.fvap.gov/pubs/vag/vagchapter3.html and for county names and zip codes, see the U.S. Postal Service: http://www.usps.com/zip4/) There was lots of friends and familiar faces. Conversations around the tables were lively — the outcome of the upcoming election clearly on everyone’s minds.
Leaving there I headed straight home up rue de Turbigo when the route was thwarted by a line-up of riot police, bumper-to-bumper police cars and buses. Sparks were flying. The police shoulder-to-shoulder bearing shields advanced en-masse and there was some sort of altercation I couldn’t see. I dug in the bottom of my bag for my camera and followed a tall young plain-clothes cop up rue des Gravilliers to by-pass the commotion on the street and see what was happening further ahead. I stopped at the corner to take more photos, until suddenly, the same cop grabbed my arm and my camera to see what I had taken. He put his nose to mine and said in a very strong voice, “You cannot take pictures of the French police! Erase those photos!” Meekly, I said I didn’t know how (truth) and he let me go after giving me another warning.
Later I learned that the confrontations were a result of the demonstrations taking place nearby at Place de la République protesting the new laws banning religious symbols in the schools. Emotions have run high over this issue and France stands strong to defend its actions in this attempt to further assimilate its peoples of many nationalities.
So where was love on Valentine’s Day in the most romantic city in the world?…In the passion we hold in our hearts for our beliefs…and on the streets of Paris where we have the right to express our thoughts and feelings.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
E-mail: [email protected]
P.S. Thirza Vallois is speaking about Paris Past, Present and Future over Saturday night dinner at the upcoming Living and Investing in France Conference in San Francisco March 19 – 21, 2004. The public is invited to attend the dinner/lecture, but seats must be reserved now to insure a place. Details can be found at /frenchproperty/conference/LIFhome.html