What is there to say about Paris? I only had two days there, but it took me a few decades to get there and it was everything I wanted it to be. In my imagination, Paris was always my city; the city of light, art, perfume, flowers, sex, couture, romance, beauty, Bohemian brilliance, moody existentialism, sensuality. And now, I can truly say that it's my city in my heart too.
I left La Rochelle on the last day of April on a 5:47 a.m. train that arrived at Gare Montparnasse about 9 a.m. I stopped for a quick café allongé - I'm not an espresso drinker even if that brands me as a soulless American - and took a taxi to my lovely little hotel in the Marais near the Place des Vosges. The Hotel Jeanne d'Arc is a budget hotel, without a doubt, not fancy, but if budget is what you need, it's ideal. It's simple, a little funky, very clean, full of people from everywhere, with a super-friendly and helpful staff. It's on a side street in a perfect location; out the door, turn the corner, you're in a square full of charming Paris shops and cafés, blocks from the river Seine and a bridge that will take you to the Ile Saint-Louis and from there to the Ile de la Cité or the Left Bank.
There's only one way to see a new city, in my opinion, and that's on foot. I spent the rest of the morning walking west along the river as the bouquinestes were opening their lockboxes and setting up their wares; in less than an hour I was at the Louvre, which I bypassed for another time. I got lunch and walked through the Tuileries to the Musée de l'Orangerie. Knowing that Sunday would be a holiday with everything closed, this was the one museum I had my heart set on seeing. This is the museum -- once storage for the gardens' landscapers -- with rooms specially built for eight of Monet's waterlily murals, the great masterworks of his late, cataract-ridden years. Music composed just for these rooms plays constantly, and visitors are asked to be silent; it feels like church.
Those paintings in those rooms had me near tears, I was so moved by them. Despite the colors that look so peaceful to us, there's a driven quality. They have a sweeping beauty and urgency that seems equal parts ego and inadequacy--or you could call it a powerful expression of the human condition, knowing that time is short, wanting to accomplish something big, something meaningful and lasting. And Monet did.
I took the long walk back to my hotel down the touristy Rue de Rivoli, with detours along the way. To my great delight, my friends Donna and Wendy were both in Paris that night as well, so we had a leisurely, wonderful dinner at a restaurant on Rue de Jarente. Then we walked through the city for ice cream and the night views of Notre Dame, taking Donna back to her apartment in the Latin Quarter.
Sunday -- May Day -- was as gorgeous a spring day as you could imagine or ask for. With all the museums closed, I walked for miles, through gardens and churches and squares and cobblestone streets of fascinating and tempting boutiques and parfumeries and bookstores. I had the most delicious falafel for dinner at Mi-Va-Mi on Rue des Rosiers, then a final ice cream at Berthillon.
On Monday I woke up to American news of American wars and the death of Osama Bin Laden. I walked to Gare de Lyon, took the bus to the airport for a slightly edgy flight, thinking about the long decade since 9/11 (when I was also in an airport), thinking about this crazy world, and headed home.