By special guest writer Philippa Campsie, Toronto, Canada
On the last day of one’s stay in Paris, one tends to walk the streets with eyes wide open, greedily drinking in the look of the buildings, the people, the cafés, the boutiques, the flowers, trying to store up those impressions like someone eating a large meal in expectation of a food shortage.
Hemingway may have called Paris a “moveable feast” that you could take along with you, but was he right? Many women long to take Paris home with them, but then reality intervenes. The kids prefer pizza to sole meunière, and the neighbours or the people at work may regard attempts to inject a little French elegance into one’s attire with suspicion, if not hostility (what’s with the scarf?). Hemingway, one suspects, never had these problems.
Moving the moveable feast
Can you really take it with you? Can you store up the memory of the Seine at dawn, or the wide tree-lined boulevards at dusk in a way that will somehow inoculate you against the sights that await you at home — eight-lane highways, fast food drive-throughs, big box stores, neon billboards … and that’s just on the way home from the airport. (To be sure, France has these things too, many of them visible on the ride between central Paris and Charles de Gaulle airport, but you know what we mean.)
Paris — its sensations…
Can you capture and bottle the sensations of a stroll through Paris? Can you take home with you the glimpse of a peaceful green courtyard through an archway from a busy street, the sounds of someone practising a piano heard through an open window, the fragrances that follow you as you pass a flower shop, the taste and texture of the end of the baguette that you munch on the way home from the boulangerie?
Remembering Paris, France
How can we carry a bit of Paris around with us wherever we go?
For the two of us, this blog is one way to remember and revisit Paris in our minds as we write the entries and paint the pictures. We read about Paris in books and magazines, and discuss what we are reading and thinking about.
For some women, a small, discreet luxury keeps them in touch with their Paris selves ― a perfume they first discovered there, a special shade of lipstick, or matching lingerie in a colour unobtainable at home.
Others dig out the heavy cookware and the copy of Je Sais Cuisiner (the French equivalent of The Joy of Cooking, newly translated into English as I Know How to Cook), and rustle up a candlelit French dinner for friends or lovers.
Still others watch the DVD of Amélie for the eighth time, or put on a Jane Birkin CD, or redecorate the guest bedroom with French toile de Jouy. They take classes at the Alliance Française or join a French film discussion group. All of us are striving to create a little Paris-like space around ourselves in which the person we are when we are in Paris can emerge for a while.
A Parisian sense of time and space
But perhaps the two things that we most want to bring home with us are a Parisian sense of time and space.
By time, we mean the sense that there are some things in life which cannot and must not be rushed, ever. Frenchwomen may be busy multi-taskers much of the time, but a visit to Paris reveals that a few things are sacred ― certain meals, certain conversations, certain rituals. Imagine taking the time every morning to greet every single one of your colleagues with a handshake or a couple of air kisses as the French do. Imagine taking two weeks off every spring. Imagine spending three or more hours over a meal on a regular basis.
As for space, we mean that since living quarters tend to be compact in Paris, life has to be edited down to the essentials. Private space cannot be wasted. Instead, people make good use of public space. Parisians use every inch of the city’s parks, boulevards, courtyards, and streets. What tourists admire as “street life” is to Parisians simply a normal part of the day’s routines … doing errands by walking not driving, meeting friends in sidewalk cafes, shopping in outdoor markets.
Perhaps the moveable feast is this: taking more time for what matters and taking up less space with what does not.
What do you do to keep Paris alive when you return home? Let us know and we’ll incorporate your ideas into a future blog.
Books recommended by A Woman’s Paris™
By Ernest Hemingway, Sean Hemingway (Introduction) and Patrick Hemingway (Foreward). Scribner; Reprint edition (2010).
By Ginette Mathiot. Phaidon Publishers (2009).
Vocabulary: French to English translations
Boulangerie: French or French-style bakery.
Est un fête: “A Moveable Feast” was translated into French as Paris est un fête. In the book, Ernest Hemingway wrote about his “ses premières années d’écrivain désargenté” (his early years as a penniless writer) when he and his wife “vivait d’amour et de vin frais” (lived on love and new wine).
Parisian: Native or resident of Paris.
Parisienne: Female native or resident of Paris.
Sole meunière: Classic French dish consisting of sole fish, whole or fillet, that is dredged in flour, sautéed in butter and served with the resulting brown butter sauce.
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Text copyright ©2010 Philippa Campsie
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond
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