A woman, in order to know what is due her and what her power is, must live in Paris for six months. Napoleon, 1795.
Paris for me is a narrow street, fresh flowers just because, bicycles with baskets, and no jeans, anywhere. Paris is bustling, polite, proud, and peaceful. No one tries to be your friend; she either is or is not your friend, because although image is important, authenticity is even more important. You shan’t be caught putting on airs. Paris, to me, is the ultimate in elegance and style. If you’ve known Paris, truly known Paris, then perhaps you’ve known class. Paris for me is old-fashioned, it is cobblestone, it is aprons, it is a chauffeur helping you step off the curb. But Paris, for me, is only a dream.
I’ve never traveled to Paris, France, or anywhere else in Europe. Yet I feel I have a sense of France, more so than Greece, Sweden, Spain, or any other country that I haven’t visited. Where did this sense of France come from? Certainly movies and books contributed, but I believe a certain attraction binds women and Paris. The language, the etiquette, the romance – these I immediately associate with Paris and begin to wonder why the things I yearn for seem always to be just beyond my reach.
Paris for me is accordion music, tiny stores with rows of even tinier glass bottles containing potions and remedies for every situation. Paris for me is very clean. It is cared for, loved, never neglected. It has dignity in every action – riding the bus, or trimming flowers, or reading the paper, or waiting on tables. “Never question a Frenchwoman” Barbara Redmond writes, because the French, the Parisienne, is sure of her actions, sure she is right, sure she is beautiful, and she is. Who doesn’t want to be a Frenchwoman?
In some ways, I feel I’m not ready to visit Paris. Am I sophisticated enough? Will my wrinkled scarves be noticed? My scuffed shoes? These questions make me think that Paris is elite.
But wait, no. Paris is for women. Women will take me in. They will not pretend to be my friends but they will tell me when my scarf is wrong and how to part my hair to best frame my round, German face. Perhaps they will know, without having to ask, why I have sought Paris as a place of rejuvenation, indulgence, and clarity. I imagine wanting a lot of things in Paris. Material things perhaps, like perfume and gloves, but also things that can’t be wrapped in paper and tied with a bow. Things like maturity, natural beauty, and patience.
Paris, for me, is the effort to make everything pretty and neat: your tablecloth, my purchase of blueberries, our picnic. Paris is for being alone, lonely, in a wonderful way. It is for finding a nook, a treasure, a new heartbeat. Paris, then, is for me.
Natalie Ehalt is an editorial consultant for A Woman’s Paris®. She studied English with an emphasis in creative writing at the University of Iowa. In Iowa City, she participated for two years in the undergraduate Writing Fellows program and worked for three years with writers from around the world at the university’s acclaimed International Writing Program. Natalie spent her final semester in Buenos Aires and graduated Phi Beta Kappa with degrees in Spanish and English. Currently, Natalie serves as Lead Teacher at Joyce Bilingual Preschool in Minneapolis. She and her husband, an Argentine, enjoy living in Uptown with their two pet frogs, Pepe and Boss.
You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, French Impressions: Alice Kaplan – the Paris years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, on the process of transformation. Author and professor of French at Yale University, Ms. Kaplan shares her new book, Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, on the process of transformation. By entering into the lives of three important American women who studied in France, we learn how their year in France changed them, and how they changed the world because of it.
France: the first time I saw Paris, by Philippa Campsie who tells us how Marie Antoinette, Julia Child, Jacqueline Bouvier (the future Jackie Kennedy), and Gertrude Stein first saw Paris, as well as Philippa’s first time in the city. Including travel tips for your first few hours in Paris: from good places to ask questions in English and how to buy Métro tickets; how to see Paris from the river Seine and where to get a good view of the city for free; to where to buy anything you might need, bargains and more.
How to find a (suitable) place in Paris, and other miscellaneous information, by Bénédicte Mahé, a French woman from Brittany who is in her mastère-spécialisé final trimester doing an internship in Paris, shares with students how to find a place in Paris.
Paris Makeover: Coming home blond, by Barbara Redmond who declares, “Never question a Frenchwoman,” and succumbed to the transformation of coming home blond. The haute-coiffure, the pharamacie, and her new “French look!” Including Barbara’s favorite book on spas, salons and beauty boutiques in Paris, and her personal directory of hair and makeup salons in Paris. Not to miss is her vocabulary of French to English words so “nothing” gets lost in translation!
Text copyright ©2011 Natalie Ehalt-Bove. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.