I have visited my beloved Paris many times. The city was so big, and exciting; so beautiful and complex! In those early years She quite intimidated me, even as she seduced me. At first, every time I returned I was just overwhelmed. But, pretty quickly, I began to feel at home. I soon began to feel dis-satisfied with staying in a hotel during my visits. Every time I left my hotel I immediately fell into the rhythm that is Paris, only to return to 'tourist land' upon return to my hotel. Oh I tried to remedy this by staying in tiny boutique hotels, but it just was not enough. So, for our recent trip I decided to rent an apartment in my favorite arrondissement (the 7th), on my favorite street - rue Cler.
(Dawn, as seen from my apartment's terrace)
Rue Cler is a picturesque, tiny, cobblestoned street lined with equally tiny shops that feature one type of food (produce, cheese, meats, etc) - everything your heart could desire to eat, as fresh and beautiful as possible. There's also a pharmacy, cleaners, and post office. And there's no way that this little Diva would neglect to mention the fabulous boutiquesthat are at least as important as any of the other stores I mentioned - if not more so.
But rue Cler is so much more than a place to buy a roast or drop off your dry cleaning. Rue Cler acts as a sort of town square. A daily meeting place for the neighborhood.
In the early morning, mothers and elderly ladies and gentlemen stroll the rue, with their chic wheeled fabric market totes and amazing fashion (at 7 a.m.!) The shopkeepers often greet their customers by name - it took 2 days before I heard Bonjour Madame Hills et Coco! as I did our daily grocery shopping. There's something wondeful about this community ritual, especially for someone who comes from a culture where you can go an entire day without speaking to another soul. And if you do, you've got to drive to get there.
Before lunch, the street is teaming with people - some looking for a place to eat, some doing some mid-day shopping, everyone stopping to talk - it's lively, exciting and infectious.
[top: lunch on rue Cler; bottom: street musicians performing in front of the boulangerie (bakery) on rue Cler]
Still, the absolute best thing about rue Cler is it's cafe's. For such a tiny street, there are several. Each cafe boasts several benches, chairs, and tables set up on their front walks (complete with heaters). Taking a seat on a cafe's sidewalk terrace gives you a front row view of Paris life.
(top: a Japanese Cafe; bottom: mom and I, our 3rd hour in Paris - before I discovered my perfect cafe.)
It only took me one day to find what immediately became my cafe - Le Petit Cler. Le Petit Cler is located far from the larger, trendier, hipper cafes (read tourist traps). It's located at the very tip of rue Cler (a 2 minute walk from my apartment).
Every morning, before Pete, mom and the kids awoke, Coco, and I would make the short walk to Le Petit Cler for our petit dejeuner (breakfast). Once the cafe's chef learned of Coco, the waitress always brought a cup of water and a plate of hand chopped chicken or ham for her - the French do love dogs.
As we ate, Parisian life was on full display. There were always a few people (the same people) on the terrace with me, drinking their espressos and reading the morning paper - I was the only 'newcomer.' At first everyone was polite but distant. I had the same waitress every morning, Rachel. At first she was unsmiling and abrupt, bordering on rude (very Parisian). Every morning Coco and I sat in the same seat and ordered the same thing. No matter how shitty my accent was (and is), I always ordered in French with a smile. I often laughed out loud at myself. I'm sure that Rachel thought I was insane but I didn't care. I didn't care that my waitress was standoffish or that my accent was truly pitiful - I was in PARIS! Nothing and no one was going to spoil my joy.
Maybe it showed, I'm sure that it did. I'm sure that my joy seeped out of my pores. I guess that joy is infective. It took 3 mornings. On the 4th morning Rachel returned my smile. On the 5th morning she was helping me pronounce French words and gently correcting me, after bringing my 'usual' without me having to order - I was in!
Finally, after years of staying in a hotel and longing to be in the thick of Parisian life, I was there, I was doing it. I went to my neighborhood cafe every morning, my waitress brought me my 'usual,' I grocery shopped for my family, cooked in my tiny kitchen, and the grocers knew my by name. For 10 days I felt that I was a part of a piece of the Paris community. Of course my time in Paris was much more than my adventures on rue Cler - but that's for future blogs. One thing I'm sure of, next time I need to stay much longer than 10 days - I'm working on it.
Vivre, de rire, de l'amour,