Paris as I live it
Another week in Paris has just wrapped up. The French capital has been testing us all for the last few weeks during the longest public transportation strike the city has experienced in decades. The strike is also impacting other cities, other regions, but few depend on public transportation as much as Paris does. So we walk. A lot. We ride bikes (or scooters.) We spend fortunes on Uber or taxi rides. We cram ourselves into packed buses and trains (if they show up.) Even as polls tell us French people (including Parisians) still support the strike, I watch commuters’ faces in the street, and I swear I can hear them think something along the lines of… What a f-#$% mess !
A week in Paris: C’est la grève !
People ask: What is it like to be in Paris, and France, with the strikes, right now? Answer: It’s ok if you are visiting. You will manage as long as you are staying downtown and are able to walk around. If you are a commuter, things are different (see above.) If you are a business owner in the city center, you are feeling the burn. Anxious to get home at the end of the day, fewer commuters stay behind at night. Once at home, they order out after a long day working and commuting.
A week in Paris does not have to mean you are homebound. On Saturday, I joined a group to tour a famous hôtel particulier, the private residence of a courtesan who ruled Paris (and many men’s hearts) in the 19th century, la Païva. The event was organized by Vanessa, the blogger behind Messy Nessy Chic. After the visit, our group walked to the Marché aux Timbres, (the Stamp Market,) located on avenue Marigny, down the Champs-Elysées. The market has been meeting there, several times a week, since the 19th century. Typically, on the weekend, there would be a handful of merchants peddling their wares to passersby and collectors. When we arrived, the area (the whole block, in fact) was cordoned off, and the Gendarmerie Nationale was standing guard over the perimeter (as they have on Saturdays, for the last twelve months.) The reason? Protecting the Elysées Palace (the seat of the French Executive branch,) from overzealous demonstrators and Yellow Vests.
Les gendarmes accepted to escort our group, through the barricades, to the stamp sellers. There was one. He had been able to set up shop to welcome a customer, who had come from la province to make a deal. All his fellow merchants were M.I.A. (presumably because they knew no customers could get to them.) He was not happy and confided stamp merchants sales had dropped by 80% since the beginning of the strikes, six weeks ago. Many other businesses in Paris report 30% decline in revenue. C’est la grève.
Photos, from left to right: La Païva’s former home, now an exclusive Travelers’ Club. Inside the winter garden of a former courtesan. A lone stamp seller feels the impact of ongoing strikes.
A week in Paris: Feeding my mind
January is a pretty quiet month in Paris. This year, it feels even quieter. With the exception of popular sites and neighborhoods, there are fewer tourists in the streets, and shorter lines everywhere. It’s a great time to catch up on museum visits. I returned to the Musée des Arts et Métiers. Created in the years that followed the French Revolution, the museum is not dedicated to “arts and crafts,” but to science and technology. From its prime location, magnificent building and impressive collections, I never quite understood why there weren’t more visitors there. I had walked all the way from my lifeline, Metro Line 1, and decided to take a stroll around the neighborhood before heading home. These days, you have to be more organized, more intentional about the way you travel around Paris. If you forget to check something out in a remote location, you may not return anytime soon.
Photos, from left to right: Clément Ader‘s Avion III, completed by 1897. Original plaster cast of the statue of Liberty located at the Orsay museum. Passage de l’Ancre.
A week in Paris: in my neck of the woods
If you follow this French Girl on Facebook and read her weekly updates, you know life can be good in the Paris outskirts, off la petite ceinture, (a former railroad line that used to circle Paris,) as long as you remain within walking distance of Metro Line 1 for quick outings to the city center. Less than a year after I relocated to Paris, my new life has found its vitesse de croisière. It’s cruising along.
The elevator taking me daily to the top floor of the building where my diminutive abode, “the Seventh Heaven,” is located, has been working flawlessly lately. C’est dommage. Out of nostalgia for my encounters with Ryan the repairman, I still climb the stairs once a day. From morning workouts in the expansive Bois de Vincennes (the largest green space in Paris,) to errand runs in Vincennes or nearby towns, Montreuil or Saint Mandé, everything I need is available outside my front door.
Photos, from left to right: Winter morning in Vincennes. Run in le Bois de Vincennes. My backyard.
Since the touring season has wrapped up, I have been catching up with medical appointments. First, I had to find a new general practitioner and new specialists. Overall, I have received competent care; have never had to wait for an appointment for more than a week. Doctors’ visits have not broken the bank. I won’t lie: There is peace of mind in knowing you will be taken care of and will be getting the help you need if disaster strikes. The French Social Security system, which I am contributing to with quarterly “social charges” contributions via my small business, picks up 70% of most general medical expenses. The rest is covered by a Complémentaire Santé, (optional private insurance) I subscribe to for about 65 Euros a month.
The last check-up was scheduled this week, a mammogram. The medical center, located near my apartment, (my whole medical team is, by choice,) is a no-frill environment, located on the ground floor of a residential building. A doctor was on site to discuss test results, and I left with my x-rays. The total cost of the procedure varies with the doctor. If he is part of Sector 1, the health practitioner charges prices set by Social Security. If he is Sector 2, he sets his own prices. In that case, Social Security may not pick up as much of the total bill. The medical center had both types of doctors, and the cost of a bilateral mammogram there ranges between 75 to 104 Euros (USD 83 to USD 115.)
Photos from Left to Right: Clean yet spartan surroundings. In the waiting room, a sign, #jesuischarlie, for the anniversary of the January 2015 terror attacks.
I have enjoyed getting immersed again in a French neighborhood, where I can walk everywhere, and already have my favorite merchants (le boulanger, le traiteur, le cordonnier, le pharmacien.) Taking the time to develop a relationship with them can get me better service (if I don’t have enough cash on me, the baker will let me swing by later. The shoe repair guy does not charge me for small jobs, etc.) Then there’s Monoprix: It would not be a week in Paris without a few visits to the local store. There’s everything I need there, (even if prefer buying food at my local outdoor market twice a week.) This weekend, I needed to pick up gifts for American friends, and Monoprix came to the rescue once again.
Photos from left to right: Chez Monoprix ! Paper napkins entice Paris enthusiasts to apply at the “University of Parisian Life.” Who would not like chocolate from the renowned pastry shop Eclair de Génie? I may not be able to smuggle éclairs through US Customs, but I will definitely sneak in some of their tablettes de chocolat.
Reconnecting with Paris
I have been back for ten months and spent more than six on French roads guiding foreign visitors around my homeland. Thanks to this, my newly rekindled romance with Paris has been going strong. We have not gotten on each other’s nerves yet. Over the last two decades, while I lived abroad, Paris and I have both changed. Whenever I am in town, I see it, I feel it, on the left and the right bank. “The New Paris” includes pop-up stores, co-working spaces, wine shops, gourmet grocery stores and coffee shops, exclusive clothing boutiques. Everywhere I turn, I see Bio (organic) products. Old façades remind us of businesses that are long gone.
Photos, from left to right: The Beast: Is barbecue considered a “Bobo (Bourgeois-Bohème) brunch? Popular organic health store chain les Nouveaux Robinson. Aliénor, Meringaie‘s gluten-free Galette des Rois.
Below: Just like magic! Old umbrella and hosiery stores have morphed into trendy cavistes (wine stores) in the 3rd arrondissement. The beautiful façades of yesteryear remain.
Paris is still Paris (I think)
If the “New Paris” is threatening to take over, the “Old Paris” is putting up a brave fight, intricately and historically linked to French life. As I walked around over the weekend, I spotted heartwarming sights even in touristy, gentrified neighborhoods. Just like in any French town or city, there was une cordonnerie (shoe repair store) that actually replaces heel pads, une droguerie (drugstore) that still peddles housewares, or une boulangerie that actually makes bread and croissants on site. Le passé d’aujourd’hui. The past of today.
And so, in spite of strikes, the depressing grisaille, ubiquitous scaffoldings growing along façades like mold kissing a ripe Brie‘s bloomy rind, and crowded sidewalks that turn each rush hour outing into a perilous yet adrenaline-filled adventure, we can still enjoy Paris. I know one thing for sure: We do enjoy les petits bonheurs (small joys) the old coquette continues to hand out to adoring crowds.
Video: a quick look at le Musée des Arts et Métiers.
This story is part of the “France as I see it” series. I wrote it because it’s come to my attention many French Girl in Seattle readers do not know I share photos and musings on my Parisian life several times a week on Facebook. So, if you want more, you now know where to go. All photos captured with an iPhone 6S. – Véronique.