Saturday, September 14, 2013

Dear Paris

Dear Paris, oh Paris
with your smell of piss

It's not that I don't love Paris. It's just that it's been a while since I've "unromanticized" the city for myself. With experience and the help of somewhat depressing French movies, I didn't expect Paris to be the most romantic city. The first time I set foot on Paris it was a cold, rainy, and gray city. The fountains were frozen and turned off, the gardens were brown or bare, the air was so thick you could not see the Eiffel tower. I stared at the immense line of people under the most famous tower in the world, and I thought "There's no way standing in line for hours is worth it!" (it was -12C that day). So I didn't go up the tower... I didn't go up to be at an even more freezing top... Not even for the unviewable view that the city had that day.

That was what I got for going to see a city in January and think it would be fun to be walking around. I was there with a friend for New Years, and right around midnight on December 31st, somebody had pulled the emergency break in the subway, where I happened to be at the moment (on my way to the Seine river to celebrate!).

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining about being in Paris. I like Paris. I love Paris! But Paris is a city, a big city with lots of people, lots of smells, lots of good and bad things, lots of problems. As I walk down the metro I think "How wonderful it is to have an underground transportation system!". But at the same time I am reminded of other things as I see people asking for money in these tunnels, or as I get a good big whiff of the smell of urine mixed with who-knows-what. The tunnels reek of it, the streets do too. I also read Paris was the city with the record of most metro tunnel suicides. As I was walking today, I saw a man walking in front of me "pull over" to the side to pee by the corner! It wasn't the busiest of streets, but there were many cars and people around, businesses, and apartments.

One of the first French movies that I watched was "400 Blows". This movie does a pretty good job at de-romanticizing the city. Later, I watched "35 Shots of Rum". Both movies have a greyish scheme, one about parent negligence and abuse, the other about the monotony of the life of a family in Paris. They show the plainness of living in a city like Paris, the problems, the human faces that live and work there. It's not the typical touristic Paris, with the beautiful gardens and romantic candle-light dinners by the Seine. Paris isn't shown as a magical, extraordinary place, but instead a rather somber one. The beautiful thing of these movies and is that they show the human faces that live in Paris. And more than the streets, the beauty, and the astounding art of Paris, I will take with me the stories of people, and the history of those who walked before me on these same streets.

Dear Paris, I'll think of your people and not of your piss.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Three Famous Women: Child, Chanel, and Baker

This is a recap of my first two weeks in Paris. I was determined to do some of the walks in my "Forever Paris, 25 walks in the footsteps of Chanel, Hemingway, Picasso, and more", so during my first two weeks I did Julia Child, Coco Chanel, and Josephine Baker's walks.

Julia Child

She lived in Paris in the 1950s, where she discovered her passion for cooking. Author of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", she basically taught Americans how to do French cuisine. The picture below is one of the restaurants he used to frequent. It's close to the metro station Chatelet, and it's only about 15 minutes walking from where I live in Paris (Beaubourg). I also met  somebody from the prayer group that works there, kind of a fun fact for me.

Coco Chanel

A fashion revolutionary, Coco Chanel had a pretty tough life from the beginning. At twelve, she lived in a convent and learned how to sew. One of my favorite feats of Chanel was her simplifying fashion. She managed to turn a trend of wearing elaborate hats that limited movement and required hours, numerous pins, and assistance to put on, into wearing simple and elegant straw hats.
The picture below is where her personal apartment was, on the third floor of 31 rue Cambon. It's still there, but it's not open to the public. Some of her first hat shops are all along that street, covering several buildings on that block.

Josephine Baker

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1906, Baker arrived in Paris in 1925. A performer, Baker was a dancer, a singer, and even a comic star. As black performers were popular in Paris during the 1920s, Baker went from being in a "comedic side act in a country ruled by segregation" to being "the highest-paid entertainer in Europe". She loved Paris and she loved France, and even helped in the French Resistance during World War II.

The picture below is where she used to live in her early career, an apartment on av. des Champs-Elysees #77. The second picture is the Theatre des Champs-Elysees, where Baker performed her "Dance Sauvage" when she first arrived to Paris.
I hope you enjoyed these little summaries, although probably not as much as I enjoyed these wonderful walks. It was fun to walk in the footsteps of Child, Chanel, and Baker, three remarkable women.

*All the pictures above are pictures I took during my walks.