Friday, July 6, 2012

Neighborhood life

One morning, as we were walking to school, Andrea asked me what I loved about Paris. She caught me by surprise; I wasn't expecting a philosophical question that early in the day. But then she told me what she liked—the wide sidewalks she gets to rides her scooter on—and I realized she meant what I loved the most about Paris. I answered the question, a bit lightly, by saying that what I love the most are the crêpes.

Of course there are many things to love about this place. At the top of my list are all the sidewalk cafés, but there's all the other obvious things like the monuments and the architecture and the museums and the boulevards and the Seine and the history and the language and the atmosphere and the outdoor markets and the wine and the food and the cheese and the bread and the pastries and, oh my, I could keep going on forever.

I've loved seeing all the famous sites and monuments, and discovering new ones, reading about places and then visiting them, learning more about the history of Paris, going to parks and cafés and brasseries, enjoying the food and the wine that costs close to nothing, walking everywhere, and just absorbing the atmosphere.

But I think what I've loved the most this year is our neighborhood.

When we rented our apartment we did not know this area of the city. It's off the tourist path, so you don't normally come this way when you're visiting Paris. So when we got here we felt a bit like strangers. At the beginning it was just a few scattered streets that we walked up and down as we got to know the area and found our way to the school and the stores we'd need to use the most. Little by little, as they became more familiar, those streets started seamlessly weaving themselves into what became our neighborhood, the wonderful neighborhood we have come to love.

Possibly the biggest compliment you can get as a visitor is when someone stops you to ask for directions, especially if that someone is Parisian. Usually they'll start by asking if you are from the neighborhood, to which you bravely say "yes" while secretly praying that you get asked about a street or place you know. 

We have tried as much as possible to live like the locals. We walk our kids to school and take them to the local park. We buy bread on the way back from school and do all of our shopping in our neighborhood. We love to frequent our local cafés and brasseries. We say our bonjours and au revoirs when we enter and leave stores and cafés, are polite with our neighbors, and stop to chat with the building gardienne

As we came back from dinner the other night (we've been saying goodbye to places that've become favorites this year), we mentioned how great it is to be able to just walk to and from the restaurant, not having to worry about driving or parking or how much wine you've had—plus, there's nothing like taking a leisurely stroll after dinner.

Of course there's not just one Paris, but many, and each one revolves around its neighborhood. We've visited and gotten to know many of them, but when we return to our neighborhood we feel right back at home.

A local friend told me that many times when people are looking for a new apartment they stay in the same neighborhood. They know all the local places and don't want to start all over. We can relate to that, and have even wondered that if we ever spend some time here again, would we live in the same neighborhood?

1 comment:

  1. The last time I saw Paris
    Her heart was warm and gray
    I heard the laughter of her heart in every street cafe.....