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10 things I miss about Paris

Before I left for Paris more than one year ago, I made a list of things I would miss about my life here in Arizona. Now, more than a month since my return home, I’ve found there are things about Paris that I miss dearly and desperately. Some of them are gems that make the city unique. Others are mundane things that were part of my daily life. No matter the case, I long for them all now:

1. Fresh food that is full of flavor (because it probably came from the local farmer’s market just hours before)

crêpe au saumon

The first thing I noticed when I got home was how lackluster all of the fruits and vegetables were in the grocery stores. They tasted like they’d had all the flavor sucked out of them. Then I noticed the breads I was eating tasted like big loaves of sugar. Bleck. You just can’t beat locally raised, freshly harvested food.

2. A bakery on every block

Bakery

Bakeries are as French as handle-bar mustaches and self-rolled cigarettes. The smell of fresh dough wafts through the alleyways every morning as the little boulangeries prepare for the city’s most fundamental daily tradition: the buying and eating of bread. Meanwhile, the pastries are being frosted and adorned, and the viennoiseries  are being filled with chocolate, raisins, butter. How I miss this daily ceremony, observing it, smelling it and tasting it.

3. Green spaces around every corner

Père la Chaise

Though I’d say Paris is in need of more green space, it certainly has readily accessible gardens and parks in abundance compared to Tucson. Every neighborhood has its little (or big!) outdoor sanctuary, where the gates are open, the trees are tall and the pathways are calling to be strolled upon.

4. Beauty for beauty’s sake

Sénat

The French have a profound respect for beauty. So much so that they strive to cultivate beauty in every building, every patch of dirt, every ensemble. I miss this intentional aesthetic, this sense of presentation and pride in the human capacity for art, whether it be in trimming of a rose garden, in the ceiling of a cathedral, or in the glint of a woman’s lipstick.

5. Sunday, a true day of rest

The distinguishing feature of a Sunday in Paris is something my camera cannot capture: silence. A penetrating silence that rises and sets with the sun. On a Sunday in Paris, you can guarantee that 85 percent of all businesses and institutions are closed. At first, this bothered me, because I needed to DO things, dammit. But Sunday is the antithesis of doing in Paris. It is a day of calm, when one may get out of bed a little later in the morning, enjoy a pleasant brunch with loved ones, take a stroll through the garden, drink two glasses of wine at dinner instead of one. This couldn’t be more different than a Sunday in the U.S., where everything runs business-as-usual—fast, loud, busy. Too busy.

6. Things—demonstrations, protests, festivals—happening! All the time! 

Femen 2

Something is always happening in Paris. A girl is never bored.

7. The lights shimmering in the Seine at night

La Seine

I know I’ve used this photo time and time again, but that’s merely because I find what it captures so breathtaking. Paris at night is a magical place. It glows.

8. High heels

march 2

There is a way of dressing here in Tucson. It is called “Tucson Casual.” After a year in Paris, where dressing up is the norm, I find that I prefer a pair of heels and a splash of lipstick over a pair of sandals and a glob of sunscreen. Tucson Casual isn’t me anymore, and yet, when I reach for my heels, I recoil, knowing that wherever I go I will feel over-dressed.

Call me snobby. I can take it.

9. The changing of seasons

Preview!

When the leaves in Paris started to turn from green to orange yellow red, I behaved like a child who has just seen snow for the first time. I had never experienced this natural phenomenon, even in my hometown in the mountains of northern Arizona. Being able to see and feel the world shifting from one season to another is a wonderful feeling that brings a person down to Earth. It reminds you that you’re spinning.

10. The social custom of saying “hello,” “good morning” and “good evening” to everyone you meet

In France, and in most of Europe, hello and goodbye are required upon any one-on-one encounter with a person, whether you know them or not. When you enter a store, you say hello. When you pass someone in the hallway, you say hello. When you see a neighbor down by the mailboxes, you say hello. If you don’t, it is terribly rude.

Although this custom was a little daunting at first (who do I greet and who do I ignore?), it soon became a pleasant part of everyday life. Every time I exchanged hello’s with someone, often a stranger, I felt we had exchanged a gesture of mutual human compassion. Sometimes acknowledgement is all a person needs to feel special.

me in paris

These are only a few of the things I miss about Paris, a city that has become closer to my heart with each day spent away from her. Of course, I only realized how much I treasured her after I’d left her behind. I guess I’ll have to go back so that I can let her know, won’t I?

What customs and details do you miss about your own travels? How do you cope with the nostalgia? Share your stories in the comments below!

Smiles and all the best,

Savannah

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From My Balcony: de Février à Juin

Throughout my entire year in Paris, my most frequented sanctuary was the endless, ever-changing view from my balcony. I watched the seasons come and go, month by month, from this lookout of mine, which often felt as if it was floating in the clouds. Gazing out across the horizon, which was smeared with clouds and glowing with fading sunlight, I felt relief, release, reprieve. It never got old.

I shared the first six months of photos from my sanctuary amongst the clouds in this post. Here is the other half:

FebruaryMarchaprilMayJune

July got lost somewhere in the bustle of life. I don’t judge this to be a bad thing, but rather a result of a summer enjoyed to the fullest. Thankfully, life often moves too fast for photos, Facebook albums and blog posts. And knowing that it will, I try to live with my spirit as my only camera and my memory as my only archive.

Smiles and all the best,

Savannah

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Untitled

On the morning of August 7, the skies of Paris poured rain down upon the streets and turned the man-made beaches that lined the Seine to mud. The cool, humid air took me back to October, when the leaves were turning from green to orange and I was wrapped in scarves and sweaters, wondering why on earth I had moved to this dark, dreary place.

Ten months later, I can say that doing so was the most consequential decision I’ve made in my entire life. While I may never be able to accurately or fully describe the transformation Paris provoked within me, I will always be able to say that had I resisted this transformation, I would be a lesser person than I am now.

I spent my last night in Paris walking in the sand of Paris plage (Paris’s man-made, river-side beach), wearing stilettos and pink lip stick, laughing with the most inspiring woman I’ve ever had the pleasure and privilege to get to know.

The Seine sparkled. The Eiffel Tower glowed in the distance. I took off my heels and let the sand seep into the spaces between my toes. My life resembled a postcard for a moment, and then I remembered that this was no photograph. This was-is-will-be my life.

dolled upsmiling by the seine

I owe that—the surprising construction of my second home—to a handful of unique, remarkable, unforgettable individuals. Merci infiniment à toutes et à tous. Sans vous, j’aurais été perdue.

***

5 August 2013, sitting atop my roof, on the eve of my last day in Paris

Paris, ma chère,

No photo could capture your austere and elusive beauty. No painter could portray your cracked, crystal facade the way I see it through my eyes. Des fois, j’ai l’impression que je te reconnais; des autres fois, je sais que nous sommes, entre nous, des personnes inconnues. And yet, after only one year, I cannot imagine my future without you. You remain burnt into my spirit like a freckle burnt into porcelain skin. You made no lasting mark in the beginning, but after so many months of soaking up your essence, you finally became a permanent part of me. Je t’aime, même si tu m’as fais mal, car on sait que tu m’as fait beaucoup plus du bien, et ça continuera pour toute ma vie.

last rooftop shot

The sky as I wrote. 

Mais quoi de notre vie, notre avenir? I wish I could answer myself. I wish I could say “au revoir, et à bientôt.” But all I can hope for is une prochaine. Il y en aura une. Je te promets—fin—je me promets.  I will not treasure you like a souvenir. I will not walk through your reeking and brutal underground, meander through your immaculate and mysterious gardens, run through your deserted and tranquil avenues on a Sunday morning, the fresh scent of bread escaping boulangerie doors and tempting my nose, as if I were traveling through the labyrinth of my memory. I will not lose the sweetness, the stench, the song in endless remembering. For that would imply that all we have together is past.

Until 14h15 on August 7th, mon amour, you are my present. Et à partir de ce moment là, tu feras partie, sans doute,  de mon futur.

À la prochain alors,

Savannah

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Dear Paris: A year ago today I thought I could never love you

The closest French embassy in my region of the United States is in Los Angeles. Hence, exactly one year ago I got into my mom’s hand-me-down Nissan and drove for six hours through the desert, all for a 15-minute appointment at the French visa office and another mediocre mug shot to add to my collection. One might say this was the beginning of my unpleasant relationship with French bureaucracy. I’d say it was the start of an unexpected and unconditional love.

Spoiler alert: I leave Paris and fly back to the States on August 7th. My relationship to this looming date of departure has changed constantly ever since I bought the ticket late this winter, shifting from relief, to anticipation, to indifference. But it is only now that I look at the calendar and feel my heart sink. It seems now that Paris has finally nudged itself into a corner of who I am, I am forced to pack that corner up and throw its contents into the attic of my past.

Perhaps the only comfort I have to hold onto is that I know now that I will be coming back. Like a dear friend you know you will see again, sometime, however ever far off, in the future, I can feel intuitively that I will be coming back to Paris. Not just for a weekend, but for another bout of life. I love this city the way I love my sister—not just because she fills me with joy, but because I had no other choice.

That may sound dramatic, but the truth is I tried rather desperately not to come to Paris for my junior year of college. Outrageous, I know. Yet the grandeur of Paris didn’t attract me; the romantic allure of it didn’t pull me in. I had wanted a “raw” experience, to use my own words. I wanted to go somewhere new and get my hands dirty.

But none of the other programs I looked at fit my academic and financial criteria, so I settled for Paris. The day I stepped out of the métro and into the hot Parisian sun, dripping with sweat from schlepping my bags through the underground, I arrived with skepticism. The fact that the métro doesn’t contain a single disability ramp to make the lives of people with disabilities or travelers with luggage a little easier didn’t help.

As I settled in and met fellow international students, however, my skepticism waned and I was soon absorbed by the excitement of making a new life in a new place. Those first few months were embellished with fantasy-like moments—sharing a bottle of wine by the Seine, folk dancing at night with strangers, gazing out across rooftops, stealing yourself for a kiss that would never come. Almost anything seems enchanted against a Parisian night sky.

Then winter came and the days turned wet and cold. With no sun to blind my eyes, I could suddenly see all of the filth, poverty and cruelty that Paris hid beneath abandoned storefronts and dripping bridges. I spurned the city and its people. Paris, I felt, was a facade.

And that is where my relationship with the City of Light began to grow. During the long, frigid winter I fought off waves of depression and bitterness with numerous efforts to regain my affection for Paris. I struggled to see all that the city had to offer, and had to push myself to create happiness where I thought there was none. I learned not only to accept Paris, but to love her—flaws and all. And the only reason I managed to do so was because I had no other choice. I was stuck with Paris, and she was stuck with me. Now, we’re inseparable.

And so it is, with only 23 days to go, that I am preparing myself to leave her, for now. When I finally do, I will not, however, say goodbye. Rather, I will blow a kiss and say, au revoir! Literally, ma Paris, until next time.

Bastille Day Flypast

Celebrating another year, and a first year— 14th of July flypast over the Champs Elysée, Paris.

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A Change of Hemispheres

When it’s cold outside the best thing to do is to…go outside…inside?

More specifically, the best thing to do when Paris is chilly and powdered in snow is to get yourself to a greenhouse! A tropical greenhouse, no less.

serre

I had the pleasure of visiting les grandes serres (Grand/Big/Great Big Greenhouses) of the Jardin des Plantes with a few friends this weekend. As we walked to the greenhouses from the garden, the wind blew viciously and a slushy substance fell from the sky disguised as snow.

fish!

But once we entered the first greenhouse, we entered a completely different world. The barren trees and bushes of the hibernating garden were suddenly replaced by lush palms and vines. A little stream wound through the manmade forest and emptied into a pond filled with fish painted red, orange and calico.

serre 2

Compared to the harsh landscape that lie beyond their walls, these greenhouses radiated warmth and vitality. Meandering through the various collections of plants felt like escaping to a different planet, one that is always set at a perfect temperature, where conifers, fig trees and cacti live side by side. It was almost surreal, taking off my coat and gloves and two out of three layers to stroll through a tropical paradise while just a few yards away snow came down in torrents.

Once we had finished our tropical tour, my friends and I decided to have afternoon tea at the Mosquée de ParisThe Mosque of Paris has a lovely covered patio, where visitors can enjoy mint tea and North African pastries seven days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. It is located directly behind the Jardin des Plantes, making it the perfect place to relax after your jungle excursion. Not only that, the mosque itself is breathtaking. The walls are decorated in intricate mosaics and the “hispano-mauresque” architecture is stunning against the classic parisian buildings.

mosquée

These two places make for a great combination and a fantastic way to spend an afternoon in Paris.

Want to go? 

Jardin des Plantes: 

Metro: Gare d’Austerlitz or Gare de Lyon

La Mosquée de Paris: 

Metro: Place Monge

Winter? Not this weekend.

Happy adventuring!

Smiles and all the best,

Savannah

PS— If you haven’t checked out my guest post on the death of my pet cactus over at Travelling Caits, I urge you to do so….now. Go! 

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