The D&O Diary is on assignment in Europe this week, with a first stop in Paris, for meetings. I have been to Paris many times before, but almost always in the fall or winter. Before this trip, I hadn’t really had the pleasure of seeing Paris in the spring. What I found was that — though warmer temperatures do seem to bring out the crowds — Paris in the spring is delightful.
For several days, the city was bathed in brilliant sunshine. The spring flowers were in full bloom and most of the trees were fully leafed. In prior visits, I have seen most of the city’s famous sites, but with the beautiful weather, I had the pleasure of seeing them anew, transformed by sunshine. On Thursday afternoon, I basically walked across the entire city, from the Buttes Chaumont park in the city’s far northeast to the Eiffel Tower on the city’s west side. The miles-long walk across the city was a sheer pleasure. It was as if the city and everyone in it were smiling.
In French, the word “flâner” means “to stroll,” but a “flâneur” is not merely one who strolls, but someone who derives pleasure from sauntering about with an amiable and appreciative eye for the activities and events of city life. My secret ambition in life is to achieve an advanced level of flâneur-ship. While I have yet to achieve mastery of the art, one afternoon last week I made great strides in my flâneur apprencticeship.
I am sure many readers are familiar with the sensation of déjà vu, the feeling of having already experienced the present situation. On this trip, I experienced a related but different phenomenon, the sensation of jamais vu — that is, experiencing a familiar situation as if for the first time. I have walked the city’s streets many times before, but seeing its beautiful buildings, tree-lined streets, and famous sites wreathed in warm sunshine, it was as if I were seeing them for the first time.
In her recent book, The Only Street in Paris, Elaine Sciolino, the former New York Times bureau chief, wrote affectionately of the rue des Martyrs, a street at the heart of her “village” in Paris’s Ninth Arrondisement (first picture below). It is an enjoyable book and a pleasant read. Like many others since the book appeared, I visited to street to try to see many of the locations Sciliono describes. It is an agreeable street and I am certain the neighborhood would indeed be a very pleasant place to live. However, I think for many visitors, particularly those on their first or second time to Paris, the street may not match tourist expectations for a street that expresses the city’s essence. For one thing, it is kind of busy. For another thing, it is full of Americans (like, for example, me) trying to spot the scenes from the book.
There are other streets I would recommend for those just getting to know the city, particularly Americans, including the rue Mouffetard in the 5th Arrondisement (in an area of full of student bars, as shown the first picture below); the rue Dupetit-Thouars, a quiet street of cafés in the 3rd arrondisement; and the rue Cler in the 7th Arrondisement (second picture below), a pedestrianized shopping street located near the Tour Eiffel and the Champs des Mars yet also a world away. We bought some wine and some flowers while strolling along rue Cler, but the high point of the visit was a stopover at the splendid Mariage Fréres tea shop, where we purchased a variety of teas after spending an enjoyable time sniffing the delicious aromas of many of the astonishing variety of teas on offer.
Unfortunately, the reality of the times we live in intruded into this Parisian idyll. Even before the terrible terrorist shootings on the Champs-Élysées on Thursday evening, I was very aware of a heightened police and military presence on the streets, as reflected in the picture below taken on the steps of Sacré-Cœur. The attack on Thursday evening was a shock and definitely produced a feeling of unease throughout the city for the remainder of my visit. These kinds of violent events in Paris (and elsewhere) are happening far too frequently. Indeed, this was not even my first time a visit to Paris was marred by a terrorist attack, as I was in Paris in November 2015, just after the night club attacks.
Much of the local news coverage about the Champs-Élysées shootings, beyond the basic facts of the incident, focused on the relation of the shootings to the French Presidential election campaign. The political campaign is disquieting in and of itself, as the populace appears to be sharply divided. After last year’s votes in the U.S. and the U.K., there is a great deal of unease about the possible outcomes of the French election. Many of the buildings in the city were plastered with political signs and posters related to the election. I took the picture below near the Sorbonne; this scene seemed to me to capture the general sense of the election. (The first round of the voting took place on Sunday, the day we left Paris for London.)
I did have a chance while I was in Paris for several very good meetings, including one memorable lunch in the Opéra district organized by my friends at Swiss Re. In the picture below, taken after lunch at the Au Petit Riche restaurant located on the rue Le Peletier in the 9th Arrondissement, I am seated with Arturo Luna Ibarra of Swiss Re; Pietro Ottombrini of Swiss Re; and Julien Grelié of Marsh. A wonderful meal and a very pleasant afternoon event.
Thursday night’s terrible events cast a pall on the visit, but despite the attacks and the feeling of insecurity that followed, I still did have a memorable visit to the city. As always when I visit Paris, my time there seemed too short. As always, I am already planning my next visit to the city.
More Pictures of Paris
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
View of Paris from the Parc de Bellville
Jardin des Plantes
Fondation Louis Vuitton