Paris. My spiritual Home
I moved to Paris when I was twenty-two years old. I had been working at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxford with Monsieur Blanc for two years, and he had genourously, nay, alchemized me, by sending me to work at the iconic restaurant Jamin, with Monsieur Joel Robuchon.
The greatest privilege, the greatest educative opportunity I’ve ever been given, both to work for Robuchon and to live in the greatest capital city in the world. The restaurant didn’t open at the weekend so I had every Saturday and Sunday to immerse myself in the city. Without much money, I would walk for hours, starting at the majestic Arc de Triumphe, along the Champs Elysee, into Concorde, through the Tuileriesgarden, then into the Louvre if it was a Sunday, as it was free on that particular day. Over to the Île de la Cité to stand in awe before Norte Dame, or Sainte-Chapelle.
I’d find myself a little terrace and read my Sunday Times which would have arrived in the town by then. The Sunday edition with the supplements would keep me occupied for the rest of the evening.
I’ve been back a dozen times or more since living there, even with a bit of spending money, but my two years as a man-child remain my fondest. For one thing, you didn’t have to queue for anything. You could walk straight into any one of these historic sights, the Louvre, d’Orsay, Norte Dame or Versailles without booking, something unthinkable today, when trips have to be planned with military style organization. Anyway, it’s still magical. Go everywhere, visit everything. Really do do the touristic trail and for example go to Montmartre in the evening and walk around the area. One of the last times we were there we found a great little open terrace where for some reason we drank Bellinis enjoying the bohemian atmosphere around Sacre Coeur. Take a Bateaux Mouches in the evening and see the sites lit up and from different vantage point.
The Palais and Jardín Luxembourg are beautiful and can be combined with a walk along the Boulevard Saint Michel. The Pantheon, Saint Denis, Les Invalides, Hotel de Ville and the Place de Vosges. La Madeleine, Saint Eustache and the Opera. Just the names conjure up deep emotions as they are draped in history, their being, the ideas that brought them into being have molded the culture, the people and the history of the country and all the countries who have been inspired by the city.
Paris justifies the entire torturous European moment in man’s history. French pride, the strong state, government largesse, the unfortunately frequent battles over ideas. It is totally understandable as to why the city has been an inspiration to the creatives and intellectuals who have lived there. The city is simply intoxicating.
It seems trite to propose a place to eat. There will be so many, all offering a richly different experience. I used to eat in the Alsace restaurant on the Champs Elysee where I was introduced to Choucroute a dish that contained a dozen different pork cuts and where there was a particularly foul waiter who seemed to wear the menu on his apron, making redundant the need to ask him for a menu. I would take breakfast at Lenôtre where they would make the most fantatsic croissant that you would unashamedly dunk into the bowl -not cup- of café au lait.
There was a farmers market that wiould descend upon my quartier -I lived next to Pont d’Alma- on a Saturday and I would buy a few slices of a Paté de Campagne, some cornichons and a half a loaf and take it as a picnic on my peregrinations of the day. I would imagine myself as a real Parisian and drink a Pastis outside the Pompidou Center, our as we would call it Beau-beau, and if I was still in the Chatelet les Halles area at night on a Saturday I would go to the underground cavern where a live band would play decent Rolling Stones covers. There was a bar that was open twenty four hours around there somewhere, where I used to eat a sublime Braised Lamb Shoulder with Haricots Blanc.
No guide book will provide you with a satisfactory itinerary for a visit. Try to give yourself enough time there…a lifetime? anything less might not be enough and simply surrender yourself to the city.