I have been so excited about coming to Paris that the day before I headed out of Germany and into France, I was actually nervous. I was scared that I had built up this trip to Paris so much in my mind that there was no way it could be as wonderful as I was hoping. I still remember arriving in Paris with my parents when I was young; we immediately hit a traffic jam as they were cleaning up after a huge market and all I could smell was gasoline, rotting food and other big city smells. Nothing I was used to. Then we arrived at our hotel and it was small and cold and mostly gray, and it just felt like the whole city was dirty, gross. But then we left the hotel and went to a sidewalk cafe (Janna’s wishlist for Paris) and I had creme caramel and a hot chocolate. We sat there and listened to the French being spoken around us, and slowly the city got under my skin. I was enchanted. I have been waiting to come back ever since, and Paris has not disappointed. I arrived pretty easily from the Gare de L’Est train station by metro, thanks to my VRBO host’s great instructions. Claude let me in, brought me up to what was to be my home for the next 10 days, and then sat me down and gave me a virtual tour of the area through the books he had put together with maps, instructions, suggestions and anything else a tourist might need. It was pretty amazing and involved. Then he took me down to the basement in the tiny
elevator, and it briefly flashed through my mind that this is not a good idea, going down into an old basement with a strange man I have never met…but if he was going to go all “Hostel” on me, I figured he probably wouldn’t have given me an hour of his time first, explaining how to get around the area and where the best macarons are (Laduree in St Germain, and they are the best). The building, he said, is 300 years old except for the basement which is from the 1600’s. There is a tunnel in the basement that used to go underground and come out on the street a few hundred meters away. Claude suspects it was used by the musketeers. Musketeers!! He said his mother (and he himself, although he was quite young) hid with their friends and some of the Jewish families they knew during the 2nd world war, with the tunnel as an escape route if the Nazi’s should try to come in. Then he took me to his wine cellar and gave me a bottle of wine as a welcome present. History, bravery, and wine. Right off the bat, my first few hours in Paris were pretty amazing.
After Claude left me alone to settle I headed out, to the little local market that he had pointed out to me on his map. I arrived and the name of the little market made me stop I may have giggled a little with happiness. The St Germaine-des-Pres Market. I was staying in St Germaine-des-Pres, I knew it, but seeing the name just casually on a building…if you know about the Lost Generation in Paris, St Germain-des-Pres is the literary area and people like Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Ezra Pound, Sylvia Beach, Gertrude Stein, lived and worked in for a time. It was part of what attracted me to this particular apartment before I knew much more about Claude and Lucile. It’s been such a cool area, and walking around it made me so very happy. Every other store seems to be an ancient or rare book store. I admittedly don’t know too much about the Lost Generation, I have just always been a bit in love with the idea that certain areas of Paris have housed these great creative movements – Montmartre mostly, with La Belle Epoque, the Lost Generation and the Hot Club of France eras, but St Germain was where the Lost Generation originally hung out, near where Shakespeare & Co was originally founded. There has been so much creation and genius in Paris. There is just something about this city that breeds creation and change in the collective consciousness, has housed some of the most talented artists of the 20th century. How amazing is it to be able to spend 10 days just walking around in that?
Those were some of my thoughts as I headed into the little market and wandered around the stalls. I chatted with the people there, and other than being asked by each person where I was from, I almost felt like a native. The cheese guy offered to set me up with new and different cheeses every night of my stay if I wanted, the fruit & veg guy gave me great advice on which apples where the best (tart and sweet, just like I like them), the bread guy offered up this beautiful pain du campaign which was wonderful, and I bought an amazing vanilla and pear compote from the jam lady. I wasn’t quite yet ready to go home, so as the sun set on the 6th Arrondissment, I wandered around the streets of St Germain-des-Pres, looking up at the lights of Paris. When I was finally tired and cold enough, I took it all home and paired it up with the bottle of red wine from Claude.
The thought that kept ringing through my head: Life truly is amazing.