It’s a warm Friday night, and my local fromagerie (cheese shop) is packed. I glance around the mobbed shop with an expert eye— it’s going to be at least a 10-minute wait unless someone gets impatient and walks out. But I know that this is unlikely, the weekend approaches, guests will be invited…and cheese has as inevitable a presence at a French dinner as a fork. And this cheese shop—La Crèmerie—is arguably the best in our République neighborhood.
Tonight, I won’t be hosting a dinner, but a classically Parisian evening still awaits me…a bottle of rosé…baguettes and cheese… a good friend…and a seat—if we can find one on the stone banks of the Canal St. Martin. Never mind the Woody Allen image of love-struck couples strolling along the Seine on warm spring and summer nights…in my neighborhood, locals flock to the canal.
It’s little things like this that make Paris perfect for me. Something as modest as standing in line in a cheese shop or sitting on a canal bank makes me feel embraced by the city, and connected to its history and traditions. As I ponder my selections—a slice of the heavenly truffle Brie, definitely and perhaps a small round of cranberry-topped goat cheese too—I am almost giddy with the simple pleasure of it all.
Paris isn’t usually associated with the word “simple,” but in some ways…that’s what life is here. The pleasure of living in Paris is not just merrily drinking champagne with the Eiffel Tower twinkling in the background (although sometimes that happens). It’s the commonplace moments that remind me of the richness I’ve added to my life, by living here.
For example, it never ceases to thrill me that in the ordinary course of taking my children to school, we walk through the Passage Joffroy, an elegant iron-and-glass covered arcade, that Parisians have been sweeping through since 1836. The kids romp down the beautifully tiled floors, taking little notice of the dusty-looking bookshops and tiny art galleries that make me feel as if time is standing still. It’s just a brief moment in my day—hurrying through the passage—but its history, beauty, and gentle old-fashioned air snaps me to attention.
The same thing happens when I’m interacting with vendors at the market. It sounds silly but I love how you must ask the grocer to select an avocado for you…and say when you plan to eat it. That way, he or she can choose one with just the right degree of ripeness. What makes this little moment so satisfying? I suppose it’s the mindfulness of it…the care the grocer takes in selecting the right fruit…gently squeezing here and there until the perfect one is found.
The same degree of attention is found at the butcher and the wine shop. Questions are asked about your meal and tips are given for the best results. Parisian vendors take pride in their knowledge and want you have a good experience.
I’d probably be able to find similar experiences and interactions all over France—and maybe even in many other countries. But for me, the fact that I’ve come to know these ways in Paris, makes it all a little bit sweeter. When I first arrived here, I found the legendary mystique of the city overwhelming and intimidating. Now, I see that Paris is more magic than mystery. After all, what’s so mysterious about the joy of sitting on the bank of a canal on a warm summer’s evening? Nothing. But here in Paris, it is magic.
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