A guest post by Karen A. Chase, author of Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log (40 years. 40 days. 40 seconds.)
When I realized I had to turn forty, I decided I could that gracefully in Paris. I had been to Paris fifteen years earlier but only for five days and it hadn’t been long enough. Although many writers have changed their lives and moved there, I didn’t need to do that. (Okay, I wanted to, but I couldn’t.) So, I settled on going for nearly forty days.
I rented an apartment, planned for a year, put work on hold, and said, “Bonjour 40!” It was delightful. Days were filled with all sorts of food, museums, writing, experiences, people, and did I mention the food? I kept a blog while I was there, and this entry is one that lingers with me as the most perfect day for a woman alone in Paris.
Day 15 ~ May 5
I got lost. Hopelessly, wonderfully, nowhere in particular-ly lost. I did start out my day with a planned visit to a museum (Musée Jacquemart-André), but once I left it I just got wanderlust for the next eight hours. It sounds frightening, but no, wandering in Paris is delightful. Every corner I went around had another little strip of charming stores, grand statues, festive cafés, gardens, architecture, flowers, or monuments to behold.
With no phone, and limited email access, being unplugged is giving me the freedom to go out for these aimless excursions whenever writing hits a wall or my curiosity gets the best of me. My favorite spots are the really small, short streets that wind together in a jumbled, crooked mess. There, the traffic noise is reduced significantly, the shopkeepers are a bit friendlier, the wares are more unique, and cafés are quainter. It’s there that Paris feels more like Paris.
In my meandering, I tried to visit the overcrowded Arch de Triomphe and ended up on the Champs Elysées yesterday. Within about five minutes, I grabbed a free bicycle and escaped the area entirely. I didn’t come to Paris to see tourists eating fast food and buying overpriced American designer clothing. It isn’t the romantic boulevard it was when Joni Mitchell sang about it.
My footsteps finally led me to the crab shack and bar, L’Amuse Geuele, at the end of my block in the 4th arrondissement. It is fast becoming a favorite. It is managed by Bandit-the-dog who barks at everything he’s never seen before and sits next to me begging for food. Dorothée, his owner, speaks wonderful English, so here I can learn and share equally. We chat until she closes for the night. As my day of wandering ended, words from that same Joni Mitchell song come to me: “I was a free man in Paris, I felt unfettered and alive. There was nobody calling me up for favors, and no one’s future to decide. . . .”