After the epic adventure in Iceland, I packed my bags and caught a red-eye from Reykjavik to Paris. There is a 2-hour difference between the countries, so I ended up sleeping maybe 2 hours on the plane. Nevertheless, I was all alert for landing in Charles de Gaule airport, so as to take the right RER into the city, and make all the transfers to the Metro and end up in my AirBnb without resorting to a cab….which I successfully did. Hooray!
But going from the Abbess Metro station to my flat on top of the hill (seriously, like the highest point in Paris) next to the Sacre-Coeur, while dragging my suitcase full of Icelandic chocolate, took so much energy out of me. I was sweating bullets in my hat and sweaters–not warm enough for Iceland, too warm for Paris. And no cafe had decaf for this weary American. Fortunately, I used my brains and figured trusty old Le Pain Quotidien would carry decaf–and voila! they did. I also bought a ficelle (a smaller, skinnier version of a baguette) and carried it up with me to the top.
Once I found my flat, I sat on a little stool (not sure what it is–def not a fire hydrant, nor a bench) in front of it and broke my fast looking at…the Eiffel Tower!! Ah, Paris.
With a bit more energy, I dragged my suitcase to Sacre-Coeur–probably my very favorite place in all of Paris. Because of views like this:
The famous gray light of Paris is so exquisitely beautiful from up top. Morning, afternoon, twilight, night–it’s all enchanting.
Since I’d already extensively explored Paris when I stayed for 12 days in 2014, this time I just wanted to do the things I’d do if I truly lived in Paris. And that is exactly what I did! Iceland was so much excitement, adventure, fun. Paris was all about restoration and pleasure and enjoying myself at a slower pace. Here are my favorite ways I lived like a Parisienne–not all of these are replicable in NYC, but one can always dream. 😉
1. Eat lovingly prepared foods made from fresh, local ingredients.
Every day, I picked up groceries from the little local epicerie (grocery store) and boulangerie (bakery). Parisienne tip 1: Always shop with a cloth bag. They don’t offer plastic bags unless you ask since most people bring their cloth bags…and they charge for plastic! (I was so mad I didn’t have my million tote bags in NYC). Anyway, it’s so fun buying what you’ll eat that night for dinner, maybe the next morning’s breakfast…and nothing more.
Ta-da! I had been dreaming about this olive tofu since 2014. Sauteed with some mushrooms, tomato, and kale in really good olive oil, flavored with excellent sea salt and pepper only, it’s so incredibly delicious. Parisienne tip 2: Everything you cook tastes so phenomenal if you just use very high-quality salt and oil. It may seem extravagant, but you are worth it. Try to get a real salt cellar (not a shaker) with a tiny little scoop, if you want to take it to the next level of Parisienne-ness. You’ll feel so chic (like a vegan Parisienne Giada or something) when you cook with a cellar!! Parisienne tip 3: Really take a break from everything else, and eat facing an open window, maybe a little music in the background… You deserve it!
2. Indulge in whatever food you like, as long as it’s high quality and fresh.
As you can see, I ate bread every single day in Paris, with ample amount of jam and/or olive oil. I also ate dark chocolate every single day, and fresh grapes, figs, and sweetened (!) organic soy milk. It was so truly satisfying!
Parisienne tip 4: Eating what tastes wonderful, in good spirits, is great for your body and soul. I didn’t feel heavy or bloated, because 1) every time I ate, it was joyfully taken, not stressfully crammed down and 2) I got my exercise. Which brings us to…
3. Exercise outside.
I ran most mornings by running around Montmartre, especially up and down these infamous stairs going up to Sacre-Coeur. One thing I noticed this time around, is that there are a lot more runners now than there were in 2014! What happened? Sudden takeover by the Americans?
But much of Parisienne way of exercise is just plain old walking around the city. Just an afternoon of strolling would knock me out by dinner time. Need groceries, a pair of ballet flats, a bottle of wine? Those are all perfect excuses to go exploring in the neighborhood or take the Metro to another part of town. It sounds so logical, but in NYC, for example, most people are so dependent on delivery of every little thing, from Seamless to Amazon to even a specific app that delivers any type of alcohol (or insert oddball item here), anytime. Parisienne tip 5: Less delivery and tech dependence, more old-fashioned walking.
4. Make time to enjoy other people’s company.
As Ernest Hemingway (another American who really loved Paris) said, “Wine and friends are a great blend.” And so, one of my best memories during this trip was an evening spent with a family friend who had been living in Paris for some 30 years. We strolled the banks of the Seine, talking about her beautifully adventurous life, starting with getting her Ph.D. in medieval literature at the Sorbonne in the 80s and researching in archives all over Europe. We found a bistro at the posh Ile-St-Louis (near Notre Dame) and sat facing the Seine and drank some wine.
We then moved on to a vegetarian restaurant called Le Grenier de Notre Dame, a charming little place with a menu that you can’t see in NYC vegan restaurants. So exciting!
In NYC, catching up with friends can often feel rushed, because everyone is busy and has 20 things on her plate. And since social time is so limited, there is a pressure to make everything spectacular. But really great night doesn’t have to be a flashy event, or a night on the town dressed to the nines at some fancy new club. All those things have led me to disappointment so many times. Parisienne tip 6: A terrific night can consist simply of meaningful conversation, a lovely dinner, good wine. Simplicity rules.
5. Have your favorite places/things and always insist on them.
Here’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about, as a difference between me at 20-22 and me now (29). I was talking to a friend about one of my favorite contemporary artists, Sophie Calle, who happens to be French and is my role model as an artist, woman of the world, une femme elegante. I began to tell the story of how I saw her work for the first time at Venice Biennale in 2007…and then, I realized how satisfying it is to have context. By that I mean having seen and experienced enough of the world, to be able to integrate that into my own ideas and perspective. Confidence when I was 21 honestly had a lot to do with flirting and being paid compliments. Now I think a lot (if not most) of my confidence derives from having context.
In simpler terms, it also just means self-awareness: knowing what you like, what you *love* even. In Paris, I paid a visit to all of my favorite places and monuments without thinking about what haven’t I done, or what’s new and hot. I went to the Louvre again, because I loved it the first time. I didn’t go to Georges Pompidou, simply because I had no yearning to. I went to the Luxembourg Garden again because it’s my favorite.
What does that mean, now at home in NYC, and in life in general? It’s to know who you are–and to live as to fulfill who you are, rather than what’s on the outside. I think that’s the essence of living well I took away from Paris.
More in travel: Why You Should Travel Alone As a Woman
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Photo: Peaceful Dumpling