Monday, August 2, 2010


"In Paris, one does not smile at a passer-by or in general acknowledge a stranger’s existence; this is considered unnecessary – even idiotic".

And so it is written in the Lonely Planet guide to Paris. Whether or not it’s true, I find it to be particularly funny. Ignoring passers-by in such a manner would never, ever fly in California – or in most parts of the U.S., for that matter, where greeting strangers on the street is practically part of the national religion. In Southern California, gleaming, sometimes-forced smiles are typically followed by exclamations of "Hi!" "Good evening!" "How are you?" (This last one? No, we don’t wait around for the answer, because honestly we really don’t care how you are doing.)

But Paris is an efficient place, and the French are an efficient people. Aimlessly greeting passers-by may seem friendly, but it is not an efficient thing to do, so it’s just not done here. Unless, of course, you are me. The girl from So Cal.

My stroll to class each morning, from chez moi to Lutece Langue language school on Boulevard de Sebastopol, takes approximately 20 minutes each way. I could hop on a Velib bike to get there, or perhaps even take the Metro. But the walk itself is lovely, and it’s something I look forward to every day. At 8:30 in the morning, Paris isn’t really awake yet. The sun is inching high into the sky, yet the streets remain calm, and traffic remains light. There is a gentle quiet at this time of day, a softness that allows you to hear and feel a different side of the city that you might otherwise miss. Down rue des Archives, turning right onto rue Rambuteau and heading straight past the imposingly magnificent Centre Pompidou museum, the pigeons and street cleaners are in charge of Paris at this time of day. Cafes are sprinkled with the particularly eager early-risers, seated outdoors and taking in the daily paper, a smoke and a coffee before their workday begins. The smell of freshly-baked heaven pours from the upscale boulangerie-patisserie Huré, at 18 rue Rambuteau, where a line has already begun to snake its way through the door. The stunning produce market Aux 4 Saisons at 24 rue Rambuteau is busily setting out its magnificent assortment of fruits and vegetables, splashing the street with colors in every shade of yummy. This walk is so charming, so quaint, I practically skip all the way to school.

These produce vendors, the café owners... I see the same faces every morning, and although I know none of their names – although they remain strangers – I greet each one nonetheless with an effervescent, California style "bonjour!" I can’t help myself.

My smiles and greetings are eagerly returned, and the chorus of bonjour!s and bonne journee!s which follows is so melodic, so borderline movie-like, that I half-expect the entire street to break out into a lively rendition of "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and The Beast – costumes and all. Or at least, for a director somewhere to call out "CUT!".

But neither happens, because this isn’t a movie set. Nor is it a stage on Broadway. There is no director making this all happen, laying out this scene. It’s just... Paris. Simply, naturally, beautifully Paris. I know, kind of nauseating. But I love it nonetheless.

rue des Archives, before the rush.
(This would be my form of transpo if I lived here. 
Who said I don't like pink?)

Morning light over Cafe Le Comptoir des Archives.

Breakfast, of course.

All things colorful and tempting at Aux 4 Saisons.  
Just wait 'til the sliced watermelon comes out!

Metro station Rambuteau.

Centre Pompidou, before the crowds descend.

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