Five Weeks in Paris

My family and I spent five weeks in Paris this summer. It was a dazzling experience and a much needed disconnect from everyday life. I did a lot of writing while I was there, both on my next novel and also simply recording my thoughts and observations on a truly stunning, vibrant city. Of course, I was terrible about email and didn’t blog even once, though I fully intended to do so! Paris has a way of sweeping a girl off her feet, making her think it might just be okay to lie on a park bench and read a book, or sit in a café and just people watch, do a little writing.

We spent our first weeks on Rue Des Pyramides in the 1st Arrondissement. Our apartment building was directly next to St. Roch, a church designed by the architect of the Louvre. So the back windows of our flat were filled with grey stone and stained glass windows, the cooing of pigeons nesting on sills and casements. And there were church bells, and on some nights, the sounds of performing choirs.

For the last two weeks we stayed on Boulevard Raspail in the 7th Arrondissement, which was more residential, less touristy (in the 1st we were just steps from the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries) and very quiet in August. Around the corner from our building, was a divine pastry shop, and also the loveliest produce stand — a cornucopia of vegetables and fruits, a burst of reds and greens and blues and oranges, the aroma, a wafting freshness that carried out the door onto the street. I spent my mornings on the Left Bank writing at Les Deux Magots, a Hemingway haunt and famous literary cafĂ©, or at a cafĂ© that overlooked Pont Royal, a few blocks from Musee d’Orsay.

What follows here are some impressionistic observations of our stay and some disconnected thoughts about the nature of extended visits in another place. In my next blog, I will provide you with my own personal “Must Do List” for Paris.

Paris Windows

Windows on the 1st

Out our window we hear church bells, see great sweeping arcs of stone and serene blue stained glass. St. Roch is the church next door to the apartment where we live for our first weeks in Paris. The air, first cool, then warmer washes through the flat like a breath exhaled. On the streets of our new neighborhood, we walk and walk, exploring — through gardens, past fountains and precious shops displaying food like jewels – chocolate, fresh fruit, bread still warm from the oven. We buy hot crusty loaves and carry them home to eat. Chocolate treats wrapped in crisp gold foil. And the church bells ring.

Mostly we wander, setting out in the morning, stroll and enter anywhere on a whim, buying little – trop cher! — but touching, looking, letting it all sink into our skin, become part of us, change us. We know we are not home – there is stone all around us, Paris Plage – they put sand along the bank of the Seine, lower real palm trees from a flat bed truck onto the cobble stone! — passes for a beach. But we pretend we are home, pretend that The Louvre is our back yard. And for a time, it is.


Sometimes I feel anxious — how will I leave this place, this postcard of history, something beautiful everywhere I rest my eyes? And sometimes I am tired – this city is intense with its crush and noise and the winding of motorcycle engines. I can feel the rhythm of the traffic, but I can’t dance to it. But mostly I am just happy, content. A mother on a playground with her little girl, a wife holding hands with her husband on Pont Neuf, a traveler, an American writer in Paris.

I find places to alight. A park, a bench along the Seine, a café. I sit and write, drink an espresso. OK – a double espresso. I eat a croissant, too shy to ask for butter and jam even though I know how. I know my French is poor, my accent too American. Je suis désolée. But I am so happy just to have this time, these moments to put pen to paper on a tiny table in a Paris café.

I let the city sink into my skin and nourish my creative spirit, knowing it has inspired centuries of artists and writers. I don’t hold myself among them. But I am a writer in Paris; I let myself be that.

I take what it has to offer, feel it changing me. After a while, I begin to feel at ease, if not at home. I navigate more easily, am less self-conscious about my French, stop being afraid of the tall, slim waiters with their noses in the air. I ask for beurre. Je voudrais beurre, s’il vous plait.

We walk the streets from Tuileries to Opera, to Les Halles to Le Marais. From St. Germain to Les Invalides. We picnic at the Eiffel Tower. We ride the Metro twice, but mainly we just walk and walk. We walk to Monmartre, catch a silly little bus that looks like a train at the Moulin Rouge and ride it to Sacré Coeur. We eat and shop and laugh and argue and parent on the streets of Paris. We do our laundry, go to the grocery store, try to do some sit-ups in absence of the gym. But the mundane is magical. We feel our life in Florida drifting farther and farther away. We are bad about answering email, messages piling up. I fail to blog, although I intended to do it regularly. But it feels all right, this disconnect, as though maybe we needed it and didn’t know it.


Museums are not easy with a toddler. We learn this the hard way. Our daughter screams and runs past Monet’s Water Lilies, unappreciative of art, only interested in crackers and using the potty. She weaves through sculptures at the Musée d’Orsay, enjoys the echo at Napoleon’s tomb. At Versailles, they won’t let us bring our stroller for reasons we don’t understand. Rather than spend our time trying to keep her from climbing on the bed of Louis XIV, we go to the gardens, which are amazing enough to satisfy and justify the silly tourist bus trip we for which we paid too much.

Our girl runs amok at Pére-Lachaise, the cemetery where Chopin and Jim Morrison rest (on the days when we are not visiting). She is drawn to every jagged stone and broken bit of path, every littered piece of broken glass. My time there is not relaxing, meditative as I naively hoped, spent as it is soothing a scraped knee, keeping her off the graves, and reminding her that this is a “quiet place.”

We manage a sitter, and visit The Louvre alone – on Wednesday and Friday, it’s open until 10 PM. Somehow it’s not the same without our daughter’s commentary. “Oooh! It’s beautiful, Mommy,” she would say. Then, musically, “I think I need a snack. I THINK I NEED A SNACK, PLEASE!”

Music Suddenly

On a solo voyage, I visit St. Eustache a gorgeous church in Les Halles. It’s dark and a little run down, but that doesn’t diminish its dignity – maybe enhances it. Coincidental to my visit, a group of young and brilliant students is playing the organ during a master class. A graying, wild-haired instructor leans over a young Asian girl, stopping her every few bars with this comment or that, she nods her head and tries again. Then he lets her play, and it’s astounding. The organ at St. Eustache is the largest organ in Paris, surpassing those at Notre Dame and Saint Suplice with its nearly 8000 pipes. The sound swells, and sweeps and fills the giant vaulted space with round, haunting tones. I was rapt for an hour. The music was so rich, so dark and gothic, so beautiful.

The Kiss

I notice lots of kissing on the street, in parks, by fountains. People just making out without a care that anyone might be looking. No wonder, I think. Paris women are effortlessly beautiful, chic, unselfconscious, slim, striding across concrete and cobblestone, riding on motorcycles in spiked heels. No wonder they are always being kissed. They are not bleached and over-tanned, emaciated or over-exercised. They are naturally, easily gorgeous and know it. Even those women who might not be classic beauties are sexy, attractive. I have a sense that they know and value the uniqueness of individual beauty, don’t strive to fit into some impossible mold. They are a reflection of the city around me, grand but lovely, aware of a place in the dreams of the rest of the world.

C’est La Vie

There’s something just so civilized about Paris compared to other cities like New York. There’s certainly a pace, a high-energy throb, but without the frenetic edge that I sense in Manhattan. Parisians know how to relax in a way I suspect Americans don’t. In New York, you wouldn’t find a young professional napping beneath a tree in a park during her lunch break. But you might in Paris. There is no guilt associated with pleasure. The right to relax — to just be — is inalienable, not something earned. The rush for profit, the striving to please, the hustle to be thinner, richer, younger, to have more – maybe it’s all here, too. But these attitudes don’t seem to drive Parisians. They are driven by pleasure, enjoyment, friends, family, joie de vive. Paris is an old city, ancient compared to any in America. It’s wiser, has learned through strife and revolution, war and triumph, that the key to enjoyment, to living well, is just slowing down and appreciating what is in front of you. Nothing gets done faster or better in a blind, desperate rush to the finish.

More than any fancy bauble or yummy treat, it’s this attitude that I want to bring home with me. The disconnect from our life reveals how inorganic some of our thoughts and habits have become, almost as though we’re addicted to stress – don’t want it, don’t need it, but succumb to it just the same.

We have been home for a little over a week and Paris is still with us. As we settle back into our routine we feel refreshed, renewed and revitalized by our time away. And we do feel changed by our brief stint as a Parisian family. I think about the beautiful parks, and the banks of the Seine and the café were I sat and wrote while looking across Pont Royal at the Louvre. We are happy to be back at the beach, in the home that we love but when we close our eyes we are seeing the views from our Paris windows.

Traveling to a place for five weeks is not really a vacation, it’s an experience. Traveling with your toddler — well, I understand why most people don’t. You move your life there. You live in an apartment, go grocery shopping, do your laundry, exercise, work. So it’s more intense than your normal life, because you’re living it in a place where you don’t speak the language very well, that’s totally different from home. It’s the full rainbow, the hard stuff is a bit harder — the plane, the potty, naptime, bedtime battles. It’s not as disappointing to leave Target because your kid is having a meltdown as it is to leave a museum that you might not have the opportunity to see again. But the great stuff, every wonderful new discovery and experience, every lovely treat and beautiful sight is so much richer for experiencing it with our daughter. Watching her chasing pigeons and feeding ducks, running on a playground, riding a pony for the first time, hearing her say “Merci!” The sound of her delighted laughter in the parks of Paris is my favorite song.

When you’re living in a flat for an extended period — as opposed to staying in a hotel for a week — the difference I think is that you’re more visitor than tourist. A tourist goes to a destination, races to see the mandatory sites, takes a few snaps and brings the experience home framed and narrated. The visitor returns home changed, having experienced a real life in another country, brings a bit of that life back and weaves it into the one briefly left behind. It’s not as relaxing as say a stay at a spa, this type of travel. But it stays with you forever.

What I read in Paris:

Case Histories and One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

Christine Falls by Benjamin Black

While They Slept by Kathryn Harrison

What I was listening to:

The Killers (Still! I love this band!)

The Cranberries

What we watched on our many nights in:

Burn Notice: Seasons 1 & 2

The Shield: Season 6


  1. Agi on November 9, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    Like I live in Paris 25years but i am still foreighner japanese girl.., Your Paris journal was touche. very interesting report.that’s impression of touriste but very sincere.which we almost forgoten.You are always Bien Venu a Paris!(well come back Paris)

    regrette you did not appeared at WHS Smith on Rue Rivoly.How about Lisa Miscione book going?

  2. Anonymous ( for privacy purposes) on January 14, 2009 at 3:55 am

    Lisa, I was deeply moved when I read, in Chapter 5 of Beautiful Lies,Ridley’s description of how she thought of her brother ie hating/loving/pitying/worrying, a tsunami of emotions.I have 3 brothers each of whom has/is a heroin addict and this paragraph described how I have often felt in the last 30 years. I was then curious as to whether a person could so accurately describe this devastation without having some personal experience which brought me to this web site. I will say that even after 30 years I have as yet been unable to accept the brothe, with whom I shared the closest child/teen relationship, for who he is rather than what I want him to be as you describe in the epilogue to the novel.