It was the lime green pleather jumpsuit with a hot-pink plastic zipper down the front that told the tale. This was no ordinary Parisan woman strolling past my table at 6 a.m. as I dipped my croissant in coffee near the Gare de l ’Est rail station. Rather, this vibrantly clad neon woman was a “poole,” a street walker, a hooker, a whore, a what have you – she was a prostitute, don’t you know – and as a 16-year-old virginal Midwestern Catholic school girl freshly flown in as a foreign exchange student in 1980, I was thrilled!
Surrounded by Indiana cornfields, we don’t get a lot of polyester-clad prostitutes strolling past the breakfast table fresh from stimulating the economy. It’s a somewhat tamer atmosphere. Given the lack of adventure, I often find myself wanting more. And that, my friends, is why I travel.
It’s been 32 years since I last set foot in Paris and my bucket list for adventure has grown. In that time, I’ve managed to wet my way down the ice toboggan at the winter festival in Quebec City, catch a tiny crab with my inner ear while diving off Key Largo, and chase big city rats for a photo op in Central Park, but now it’s time to go back to the grande dame that is Paris, pen in hand, and cross off a few items. The lime green jumpsuit I imagine is long since gone, though I doubt it’s deteriorated much in the landfill, and as for the hooker – well, who knows? But the city is still there as are the croissants and the coffee and the people, and when I do get back, here’s what I hope to accomplish:
1) Eat my way through a moveable feast.
As clichéd as Hemingway’s Paris may sound to the well heeled and better traveled than I, it’s still my go-to dream when the laundry’s piled high and my teenagers’ socks smell like runny French cheese. Having devoured that book more than once, it’s time to walk in Ernie and Hadley’s footsteps no matter how many decades separate us. Much like them, I desire a decent meal at a good café on the Place St.-Michel when a bitter wind blows the rain sodden leaves from the trees in Place de la Contrescarpe. And I too will wile away a windy day wrapped in the musty warmth of the Shakespeare and Company bookstore where I’m sure I can find a less tattered version of this Hemingway classic.
2) Strike the mountain pose at sunrise in the Square Jean XXIII
They say yoga is a great stress reliever, but when I strike a pose my husband sticks a frying pan in my outstretched arms and balances a package of bacon on my head. Not so in the Square Jean XXIII – it’s refreshingly oven free. Butting up against the flying buttresses of Notre-Dame (perfect inspiration for a day of downward-facing-dog) this peaceful oasis alongside the river offers up gardens, trees, immense manicured walkways and a gurgling fountain, all within the shadow of this classic cathedral. Accessed by St.Stephen’s door within Notre Dame, it is a sea of sunrise calm and a great way to kick off a day filled with plans of completing item No. 3.
3) Partake in a mini communion marathon at church after church after church…
As Catholics go, I’m far from devote, but exploring unknown churches – the more cathedral like the better – leaves me drooling like an old priest over a new alter boy. Everything about ancient cathedrals leaves me breathless – from the smell of burning beeswax and incense, to the smooth feel of the well worn stone floors underfoot, to the broken multi-colored light streaming through brittle stained glass – it’s sigh inducing on so many levels. And in Paris, one can trip over an ancient church like a Starbucks in Seattle– they’re everywhere – which necessitates a plan.
For me, it’s not enough to just visit these timeless treasures. No, my desire is to become a part of their active history and ancient ritual by taking in a quick half-hour mass with communion to follow in as many churches as I can stumble into before the communion wine sinks me like the Titanic. Thus distant is a factor, leading me to start off with the queen of all churches – Notre Dame (hence the a.m. yoga session) – followed by her adorable kid sister, Sainte-Chapelle of the glowing Rose window fame. After a hearty chug of communion wine, it’s time to sprint four blocks northeast to the hulking queen that is St.-Eustache where I can recover in her quiet Gothic beauty before hailing a cab to the Latin Quarter where St.-Severin will treat me to one of the finest examples of medieval architecture in the city.
And if four masses and communion don’t get me off the hook for that priest joke, perhaps I can cage absolution with a quickie confession at St.-Paul-St.-Louis, built in 1641 for Cardinal Richeleu. On second thought, maybe not.
4) Burn a hole in my Batobus pass
Given my family’s Navy roots and sailing background, I can’t visit any water-wealthy locale and not set foot on a boat. Fortunately, Paris accommodates in that regard with its hop on, hop off Batobus, the floating equivalent of a city bus which navigates the Seine hitting all of its high points, both Left Bank and Right. Boats run on a generous schedule with departures happening every 17 to 35 minutes – the difference, I imagine, being a function of traveling upstream or down and whether any bodies are floating by – one of the seedy habitual uses of the river by pissed off Parisians since ancient times.
5) Channel my inner gypsy at Bistrot d’ Eustache
Much as I love exploring churches and riding on boats, they pale in comparison to my first real love – eating good food – and in Paris, one can eat some seriously good food. But who doesn’t appreciate dinner and a show, especially when that show includes local musicians playing some seriously hot gypsy jazz? Get there early on a Thursday night when this tiny little handkerchief of a restaurant features live musicians, chain yourself to a table, order up the house specialty and prepare to be entertained.
And next – wait, what? We’re limited to five? But how can one limit a city like Paris to a bucket list of five? Who doesn’t also want to discover some unknown starving artist? Or snag an invite to an autumn house party on Ile St. Louis? Or swing by No. 51 Rue de Montmorency and see if Nicholas Flamel left behind any useful anti-aging tips?
Well, five it is, and it’s a start and from there more items for the list will most definitely come. Because a bucket list is never EVER really finished, is it? Much like a grocery list, there’s always one more item to add.
So, what’s on yours?