Lufthansa Highlights: "A perfect weekend in Paris"
A gentle and balmy breeze often circulates in Paris, apparently starting at the river, which may indeed have brought it into town. The breeze rumples hair and rustles the newspapers of the people sitting at the sidewalk cafes. It peers around corners and blows in gusts down the Champs-Elysées. It streams through the Arc de Triumphe, swings under the Eiffel Tower, and provides tailwind to the tourists clambering up the broad flights of stairs to Sacré-Coeur. Like these tourists, the breeze also visits the adjacent Place du Tertre, where portrait artists with little grey Toulouse-Lautrec beards offer their services to the tourists. The breeze goes unnoticed by most people, but it contributes to their good humor. It lightens their step and mood, caresses their skin, and carries voices and fragrances toward them and away again. Paris is, so to speak, in the air.
Somehow it's always springtime in Paris. Of course, the city on the Seine has three other seasons as well, including a chilly and often damp winter. But even if you have to turn up your collar and wrap your scarf a bit tighter – you still feel a touch of spring in the air. Perhaps it's because France's capital is a place of perpetual zest for life.
One might expect Paris to stagger under the weight of its long history, with nostalgia, if not melancholy, dominating the mood of a city whose architecture at every turn calls to mind the achievements of yesteryear. But Paris never feels old and cold. It feels young and vibrant. Why is that? This is just one of the secrets that Paris holds without divulging. But maybe there are clues in its savoir-vivre, art, and light. And the Parisians themselves are also part of the story. First-time visitors to Paris often think they know what's in store for them.
All the preconceptions! They "know" the city from this film scene or that one. Naturally, these scenes are all true and all false at the same time.
That's why it's better to leave such baggage at home. Like other great cities, Paris cannot be reduced to a set of clichés. Certainly, a river called the Seine does flow through it; the poignant sound of accordion music can be heard as one strolls; traffic does clog the streets; and many people are elegantly dressed. But all that is superficial. Finding the real Paris is more like solving a detective story written by Fred Vargas (who, by the way, lives in Montparnasse). You don't do it by following the obvious leads, but by looking around corners that are off the beaten track.
Where are such corners? Everywhere! But not where tourists throng. Look instead in the 13th arrondissement, where Paris has a small town feel. But also look in unlikely places, such as in the 18th arrondissement: Montmartre. Between the rue des Abbesses and the rue Lamarck, a five minute walk away from the crowds, you'll find a Paris that seems out of place in the modern world.
Here the cobblestones in the road are all crooked, the cars park bumper to bumper, and everyone's side view mirror is held on by duct tape. Here a little cobbler's shop stands next to a theater featuring artsy movies, and a jewelry maker's shop adjoins that of a plumber, whose neighbors are a Moroccan butcher and an Asian-run crêperie. This is a quarter of undiscovered artists and sleepy-eyed beauties who trudge to the baker in the mornings in wispy negligees and flip-flops and return with a baguette under their arm.
The facades are a bit crumbly, the bistro tables wobble, the metro entrances are surrounded by wrought ironwork, and hangovers abound.
There are places in Paris that seem at some point to have fallen out of the continuum of time and into a parallel universe, where they endure unchanged, though all around them is in flux. Stepping inside such a place is like walking through a door into another era.
Naturally this is an experience you can have in the museums, where you might expect it. But it's something that can happen to you anywhere in this city. You walk into a bistro, and suddenly it's 1926. You're drinking a pastis at a bar when the bartender puts on a jazz record, and you're back in the 1960s. Rome is called the Eternal City, but Paris has everything that Rome has, except for truly ancient ruins. Paris is a time machine with a vortex none can resist.
Of course, things do change in this city that always remains true to itself. For instance, the "in" neighborhood changes every month. "What, you're still living in the 13th arrondissement! We moved to the 1st eons ago." Party banter is the same the world over.
But you still come away with the feeling that this is the city that the forces of global urbanization could not subjugate. Paris is eternally Paris. The best approach is to trust the city and let it take you where it will. Resist the temptation to rush from one tourist attraction to the next, and leave the guide book in your hotel room. Wander around a few corners and let yourself be overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells of what’s there.
Otherwise, enjoy the gentle breeze from the river and the touch of springtime.