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An American In Paris

August 11th, 2009 · 17 Comments

If you haven’t been there, it seems all too romanticized, all very cheesy, existential, bohemian — LaCroix dahling, LaCroix — so so fucking French. If you have been there, you have your own Paris, it’s yours, and believe it or not it is, will always be, better than mine.

I just learned this last night. Everyone has his or her own Paris. Parises are like snowflakes, or maybe more appropriately, like Rorschach tests. Each is unique, and you see only what YOU see.

“You have to go to this restaurant in the Fifth, called Frommage. Cheese! It’s called Cheese, that’s all they serve,” said a friend of my who is (and I’m not kidding) a cardiologist.

The “Fifth” refers to the Fifth Arrondissement, or district, which is how people talk about Paris. (Yes, I know you know that, from your semester abroad, or your honeymoon, or your back-packing trip around the Europe right out of college, but I didn’t know that until I’d marked nearly a half-century in small to medium-sized American towns, so other people may not, so shut up.) Like New Yorkers talk about Uptown, Midtown, Downtown, The Village, etc. In Paris it’s The Fifth, the Fourth, the Eighteenth, and some Arrondissement’s have very distinctive personalities and characters, they rise and fall in and out of fashion. But now you know what that means when someone says something like, “Oh, there’s this amazing Chocolatier in the Sixth.” Something that makes up their Paris.

“Look at all the figures over the doorway in Notre Dame,” says my friend Barry. “They’re supposed to be apostles, but they gathered all the Jews from the Marais to model.”

The Marais is the traditionally Jewish neighborhood of Paris, there will be more about that, but that’s where Barry, a New York born Jew living in Marin found his Paris.

“I proposed to my wife on the Pont Neuf,” said my publisher when I told him I was going to write a book set in Paris. “And then we were robbed at gunpoint and escaped by jumping across the path of a moving car.”

The Pont Neuf is the oldest bridge in Paris, dating back to the 16th century, and covered with stone masks of old gods and heroes that have had to be replaced many times over the years as they were eroded away by the acid rain. It’s also where my publisher found his Paris, clearly in a scene out of a Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn movie. (There will be photos, but I haven’t left yet.)

“Pont”, is the French word for bridge, by the way, so you haven’t wasted your time. You’ll always know that now.

“I love to just sit in the Place du Royal in the Marais,” says my friend Valerie. “Just sit there, reading a book, with the sun on my face, watching the people go by.”

“There’s a little restaurant, about half-way up Mont Martre,” says my agent. “Called La Maison Rouge, just the kind of place you want to stop and have a sandwich and a coffee and take stock of your day.”

Everyone has his Paris, I’m fixin’ to go find mine, and I’m going to share it, as much as I can, here, with you.

Oh, I’m going to get shit wrong, seriously wrong. I’m going to misspell the shit out of French words, and I’m going to tell you stuff that your art history teacher back in 1983 told you completely differently. That’s okay. I’m always the last one to know, and I’m sort of used to you guys always knowing how to spell and whatnot. And your shit is right in your Paris, but this is my Paris, we’re talking about. Paris is like The Forbidden Planet that way – where the aliens reached into your mind, then constructed your own fantasy for you out of your consciousness. ( And I’m not going to have time to stay up all night Wikipeding and spell checking – and French just about makes the spellchecker ‘splode with frustration. So there will be wrong shit. That’s why God gave you Google, because I cannot be trusted.) My Paris!

Oh, I’ve been there before, just a couple of years ago, when I was researching Fool, and I was really just stopping over on my way to look at some Medieval cities in other parts of France, but if I had to say now, my Paris, beyond the Polar Bear sculpture at the Musee D’Orsay, or the hot dogs served in a hollowed-out baguette, with melted brie and Dijon mustard off a cart on the Champs de Elysees. (Which you pronounce, more or less, shaaamps d’leesay, and means, Elysian Fields, or “Field where our heroes are buried”. It’s one of the wide boulevards in Paris, a highly fashionable one, at the end of which is that big-ass arch you always see in pictures, The Arc de Triomphe, which Napoleon built because he felt that Paris should have a Big Ass Arch. ), my Paris is summed up in the picture below, which was taken by Charlee, the mysterious woman who has lived with me for the last 15 years and whom I have met several times.

This was taken at about 8:00 in the morning, on a Tuesday, on MontMartre, which is the almost rural butte right in the middle of Paris (where the Impressionists lived and painted, as well as Van Gogh, Lautrec, Gauguin, the composer Eric Satee, where the Chat Noir nightclub, that you seen the poster for a million times, was located, and were Amelie was filmed — for the most part.)

I call it “Morning Love.” These two have obviously had a long night looking for their own Paris. Dancing may have been involved.


I leave in a couple of days. I’ll report in soon from Paris. Come on, it will be fun.

Tags: Travel · Uncategorized

17 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Zoe // Aug 11, 2009 at 2:00 am

    I vaguely recall hearing people refer to ‘the fourth’ or whatever, and assumed they were talking about streets or something. Although upon reflection I should have realised it’s probably only America where streets have such imaginative names as fifth avenue…So thanks for clearing that up.

    I look forward to visiting Paris one day. I think the trick when going Anywhere, is to head in the opposite direction from the tourists.

  • 2 patty // Aug 11, 2009 at 2:56 am

    Okay, “pont” is French for bridge, and frommage is just cheese, yet you still write “fixin’ to” like a Texan… love that you’re finding your Paris.

    Only in Paris would a fat chick, horizontal on a bench on a Tuesday morning, look beautiful.

  • 3 Nathalie (Spacedlaw) // Aug 11, 2009 at 4:23 am

    Good luck with your Paris. I hope it doesn’t bite (it can be a little rabid on account of all those wild French people living there – I should know, I used to be one of them).

  • 4 Laura J // Aug 11, 2009 at 5:17 am

    Charlee sounds enigmatic and dangerous. Is she the same person every time you meet…or ONLY PRETENDING? Be careful. Also, remember to drink a lot of water on the airplane. If you don’t have a digital camera, consider the FujiFinepix. Have fun.

  • 5 Joannajax // Aug 11, 2009 at 6:19 am


    … I think? Unless someone else has posted between the time I clicked on the link and the time I finished reading this.

    Anywho. Thanks for the entertainment Authorguy. Man… I feel like a stalker… but I swear… I’m not… besides, I’m all the way in Japanland… :O

  • 6 Jay // Aug 11, 2009 at 7:07 am

    ‘Finding one’s Paris’ perfectly explains how one person can love a city and another consider the same place a total sh*thole.

    Then again, there are some cities that suck no matter what.

  • 7 Shannon // Aug 11, 2009 at 8:26 am

    Congrats on finding your own Paris: I cannot wait to see how it plays into your writing.

    And that photo is fantastic!

  • 8 gretchenfaith // Aug 11, 2009 at 9:27 am

    Well, now you’ve made me all nostalgic for my Paris, (circa Spring Semester of Junior Year, 1993.)

    I love that photo, taken by your mysterious lady friend. And I am very excited to read a book from you, set in France.

    Bon voyage!

  • 9 Shirley // Aug 11, 2009 at 9:59 am

    This has been subscribed to and your adventures are eagerly awaited. Have fun!

  • 10 Maiochka // Aug 11, 2009 at 10:00 am

    J’ai envie de vous dire, en tant que parisienne, que le Marais est aujourd’hui plus repéré comme un quartier avec une forte population homosexuelle (et à la pointe de la mode et de la “branchouille”) et que le sandwich des Champs Elysée est sûrement au prix du Champagne partout ailleurs. Je ne vous ferai pas l’affront de vous en dire plus, vous laissant construire votre Paris et faire d’autres belles rencontres en jupe jaune.

    (…Vous pouvez bien sûr googleler ce message pour le traduire sans honte et sans peur, c’est bien ce que j’ai fait avec votre article!)

  • 11 Amy // Aug 11, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    I can’t wait to follow along on this journey. But it seems the more I hear about Paris the more I hate it. Never been, never cared to go, because listening to other people gush their lungs out over Paris just makes me more determined to avoid it. I have no doubt though, that I will devour whatever you write about it, just because you’re talented enough to make me change my mind.

    I can’t wait to hear more– and thanks for sharing this with us. I’m sure I speak for your entire cult fan base when I say that every world you write is one i would like to be a part of.

  • 12 Marayna Dickinson // Aug 11, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    My god, I’m there right now. As in, now. These words are coming from Parisians particles and ions and what not. I’m breathing them now (not the words, the particles and ions and what not)

    I would die to have lunch with you while you were in town. To avoid sounding increasing insane, I’ll just leave it at that. Oh and – SWF 25 years old, 5 foot 4, 110 pounds, still looking for her Paris.

    You know my e-mail.

  • 13 Peter Cavell // Aug 11, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    Beautiful photo! Your Paris sounds much more pleasant than mine

  • 14 Kathi // Aug 11, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    I’ve been to Paris twice,… and it’s TRUE, I DO have my OWN Paris! Thanks for pointing that out, Chris! But,… from just reading YOUR one blog on Paris… I know SO MUCH more! I want to fly there tomorrow and see if I can bump into you. Or,… be on a bench kissing my lover. One of the two… Oh Yeah!!!

  • 15 Cecilia // Aug 17, 2009 at 9:49 am

    My Paris…even though I’ve never been there.

    I enjoy life’s menagerie so am sure I would love visiting Paris. I’ve only been to Mexico as a kid, was briefly in and out of Canada & Victoria, BC, visited Jamaica a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I didn’t stay in one of those ‘fru fru’ inns where you never have to leave the ‘compound’ so felt I was closer to the locals. I think acquainting oneself with different cultures & art, their viewpoints on life, ways of making a day-to-day living and their language gives you an appreciation for the diversity in this world and a fresh outlook & introspection on your own life and country.

    As far as Paris, I’d love to visit Notre Dame to see the gargoyles. I still remember Charles Laughton jumping about and hanging from the gargoyles in the film, “Hunchback of Notre Dame” although I’m sure it was filmed in a studio…not Paris. And you probably thought I was going to say with anguish as I covered my ears, “The bells, the bells…!” I adore & collect gargoyles, currently just smaller ones…someone stole my large concrete gargoyle that was outside guarding my garden…the dirty rat…hope he/she got a hernia! Guess someone should have been guarding the gargoyle. Paris also reminds me of Bogart & Bergman in Casablanca…you know…”We’ll always have Paris”… with a kiss & goodbye. Great flick!

    Your mysterious 15 yr. mate, Charlee, took a wonderful photo of a couple obviously winding down from a long but hopefully fun night out.

    Master Moore, keep up your unique style of writing & enjoy your travels, incorporating what you see in your tomes. I loved “Fool” and think it was your best so far! Thank you for making me laugh. We all need to laugh out loud these days….good for the soul, body & psyche!

    Adieu …Cecilia

  • 16 normzone // Aug 23, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    I love that image. Great work, Charlee!

  • 17 Chris Moore // May 13, 2010 at 8:26 am

    Am just now reading this. Hope it isn’t too late to comment.

    My first visit to Paris was about 6 years ago with sister and daughter. I had fun trying to figure out how to work all the various non-standardized potties. I once even had to ask a waitress in a cafe how to operate theirs – much to my sister’s horror. Turns out it was the squatty potty type that I had mistaken for a shower stall.

    After Paris, I have a new respect for the humble fixture called American Standard…..

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