Sunday, December 05, 2010

Paris is Calling

Paris is a new place for me to hang my hat but for a few thousand years people have called it home. It is an amazing city and draws more than 40 million visitors every year. I don't need to sell the place but if you haven't been recently stop in. The water is fine. French is not necessary. Manners are. When you walk into a shop you greet the people there with a Bonjour or Bonsoir after 5pm. (I have seen a street vendor chide a local for asking a question before saying hello. She grovelled and profusely apologized. Think you would see that on Times Square? She was wrong and knew it. Called out. By a street vendor.) Imagine, a city of more than 2 million people (12 million including the 'burbs) where manners matter. It's part of the appeal. And the Parisians are not rude to strangers, no worse than New Yorkers. They just don't interact on the street. In the neighborhoods, in the apartment lobbies and in stores, you must say hello and greet each other.

The Metro system is a dream. $2 gets you all over town in 20 minutes in a clean, well-run system. And no charge for the street musicians but tipping is encouraged. I have been known to drop 4 euros on some of the better acts. The guy with the accordion and boom box blaring in my face gets nothing as I don't want to encourage him. How do you say in French, "Don't give up your day job!"?

There are also thousands of Bistros that offer great food and wine. But when you get seated you might wait for 10 minutes before being offered a drink. Remember your manners. Finger snapping is very counter-productive. Chill and talk with the people you are with. Dining is not all about food here but about sharing time together over a relaxed meal which always includes wine. There are high-end, 3 star venues but my preference is the everyday Bistro with a wine list that is only long enough to fill up a chalk board. End it with a glass of Calvados and a cafe noisette and then head out back to the Metro station wrapped in the warmth of good food and lively companionship.

There are hot restaurants and spots to go but it changes weekly so check with a local. Get away from the tourist spots and hang out in the neighborhoods. But do make it to the museums. They are wonderful as are the grand churches. Even the cemeteries are amazing. Try to find Jim Morrison's grave without a map (Hint: Follow the crowds.) Get ready to walk a few miles though every day so bring comfortable walking shoes, a bag and an umbrella. You will get lost a few times but enjoy the detours. And always bring a camera. For God's sake bring a camera.

There is more but it takes time to cover it all. It's a big city. It's been there two thousand years. I think it will take a lifetime to even begin to scratch the surface. But the lessons you learn there will enrich your life. To be continued....