Je Suis en Terrasse: The French make sure that we'll always have Paris


Je Suis en Terrasse, or at least I was a week ago Thursday, one day before Paris became a city under siege. I sat outside at Le Village Ronsard, a cafe overlooking the tiny Maubert street market in the Latin Quarter. It was the final morning of a week-long visit to Paris. I rose early to say "goodbye until next time" over a last café crème. Shopkeepers arranged their stalls with oranges and apples, scarves and hats, raspberry tarts and jars of homemade pâté. A man rolled a rack of 15-euro sweaters along the sidewalk. A woman emerged from the Metro, unfolded a scooter and zipped along the sidewalk on her way to work.


Hat vendor at the Marche Maubert 

There are dozens of markets like this in Paris, most surrounded by cafes with terraces where the French meet before or after shopping. It's where I come to people-watch, an activity that, for me, tops lunch at a five-star restaurant.

The Parisians might call me a "flâneur" - a name taken from a 19th century stroller who made a pastime out of wandering the streets with no plan in mind other than reveling in the unexpected and feasting on visual delights.

If Paris is still on your agenda, and it should be, I encourage you to set aside some time to do the same. Take a break from the "must do'' check list, and spend time delving into the pleasures of everyday life Parisians so enjoy.

“'#JeSuisenTerrasse (I'm on the terrace) has emerged as a popular social-media meme — in the vein of the #JeSuisCharlie campaign," writes Paris resident Lisa Anselmo in New York Magazine. "But this time, it’s more than a show of solidarity; it’s a big middle finger to those who would dare think they could kill the spirit of the city."


Relaxing on the Place des Vosges

Visitors seeking a sense of "safety'' will find it not among the military men in fatigues patrolling the major sites, but rather among the people on the terraces, in the parks and in the neighborhood bistros. 

A few ideas for making your own French connections:

Leave the tourist areas and book a hotel, Airbnb or traditional B&B in a residential neighborhood. The Paris Metro and bus system makes it easy to be most anywhere in 10 or 15 minutes, so rather than staying next door to the Eiffel Tower or Champs-Élysées, why not settle into a part of Paris that middle-class locals call home? 

The Lux Picpus

I like hotels such as the little two-star Lux Picpus where I stayed recently in the 12th arrondissement. There are hundreds of hotels like this around Paris, filled mostly by European travelers on a tighter budget than most Americans.

My newly-renovated $79-a-night room came with a new shower, toilet, fridge, television and plenty of light. The morning started with a generous breakfast buffet of coffee, juice, eggs, fruit, yogurt, cold meats, granola, pastries, bread and cheese. Best of all was the neighborhood and it collection of small businesses. There were two excellent bakeries, a dry cleaners, a laundry, several banks, a "bio" (organic) grocery, a supermarket, a Thai restaurant, a few bistros and a family-run tea salon where the young owners served a tasty vegetable quiche and salad for around $10. 

The Wednesday/Saturday neighborhood outdoor market was the friendly Marché Cours de Vincennes where vendors cater to locals rather than tourists. When I handed over a one-euro coin for a lemon-flavored cannoli, a baker slipped an extra into my bag. 

Next, find a way to connect with members of the ex-pat community, a large and diverse group of Americans and Canadians who live in Paris all or part of the year. 

If you're here on a Sunday, have dinner with Jim Haynes, an American living in Paris who has been hosting guests in his Left Bank apartment every Sunday night for more than 35 years. Anyone's invited (see the website for details), and no one leaves without making a few new acquaintances. Volunteer cooks whip up vats of fork-friendly food. The wine flows as guests eat standing and chatting. Mary Bartlett, who divides her time between Portland, Oregon and Paris, was on kitchen duty the night I attended, my third dinner with Jim in seven years. On the menu was pumpkin soup, a roasted pork and rice dish, tiramisu and non-stop conversation. 

Drop into the Café de la Mairie in the Marais from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month for Paris Parler Apres Midi, hosted by the well-connected Adrian Leeds, a property expert, writer and blogger. Leeds books a guest speaker each month for a talk followed by discussion and socializing. Mystery writer Cara Black spoke in November. Coming up in December is Sibel Pinto, author of "The sweet and sour journey of the Turkish Sephardic cuisine." 
 
Adrian Leeds and Cara Black at Apres Midi

Extend these connections by spending a morning or afternoon with a Paris native. A volunteer organization called Paris Greeters invites you to "Come as a visitor, leave as a friend," by making arrangements to spend a few hours walking and discovering a neighborhood with an English-speaking local. I didn't book a greeter this time in Paris, but I did in Lyon where a friend and I spent a delightful day exploring the Old Town and a Sunday market while eating fresh oysters and sipping white wine with the enthusiastic Valerie Heitz, 44, a resident of Lyon for 17 years. 

Paris is a cosmopolitan city with a diverse ethnic make-up. Parts of it can feel like being in India, Israel or the Middle East.  Take the Metro to La Chapelle and have lunch in a Sri Lankan restaurant or browse the shop windows filled with Indian saris and  Tunisean pastries. 

Most importantly, take note of what you see and experience beyond what you expect. When a false bomb threat interrupted my visit to the Grand Palais, I took it as an opportunity to observe how the French handle an evacuation.  Since most everyone had checked their coats, the staff distributed gold "rescue blankets'' to keep us warm while we waited outside.


Keeping warm at the Grand Palais

If you're brave enough not to cancel your trip, and visit Paris in the next few weeks or months, you will be rewarded. The dollar is strong. Tourists are few. Lines are short.
"If you take no risks, if you have no pain, you will also have no gain," Adrian Leeds writes in her recent Paris Parler newsletter. "I'll take the risk. I'll endure the pain, and I'll welcome the gain."

Your table awaits.



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