You must remember this: “We’ll always have Paris,” Rick tells Ilsa in the fictional film Casablanca, recalling the splendor of their pre-World War II romance that ended with the Nazi’s invasion of France. Well, real-life Americans seemingly have always loved Paris (perhaps not always the French) but in recent years did not “have Paris.” The invasion of the Coronavirus-19 stopped transatlantic travelers at the borders. Things have changed, and spring-summer 2022 Americans were back…big time. It is hard to walk on a street on Paris’ Left Bank or head to a museum or department store in Central Paris without hearing lots of American accents. Plenty of families, and so, so many young women indulging in the atmospherics and some Rick-and-Ilsa-style romance in the City of Lights. The influx could be heard in April and more so in May, but in June it became remarkable to the ear—at least to my ears. The sounds of Italian and Spanish were not as absent during the past two years as American English, but they, too, are now adding more and more to the current tourist buzz. Try to get a weekend dinner reservation now. Good luck. I love it.
Hot times and summer in the city has always sent Parisians to the countryside, to the sea, to maisons secondaires, or even to New York. Summer tourists arrive, Parisians depart…but not all of them…and only for a month…or two. Amusing. This summer like the past few is literally hot, hot. You know the temperature times are a-changing story. Some years ago, the Office of the Mayor decided to dump truckload after truckload of sand on closed roadways on the banks of the Seine in the heart of Paris near City Hall, and Paris Plage was born. These artificial beaches, authenticated with some palm trees and food outlets, were designed to add a little leisure respite and fantasy to the hot and humid summer weather for those Parisians who had not escaped the streets of the city. I’ve always wondered, though, about the people who remain in the city who do so because they are working (or are without means) and are not out sunbathing on the banks of the Seine. And the youngsters and people who are at liberty aren’t based in the dead center of Paris. Ah, well, the tourists enjoy the unique spectacle. Floating swimming pools have even been added. Seabreeze, though, it ain’t. Stay cool. Walk the streets at night. Visit the air-conditioned museums and department stores and shops during high noon.
Now that people have Paris in their travel plans again, it seems time for a few useful updated travel experience notes and recommendations.
Vistas: We’ll always have Montmartre and the steps of the Sacré Coeur church for an amazing panoramic view over the city, and the Eiffel Tower for that matter as well. The view from the terrace of the Centre Pompidou, the Renzo Piano designed modern and contemporary art museum colloquially known as Beaubourg, isn’t bad but not in quite the same class. The terrace of the department store Printemps (74 blvd. Haussman) is as is the nearby Galleries Lafayette, but now added to those is the reopened belle époque design era department store La Samaritaine and its adjacent sister luxe hotel Cheval Blanc, both along the Seine. The views are super, especially in the fine dining bar and restaurants atop the hotel.
Street Markets: Just as in New York where the finest beef and other edibles in America find their way along with colorful farm-to-table markets bringing the ripest seasonal fruit and vegetables as well as local fish and meat to hungry becs fins, Paris gets the best of the best in France—from every cheese beyond imagination to everything bio and the results of ever refined taste testing. For me, a visit to the Sunday bio Marché Raspail in St-Germain-des-Prés near the Hôtel Lutétia and Le Bon Marché department store is obligatory. A proverbial feast for the eyes and palate. Also on the Left Bank in the 5th arr. is the popular Rue Mouffetard Market. On the Right Bank, Marché Aligre in the 12th arr. is an historic standout destination. Add to the list of choices, the Marché Montorgueil in the 1st, a beguiling market street. Also, the food halls in the main location of the department store Printemps as well as in Le Bon Marché are worth a detour.
Japanese Eats and Restaurant Thoughts: Among the changes Covid and inflation have wrought is a lowering of the haute cuisine bar toward a more modest and affordable and basic yet experimental restaurant culture, plus a more international one. Alas, Edward’s favorite and always fully booked restaurant, La Tour d’Argent, closed for year-long renovations mid-2022. And along with seemingly everyone else, our heads and mouths are found more frequently in less august surroundings. For generations Paris offered little more than French cuisine with a little Vietnamese on the side and a few awful Italian restaurants. The Italian restaurants have flourished, the vast majority inferior pizza-based establishments, but a handful are the real thing. The influx of authentic Japanese restaurants and chefs and staff is the real thing and has been remarkable. So, for those visitors who historically craved a big Mac with fries to balance the taste of French bistro fare and its related embellished haute cuisine cousins, now there is sushi and beyond. Here are the two Japanese restaurants in the St-Germain-des-Prés area we frequent…a lot: Yen, 22 rue Saint-Benoit (near Les Deux Magots), and Yoshinori, 18 rue Gregoire de Tours, which has one Michelin star and is something of Japanese-French refined hybrid.
Parks for Kids: People-watching is a Paris tradition, especially sitting at a curbside café, but kid-watching is perhaps kind of suspect, unless you are at a park infested with youngsters, perhaps your own, winning you an hour of relief from the exigencies of child-rearing. Kids playing, often as imitation adults, can be quite drôle…and some over-protective parents acting like obsessive parents can be a comédie humaine of another kind. Of course, the Luxembourg Gardens has several areas reserved for kids and entertainments of varying kinds: pony rides, miniature sailboats, puppet shows, and a couple of playgrounds: I am not sure I get children’s fascination with endlessly going down slides or playing in and with sand. Another child-friendly classic park is the famous Jardin des Tuileries, which has a children’s section as do most pocket parks spread throughout the city. Also consider the Parc André Citroën in the 15th arrondissement with its big playground, and the Parc de la Villette with its “Jardin des Vents et des Dunes” with its engaging play space for children. Of course, keep an eye out for Guignol, the main character in the classic French puppet show which bears his name. Amazing how many of the same entertainments from a century or more ago still mesmerize today’s high-tech kids.
Museums: Emergent during this Covid era is the transformation of the historic and grand commodities exchange in the center of Paris into a museum and commercial center with a fine restaurant (Restaurant-Café, La Halle aux Grains at the Bourse du Commerce). The Japanese architect Tadao Ando did wonders to the building which houses the Collection Pinault focused on contemporary art with eye-catching sculptures and paintings and more. Not too long ago, of course, another major museum, Foundation Louis Vuitton, designed by Frank Gehry opened and has become an obligatory stop on Paris’s museum route. Naturally, the Musée du Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay maintain their top spots not just in Paris but of course in the world. Paris also has many small museums, however, that pay rich visitor rewards. New to that list is one in the 13 arrondissement. Known as La Fab, it has begun to display Agnes B,’s extensive collection of art of all kinds. But have you been to the Musée de Montmartre, which includes a nice garden walk inspired by Renoir paintings and the building that houses the art collection is where Pierre-August Renoir once lived? I like visiting this place. A museum of a different sort is the Musée Carnavalet, which is more a history-of-Paris museum rather than an art center, but also has a nice garden and lots of paintings of what life in Paris looked like over centuries. Need I mention that the modest-sized Musée Rodin belongs in the top rung? Plenty more beckon.
Et voilà, Paris is open for business.