One of the things I’ll remember most about my time in Paris is the people. Although difficult to describe, what I loved about this trip was the nearness — to the sights and sounds and smells of Paris, yes, but mostly to the people, and to the language. Not only is it not something I’m sure I can describe, it’s also not something I realized I missed.
I’ll never be an insider in France — not even if I lived there twenty years, I don’t think. It’s something not just about being foreign, but about being American. Even with my outsider status, though, I felt among Paris, among its people. It’s difficult not to; they live in the city, on it, all over it — on the sidewalks, in the cafés on every corner, in and around the magnificent parks and public spaces, walking, always talking, drinking espresso and eating a snack or resting for a moment in a chair in the Jardin du Luxembourg or the Tuileries, reading a magazine, taking a nap. I found a quote from Mark Twain, who wrote that Paris street life is “so frisky, so affable, so fearfully and wonderfully Frenchy! … Two hundred people sat at little tables on the sidewalk, sipping wine and coffee; the streets were thronged with light vehicles and joyous pleasure-seekers; there was music in the air, life and action all about us.”*
As an outsider it is easy to mingle with Parisians, because Parisians are everywhere. But I am likewise everywhere noticing them, which simultaneously puts me both intimately within and forever beyond their ordinary life.
in the Luxembourg Gardens
along the Bd. Saint-Germain
in the Jardin des Tuileries
*Jill Jonnes quotes Twain on p. 41 of her book, Eiffel’s Tower: the thrilling story behind Paris’s beloved monument and the extraordinary world’s fair that introduced it.