Magical Montmartre.

I thought the magic of Paris was wrapped tight in the Eiffel Tower; intricately woven, measured but unexpected. Then i thought it was a potion concocted by the Seine wrapping itself around the islands in the middle of the city – the candles glowing in Notre-Dame casting a final color-coded spell. I suspected the secret ingredient to Parisian magic was the wine and the food, flavors bursting and lasting.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But it was when we strolled through the mountainous alleys of Montmartre that i learned where the real magic of Paris is tucked away. And it’s here, the neighborhood once home to Ernest Hemingway and Vincent van Gogh and Satine. (Okay okay, Satine is fictional. But you can’t talk about Montmartre without the Moulin Rouge!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Montmartre is the Paris of absinthe stupor, of romanticized memory. It’s where my mother bought her most treasured keepsake from Paris: an acrylic painting of flowers in a vase. It hung on our dining room wall, the blues singing harmony with the white curtains. She’d told me over and over the place i had to go was Place du Tertre – a cobblestone square where street artists gather, luring tourists into buying caricatures and twenty-minute portraits. My favorite artist stall had done a series of cats sleeping around Paris (so out of character for me, i know) but since J and i had already bought our recreation of van Gogh’s sunflowers i was merely window shopping.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But Place du Tertre is not the only place in Montmartre where art is to be found; the metropolitan signs themselves are works to behold, adjacent to ivy-colored buildings covered in graffiti.

metropolitan

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Scottish flag hanging in Paris! Viva la Scotland!

The Scottish flag hanging in Paris! Vive la Scotland!

Hand-in-hand we strolled along the lanes of art on display, covetously sneaking glances at the cafés offering wine under checkered umbrellas.

Just up the hill we could make out the silhouette of Sacre-Coeur white against the blue sky. It was the last church on our list of Parisian places we wanted to see – making it the sixth church we’d see on our trip.

And it turned out to be our favorite.

Sacre-Couer is unlike anywhere else i’ve been; it has the enormity and grandeur of Notre Dame, but the intimacy and quiet contemplation of a smaller church. The windows are dazzling, bathing the whole place in the lux nova that made gothic architecture such a sensation in medieval France. No photography was permitted inside and, while i am sad to have no photos to remember it by, i was glad for the forced contemplative time. It allowed me the full breathing space of presence.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Awed and quieted by the beautiful building, we meandered back to Place du Tertre for a final glass of wine. Our walk overlooked the whole of the city spread below, the Eiffel Tower stark against the skyline. Paris had enthralled us, the clutter of art and mash of accordion metro musicians just the backdrop to the hum of the city itself.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“We’ll spend a whole week just in Montmartre when we come back, someday,” J mused. Our last Côte du Rhône of the trip was poised in his hand. In the Scottish wool scarf he’d snagged from my wardrobe, he looked downright European.

I scoffed-laughed, a knot of broke-soon-to-be-grad-student-woes clamping in my stomach. I knew what he meant, though. That Montmartre was the neighborhood you wanted to live in a little- learn the streets by heart, pick a favorite haunt for late-night drinks. I felt the same way.

And i knew that this trip was such a gift. A privilege to have the time and money at all to travel. But a gift to spend such time with J, who hadn’t been able to study abroad. A gift to be in love in the city most famous for romance. A gift to stroll alongside the Seine on a sun-dappled afternoon, with no agenda but being in Paris. I was grateful for all we’d seen – the snafus in getting to Paris, the chance to see my dearest Saran at the Eiffel Tower, the sore feet and the sappy smiles.

Mostly, though, i was simply grateful to share in it all with the dimple-faced man wearing my scarf sitting across from me.

IMG_1845

current jam: ‘lullabye’ billy jowl

best thing: freshly-downloaded boarding passes…

Serendipity and Serenades at the Eiffel Tower.

So when i wasn’t prowling about the Eiffel Tower looking for a hot dog, i was busy being rather bedazzled by the tower itself. There’s magic in Paris, i swear; perhaps the secret entrance to Beauxbatons lies beneath the Seine.

eiffel tower in b&w, watermarked

Seeing the Eiffel Tower at all is striking and poetic and full of Aristocat-themed-music-making. Seeing the Eiffel Tower at night is unlike anything else; the gold against the purple night, the way it lights up and sparkles for ten minutes every hour, the glow it casts on the whole of the jardins surrounding it make me understand why so many artists and writers came to Paris and never left. It’s the music itself.

eiffel tower watermaked 03

Sparkling on the hour!

eiffel tower watermarked 02

Though initially disappointed to learn that the cables for the lift to the tippy-top were too frozen to function, the mid-atmospheric snow in the air at the second level made us quite content to look out at Sacre Coeur and L’Arc de Triomphe from our frozen perch. It was stunning; the whole of Paris reflected back at us like the lights on the tower itself. Even the Seine glowed. If you’re going to Paris, do everything you can to scale the Eiffel Tower at night. It may be knee-knocking, teeth-chattering freezing, but the view is transcendent.

Windswept!

Windswept!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Making the climb back down!

Making the climb back down!

The Tower’s magic, though, was not bound in cables and floor and vistas for us, though. In some cosmic convergence, one of my very best friends from Mount Holyoke, Saran, was traveling through Paris at the same time as us. Neither one of us had functioning phones, so through spotty glimpses of wifi we’d managed to communicate online that we would meet at the Eiffel Tower sometime that night.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My fingers were going numb, refreshing my inbox at the base of the Tower. J and i had scouted the lines, walked the perimeter, tried every cranny we could see to find Saran. Worry we were relying too much on chance in a city too big, i began to fret we wouldn’t find her at all.

Until someone shrieked my name from the other side of the tower.

There was a running and a leaping and a hugging and an OH MY G-D, PARIS-ing. I was so delighted to see her, and a mutual friend from Paris, all basking underneath the sparkling gold beams of the most famous French landmark. We walked, arm-in-arm, to a restaurant a few blocks up and had warm reminiscing and fast catching-up over French cuisine. Entrenched in a language and culture and place not my own, i was home in the hearts of people i love.

Blurry and beautiful because of what this means to me!

Blurry but beautiful because of what this means to me!

Just when you start to disbelieve in the magic that weaves Paris together, the rug is pulled out from under you all over again. I suppose that’s falling in love: being awash in passion, falling into a place of comfortable constancy, and, just when you start to get too comfortable or edgy from boredom, something happens to make you commit and believe all over again. 

Paris certainly lives up to its reputation in that way!

current jam: ‘little bird song’ ed sheeran.

best thing: these INCREDIBLE signs advocating for marriage equality at the supreme court yesterday.

inquiry: would anyone be interested in purchasing a (non-watermarked) print of the eiffel tower (or anything, really)?

The Seven Year Pursuit of a Parisian Hot Dog (Which is Not a Metaphor)

I picked a French name for myself on the first day of French 1 – Céline, because it had an accent in it which made me feel tremendously exotic and française. Within two weeks we’d covered hellos and how-are-you’s in Mme Kelly’s sunflower yellow room. I was already amassing a small collection of Eiffel-Tower-themed housewares.

But it was chapter two of my 8th grade French textbook that captivated my imagination. The chapter on French gastronomy.

A textbook geared towards American students detailed simple translations of cuisine famous in the USA; french fries and milk and hamburgers and hot dogs. It was the hot dogs that got me. Madame Kelly’s curly bobcut bounced as she flitted about the room like a fairie, petite and clad in an ascot like a true American-gone-Parisian. “En France,” she began, “the hot dogs are très delicieuse! They come inside a baguette, so that the ketchup or mustard or whatever you like is wrapped all around the meat! What a treat!”

My parents heard nothing but je voudrais un hot dog, s’il-vous-plaît! for the subsequent month. I talked endlessly of how my first meal in Paris would be un hot dog without ketchup, because i am allergic to processed tomatoes (i am aware that this is really very odd, trust me).

Seven years later, i was with mon amour and we were going to Paris. As aforewritten, our first meal was a collapsing into the first restaurant we could find in Montmartre. Though it was, admittedly, a gourmet pizza place, it was still pizza in PARIS, i am in love, and la vie était belle. The hot dogs could wait.

The next day was gloriously filled with seeing the Musée d’Orsay, red wine, the Louvre, more wine, Notre-Dame de Paris, and a romantic stroll along the Seine (with wine).

But nowhere were the hot dogs to be found.

I wasn’t bothered, really, because the aura of Paris basking in azure sky warmth and sunny day smiles had me totally enamored (the wine may have had something to do with that). I also figured that hot dogs were, after all, really an American thing and the more touristy spots around the Eiffel Tower would be my best bet.

Turns out, i was right.

eiffel tower at night, watermarked

J and i arrived at the Eiffel Tower, glittering in all its golden splendor against a purpling night sky. I’m not lying when i say seeing the Tower up close literally takes your breath away (asthmatic, remember?). In our haste to get in the queue to the second floor elevator (the top was closed – frozen elevator cables) i didn’t even notice the hot dog stands dotting the massive space beneath the tower. It was only after we had un-frozen our hands from the outer railings and gone back inside the tower that J saw the café on the second floor.

On the second floor of La Tour Eiffel!

On the second floor of La Tour Eiffel!

My big moment was here. J was fumbling in his pocket for the 2 Euro fifty as i proclaimed the most practiced phrase i know in French: “Je voudrais un hot dog, s’il-vous-plaît!

Désolée,” replied the clerk. “Nous n’avons pas des hot dogs. Ran out this afternoon.”

My look of disappointment must have told non-Francophone-J all he needed to know. They did not have hot dogs, so a pretzel it was. Down the stairs we went, catching sight of the glittering Seine and far-off Sacre Coeur.

Until we reached the bottom, where, not twenty feet from the elevator, stood a sign that read HOT DOGS HERE. I skipped my way over, the words out of my mouth before i could catch my breath. The guy at the stand grunted a yes, and set to work making my hot dog. I was ecstatic, i was elated, i was ready to fulfill seven years of waiting, when the clerk handed me -

a hot dog smothered in ketchup.

For the second time that evening, my eyes were painted in shades of forlorn as i shared a look with half-laughing,-half-sympathizing J. I handed him the hot dog, walking back to the  stand to ask for one without ketchup. For whatever reason, the guy refused to make me one. J tried not to tell me how delicious the snack was, and i tried not to let the inner-thirteen-year-old throw an entirely inexcusable tantrum.

I had given up, prevented by my weird allergy and longing for the magic that made Mme Kelly dance in her sunflower-yellow French classroom.

J, however, is not one so easily defeated. The next morning, we took the metro to Trocadéro where there is a large platform from which you can see the entirety of the Eiffel Tower. Lo and behold, where there are tourists in Paris, there are hot dog stands. At his encouragement, i walked up to this stand-man and asked i could have a hot dog gratine (with cheese) and sans ketchup.

His affirmative reply literally made me yelp with glee. At last, in my hands, was a hot-off-the grill hot dog encased in a baguette swimming with cheese. So there i was, overlooking the monument that had adorned the posters of my walls since i first learned how to say bonjour, when i at last had my Parisian snack.

un hot dog, s'il vous plait

It was scrumptious and cheesy and so worth the wait (in case you can’t tell by the enormous grin). I don’t even like hot dogs all that much in the States, but there was something so magical about remembering Mme Kelly and the first time i fell in love with Paris. And maybe i was always destined to have to hunt for the snack – after all, it makes for an absurd and ridiculous Parisian tale to tell.

current jam: ‘la foule’ édith piaf.

best thing: l’amour à paris!

(also also, there will be a full blog solely on the eiffel tower coming soon!)

So, Paris.

Trying to write about the enamor i now feel for Paris is like trying to make Michelangelo’s Pièta out of play-doh. What does a writer say about the City of L’amour that has not yet been said?

Paris has lived in my mind for so long; the rewinds and re-watches of my favorite Disney, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, instilled a love of the grandiose cathedral from a wee age. In eighth grade i enrolled in my first French class with the intent of being able to speak the language in African countries once colonized by the French. I didn’t expect to also fall madly in love with the idea of Paris, but suddenly i had three Eiffel Tower keychains and a calendar of photographs along the Seine.

In my tummy-knotted waiting for J, i had hardly stopped to consider the impending realization of my eighth-grade dreams. The guidebooks were tabbed, playlists made, but the reality wasn’t there.

Until i caught my first glimpse of Montmartre’s winding alleyways. Then, i was there. I was Audrey Hepburn in white sunglasses, strolling along the Seine. I was every line from Moulin Rouge! singing from a red windmill. I was my mother in her movie-star black coat, i was thirteen and practicing: Bonjour, ça va? I was every writer who’d been intoxicated by the river, every dreamer who had wished under the Parisian sky. It met and exceeded my every expectation.

J called it my "Paris Face," taken at our first meal upon our (late evening) arrival!

J called it my “Paris Face,” taken at our first meal upon our (late evening) arrival!

J and i are back in Edinburgh now, with his return ticket to the states looming over our vin du Paris grins with an increasingly ominous tune. There will (wayyy) be more blogging on and photos of Paris (and London and Edinburgh!) soon, but for now i’m going to embrace un joie de vivre and be present in the non-blogging real world. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Day one: first photo on the Seine riverbank!

Day one: first photo on the Seine riverbank!

current jam: ‘bells of notre dame’ hunchback of notre dame soundtrack; no shame.

best thing: paris!

Répéter: Trois Jours.

I should be writing my paper on sexuality and nationalism.

I’ve spent my afternoon making spinach-and-artichoke dip for my mojito chicken nacho dinner tonight. (The whole cooking thing? Yeah, it’s taking off with frightening fast elevation.  I think i’ve watched three or four hours worth of Sorted videos in the last two days alone). Before that, there was a stroll around The Meadows and the library under the ruse of “returning my books.”

You get the idea.

My restlessness is not unfounded, if resiliently unproductive. In a mere three days (THREE DAYS) J will be here for his spring break. I can’t breathe, i can’t focus, and i certainly cannot think about anything else (much less worrying over the intersection of sexuality and nationalism in a 2500 word essay).

So here am i, procrastinating in my most favorite way. Writing to you. My current second-favorite means of not-doing-homework is reading up on restaurants in Paris and London, where we’ll visit in the twelve days J is here. (If you have suggestions, please do leave them in the comments!)

As if seeing him were not enough, i’m finally realizing my thirteen-year-old dream of scaling the Eiffel Tower and downing more wine and cheese than i can imagine. Maybe the wine part wasn’t so influential in my eighth-grade-doodles. Whatever. Je voudrais deux baguettess’il-vous-plaît, i practice. Mademoiselle Kelly would be proud. I’ve come two inches in my French grammar since my middle school days. But i can rock the all-black-clothing with pouty-red-lipstick look like Amélie personally loaned me her wardrobe. My sense of fashion has certainly progressed since then

I have a running playlist of the strangest juxtapositions: Zac Brown Band (for him), Edith Piaf (for Paris), and the Hunchback of Notre Dame (for the guise of focusing, the reality of pretending to be Esmeralda in the famous cathédrale). Rinse, remix, repeat.

Rinse, remix, repeat. Mojito chicken, library, repeat. Three days, three days, three days.

current jam: ‘la vie en rose’ édith piaf.

best thing: affordable airlines.