Trains on time. Miraculously always on time. Tall Americano from the green Mermaid. Name is Kate.
Buy Metro ticket from a hustler. Why not if it helps him, and saves me time at the kiosk. A 30 cent/30 second act of mutual kindness. Commuting time. Government not shut down here. Squeeze on. Not everyone is pretty, but pretty put together. No one smiles in the belly of the city. You can’t be pretty without a smile. Don’t stare at the dandruff on your neighbor’s coat, or wonder when oh when we will need to take our shoes off on our way to the underground. Read over her shoulder, except you can’t read these words. Listen to the muted beat of his music. Alright, OK. Your ear buds can’t hold it from spreading. Not in here. Count the stops. Seven stops until your next perfume less breathe. Mark your friendliest exit route. “Excuse-moi” yourself to the door, but only faintly to not disturb the silence. Mind the gap. Mind your coffee. Make way for the map.
Ile de la Cite. Island on the Seine. If your life was a movie, these bridges would be in it. Pont Notre Dame. Pont Au Change. Pont Neuf. Photograph the sun making its way up. Your movie still. Be still. People crisscrossing these bridges to get from here to there. Accept the invitation to stay on for lookout duty. Put away the map. Savor the last drop.
On the edge of the Ile de la Cite. Sainte-Chapelle. Pay your 6 euros and get in the queue like the rest. Disregard the misplaced commerce in the lower chapel. Climb the spiral staircase to the upper chapel, the place that used to be reserved for only the company of the King. Look up to the 15 stained glass windows. The story of the Holy Book in over 1000 scenes of blue, green, yellow, blue and purple. Pay no mind to the scaffolding that covers half of the windows. The restoration work. Harder though to create a feeling of entry into Heavenly Jerusalem. With all that pounding noise of modern machinery.
Now it is time to get from here to there. Cross Pont St Michel to the Right Bank. The Latin Quarter. The 5th Arronidssement. The home to universities and student uprisings and gyros. Follow the crooked streets leading out from Boulevard Saint-Michel. The day is still young. You are awake, but these shop owners do like their customers and hit snooze. Only the tiny bookstores on these capillaries are open for business. Greek men sweep the streets of their restaurants. Shout hello to their neighbor. Come back when it’s Souvlaki time. Come back when you can read French.
Pop back to the island. To the other end of the island. Notre Dame. Here’s where all the early risers go. In this queue to see the Crown of Thorns. A day too lovely for a second queue. Skip around to the Square Jean XXIII to take in the rear view of this majestic “cradle of the city.” A rump never looked so good. If you sit, prepare to be haggled. To sign this petition or that one. It’s all a scam though. That’s what happens when you’re in the cradle of the city. The good with the bad. The beautiful with the desperate.
Exit the cradle by crossing the Pont St-Louis to a second island, Ile St Louis. Also known as Ile de la Cite’s quiet but strikingly beautiful younger sister. Eat your gelato heart out along Rue St Louis. Try to think of anything you can’t get on this street. Everything you’d need to live is on this island. And a thousand other things you wouldn’t mind having too. Come back for a stroll when you need a cocoon from the riff raff. Come back to live in the arse’s view of Notre Dame when you win the lottery.
Move across the river to the Left Bank. To the 24/7 party of the Marais. Sure you’ve been before, but a place with soul pulls you back. Flamboyant style, orthodox Jews, gorgeous vintage stores, a charming village feel. Put away the pocket book. For today only: your self-imposed day of shopping abstinence. Throw your jacket over your shoulder. Roll up your pant legs, if you dare, and stroll. Dine al fresco whenever the tummy rumbles. It’s all good, definitely fresh and vegan if requested. Ambivalently walk in the direction of a museum – Musee Picasso or Musee Carnavalet. But the sun said “HELLO!” while you were on morning lookout duty. Permission to carry on rambling? In fact, here we are. At the Musee Picasso which is indeed still closed for construction. Ramble we ought. Not we. I.
Back to the day’s spine. The River Seine. But first, down a Café Glacis of the immodest La Caféothèque. You’ve been before, so pull up to the coffee bar and order with confidence. Why you still looking at your map? You’re a regular. Follow the river until you hit the Louvre. You can’t miss it. Street artists line the street along the river. Garden stores and pet shops spill out the other side.
People posing for pictures with petit Louvres in their hand. Below a sunken garden with perfectly straight white gravel paths. Cutting through manicured gardens and putting green grass. Green chairs ring oval fountains. Grown up circle time. Put away the cameras. Prop your feet up. Relax into a book. This is easier when no one around you in hurrying. It’s 4pm. No one is running to a last minute meeting. No one yet hungry for food. All hungry for the warmth of the sun. A conversation. A cat nap.
Later. Much later. Back to the River Seine. A long walk back to the Marias. This time on the other side of the street. To peer into those curious pet shops. To land in that off the beaten track wine bar you spotted earlier in the day. To soak up the lively chatter of a neighborhood hangout. With a better than house glass of wine. Plot your closest Metro stop back to the train. No second closest. There’s more time to stroll. Dodge people along the lively Rue De Rivoli to the Bastille. Take a breath and go underground. Pop up with a comfortable 30 minutes to spare. Grab a sandwich. Tuna sounds nice. Top it off with a praline chocolate and hop the train. Full heart. Empty hands. Tired legs.