Eleven months ago I threatened a flood of posts about my Pariscation. I intend to publish one post per year until I can afford to return.
The Tour de Franceophiles among you know that Paris is paved not with passion but with cobblestones. The cobblestone has several engineering advantages: it shifts flexibly with changes in humidity and temperature, it slows Paris’s frenetic traffic, and it has an air of old-timeyness that loosens tourists’ hold on their wallets.
Cobblestone is also a blasted holy horror to walk on.
My first day walking Paris, mere hours after I arrived, I stubbed my right foot near the Parc Monceau, cobbling my shin and leaving me with a piratical limp for the rest of the trip.
There may be a few lessons to learn from my Parisian peg-leg—forgo rigid-soled Rockports in favor of a shoe more forgiving of uneven bricks, and don’t walk like an American.
But there was also an unseen advantage to the limper’s tour of Paris: hobbling myself that first day forced me to go more slowly and deliberately than my otherwise nervous personality would allow, and made me familiarize myself with the benches of Paris. Paris—actual Paris, its nooks and neighborhoods—is a city of watchers, and in parks the folks sitting on benches are Parisian: the tourists are too busy racing about and stubbing their toes.
I sat hours in parks in nearly every arrondissement I visited. I loved the Parc de Monceau with its joggers and teens, the Square Louis XVI with its retirees and bored businessmen, le Jardin Catherine Labouré across the street from the Prime Minister’s home with its young chic couples and young chic kids.
Perhaps my favorite bench of them all was in a tiny little square at the corner of Rue Vielle du Temple and Rue des Blanc Manteaux on the edge of the IIe and the IVe, a tiny playground near the Archives Nationales that felt like the heart of the city: children in beautiful clothes whirling about like kids anywhere, light traffic audible from the busy places to the south, and the overhead hum of birds and laughter. There is no way I would have spent two lunches there had I not been so frustrated by my limp and needful of leg-rest.