Paris for beginners

I’ve been back for almost 3 months. It feels like forever – I know, I know, look up travel addiction and find the nearest rehab. Send it over. I’ll ignore it. I was getting antsy and obnoxious, so I went to Paris to meet my oldest friend. We only meet every few years since we live half a world apart. We’re not alike. She’s athletic, she loves shoes, she used to be a vegetarian. Not me. We both love dogs and wine, we respect and love each other. When we meet, we get to be girls together. Take that, Paris.

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Paris street market

Our days in Paris were exciting, exhausting and gut-wrenching. We talked about marriages, children, aging parents and growing old. None of that was easy but we’re still friends. We shared Paris and loved it. I’m going to share it with you too. There’s my to-do list:

  1. Walk the streets, discover the markets, smell the cheese, avoid the dog poop and rejoice in what may be the greatest city in the world.
  2. Visit the Orsay. This recycled train station has art like no other. Stand and hurt in front of the Van Goghs. Imagine quitting your day job and living life in the islands with nubile pretty wives like Gauguin. Ponder at Rodin’s Ugolino eating his own children.

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    Van Gogh’s tortured, shivering church.
  3. Drink wine. It makes you feel pretty, smart and alive. If it doesn’t, drink more. The dark red Bordeaux, with hints of dark cherries, violets, and leather, complement the Beef Tartare. The citrus aroma of the Sauvignon Blanc brings life to the oysters. Beware, the oysters are raw, and only raw, as my friend discovered with much chagrin. That required more wine. Rejoice in the beauty of wine even if you’re a beer drinker. You’re in France, live like you are!

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    Tartare: Spiced raw beef with fries. Delicieux!
  4. La Chapelle.  The church where beauty becomes faith. Bask in the glory of the light filtering through the stained glass. Let your heart sing. You prefer technique, you say? OK. She was built in 5 years (Notre Dame took 200). You can learn all about stained glass, how it’s made, cleaned and restored. You prefer history? Louis, the king who built it, got to be elected saint. Out of the kings of France, the one and only. You like toilets? Go elsewhere.

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    La Chapelle
  5. L’Orangerie. Because Monet, a dying, half-blind old man, hoping for peace and beauty on earth in the midst of the Great War, got to show his vision to the world. The world got to love it, eventually. The message is: light is water and water is life.
  6. Picnic. In your hotel room, on the Seine, or even better, in the Tuilleries. Be Parisian for one meal. Buy a warm baguette, get some stinky cheese, saucisson, and some wine. Invest in some fruit or sweets. It will make you feel alive.
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    Home picnic.

    I wish I’ll die drinking Bordeaux in the Tuileries, looking at the Louvre, and the Place de la Concorde, where Marie Antoinette met Mr. Guillotin, across the Seine from the Orsay.

  7. The Louvre. Because there’s something for every soul in there, from selfies with the Mona Lisa – wildly overrated if you ask me, – to the scholars of obscure medieval prints. Stand in front of Michelangelo’s slaves and drop a tear.
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  8. Go back to the Orsay – I know you didn’t get it all the first time. Did you see Toulouse Lautrec, the deformed French aristocrat turned painter? He was shaped like Tyrion Lannister, inside and out. He loved, lived and painted the soft underbelly of Paris.
  9. The Rodin Museum. His works have taken over the world in a miracle that is half art and three-quarters marketing. He’s the absolute master of recycling. He reused the same works again and again with gusto, foresight, and parsimony, creating new art. Check “The Gates of Hell” and you’ll see the exact same model in multiple positions, circumstances, and associations. I bet he billed for each one as if it was new. Take that, Ponzi! You’ll also get to meet Camille Claudel, his young student who became his lover. She sculpted under him, loved him, then finally lost it when he chose to stay with his old companion, so she got locked in a lunatic asylum.
  10. The cafes. Stop and smell the roses, the tobacco and the garlic. Listen to the Babel of languages. Immerse yourself in Paris for an evening. Watch the buskers, the scooters, the homeless and the chic Parisians walking their dogs, pretending they forgot the poop bags when nobody’s watching.
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Notre Dame from behind. Bonus: Toilets nearby.

Special honorable mention from Steve: Notre Dame. I quote: “It’s an engineering masterpiece. Its flying buttresses are an innovative lightweight way to resolve the horizontal thrust of the roof arch.” There’s a poet for you!

Paris, where food is art, art is art, and wine is a religion, teaches you the “joie de vivre” love of life, like no other place on earth. I came home with a rekindled friendship, a backpack heavy with delicious canned foods and a soul replete with beauty.

I hope I managed to share it with you. Check out Paris 201, for the connoisseurs.

Rada Jones is an Emergency Doc in Upstate New York and the author of three ER novels: OVERDOSE, MERCY, and POISON. Find more at RadaJonesMD.com.