Stumble-Upons in Paris

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Bonjour tout le monde!

While abroad, I really enjoy keeping this blog—it is relaxing and therapeutic to write about my experiences, and the posts will serve as a great chronicle of the trip after I’m back in the States. However, it can be difficult to fit everything worth sharing into themed posts, and so I’ve decided to dedicate this entry to all of the cool events and experiences I’ve stumbled upon here in Paris that don’t necessarily fit in anywhere else. One of my favorite aspects of city life, whether at home or abroad, is the opportunity to just wander into things, and many of these “stumble-upons” have been the best highlights of my trip. And for anyone traveling to Paris, some of these “stumble-upons” which were accidental for me might be something to include on an itinerary or “must-do” list (I strongly recommend having a list of must-see/must-do’s, but also leaving plenty of time for exploring). Now without further ado:

1. Paris Jazz Festival

The Paris Jazz Festival is an annual event that takes place every July (again, arguably the best month to visit the city). My roommate and I accidentally stumbled upon a poster for the festival while we were lost and searching for an apparently nonexistent metro stop. Getting lost in Paris leads to some of the best discoveries, and so we and some others from our trip headed to the festival one Sunday afternoon. The festival has events in Parc des Flores on the outskirts of Paris every weekend, and each is themed—our concert was “A Tribute to South Africa.” The park is absolutely beautiful and the festival was a blast. It also wasn’t touristy in the least—it’s the things you can’t look up online that give you the most authentic Paris experience.

The poster that led to this stumble-upon.

The poster that led to this stumble-upon.

2. Shakespeare and Co. (again)

It’s probably pretty obvious that my favorite place in Paris is this bookshop. Shakespeare and Co. is much more than just a bookshop, though—it is a figurehead of the English-speaking community in Paris. Since my class ends earlier than everyone else’s on my trip, I often spend an hour or two reading in the upstairs library while I wait to head off to whatever museum or area we’re exploring each day. And it is while I’m hanging out there reading that I stumble upon many cool events.

One Sunday afternoon, I was reading upstairs when all of a sudden an old British woman and one of Shakespeare and Company’s employees began moving around furniture and setting out tea supplies and madeleines. A few patrons who seemed to know what was going on joined and began laying out cushions on the floor. Everyone was very welcome and friendly, and I decided this could be a cool event when the British woman, named “Pamelys,” who turned out to be a friend of the now-deceased founder, George Whitman, asked me what my “mother tongue” was. I had accidentally stumbled upon the weekly Shakespeare and Co. “Tea Party,” a group led by Pamelys (who was so crazy she seemed almost normal) shared poetry and writing, drank tea, and talked about life. People wandered in, most of whom were American or British tourists (I even ended up sitting next to some Temple alumni who graduated in 2011!). The entire experience was very welcoming and comforting, and of course only made me love Shakespeare and Co. even more.

Shakespeare and Co. also hosts a “Bard-en-Seine” festival annually with Shakespeare-themed events throughout the year. They feature guest lecturers on Shakespeare, Shakespeare discussion groups, concerts, and, in July, a week of open-air and completely free performances of the year’s play (this year was Macbeth). I found out about the performances while browsing through the store and stumbling upon a flyer, and having played Lady Macbeth in a high school English class’ poorly-thrown-together production of the Scottish play (still waiting for my Tony), I decided to attend. The performance was awesome—it was very cool to be at an open-air play, which I’d never done before, and all of the actors were incredibly talented. There was also that sense of community again, with everyone sitting together on the ground or in chairs or just standing (unfortunately my friends and I didn’t make it in time for seats). Overall it was a very cool event, and definitely something to check out if ever in Paris in July!

The Weirs Sisters in the open-air performance of Macbeth.

The Weirs Sisters in the open-air performance of Macbeth.

Another scene from the play.

Another scene from the play.

3. Brugges, Belgium

While in Europe, it is so tempting to travel to other countries, since it’s so quick and easy. However, it also requires planning, which I unfortunately did not consider. Before coming to Paris, I decided I wanted to visit Amsterdam and London, but quickly realized how much there was to see in Paris and revised my plans to include only Amsterdam. Planning on such short notice was very expensive and hectic (make sure to plan well in advance if visiting other countries is a part of a trip to Paris), so a friend and I decided to take a day trip to Brugges, a small town in Belgium, instead. I hadn’t expected to visit Belgium at all while abroad, but Brugges turned out to be very cool, and was a nice contrast from a major European city (I got to see the other version of Europe, the cobblestone streets-medieval churches-horse and carriages side). Brugges was a short train ride away and very affordable. We took a lovely open-air canal tour, tried our first Belgian waffles and chocolate, visited the Salvador Dali museum and St. Jan’s Hospital, which operated for over 800 years, and explored the (very tiny) city. There were bike parking lots and horse and buggys everywhere,and also a real sense of trust among the community—I did not see a single bike lock. Everyone working in Brugges also spoke at the very least Dutch, English, French, and Netherlands Dutch, and usually German and Spanish as well—very impressive.

Belgian waffles with strawberries and whipped cream -- made with sugar cubes in the actual waffle and the freshest ingredients!

Belgian waffles with strawberries and whipped cream — made with sugar cubes in the actual waffle and the freshest ingredients!

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A very neat flea market we stumbled upon by the river.

A very neat flea market we stumbled upon by the canals.

Horses and carriages everywhere -- but the horses were treated very well (they even had a special water fountain in the town center).

Horses and carriages everywhere — but the horses were treated very well (they even had a special water fountain in the town center).

4. Art Galleries/Street Musicians

Art galleries are everywhere here—we stumbled upon one in Brugges, and at least three throughout Paris. All of the art is incredibly interesting and usually modern (which I love). Paris has a real appreciation for the arts that’s difficult to find in the States sometimes.

Street musicians are also popular here, and they go all out—pianists play in the middle of the street, accordion players serenade on the metro, and live bands pop up in parks or by the Seine. I always make sure to give a few euros to those with caps or cases out, but there are also a lot of performers who don’t ask for money or won’t take any—they simply enjoy playing and want to share it with their city. The people of Paris also respond well to all the performances—they dance on the metro, gather in huge crowds by the piano, and sing along with the bands. Again, Paris has a palpable appreciation for art and music.

5. Synagogue

Growing up, I was always told that going to synagogue in a foreign country is a very cool experience, because even though that synagogue is on another continent, the prayers and tunes and language are the same and feel just like home. I identify more as a cultural Jew than a religious one, but I decided to attend Shabbat services one Friday night while in Paris. I had been feeling a little isolated with all of the anti-Semitic riots throughout the city in response to the conflict happening in Israel and Gaza, but as soon as I walked into synagogue I did indeed feel at home. Many of the tunes were the same, and I actually heard French people pronounce the hard “r” found in Hebrew and English — they can indeed do it. I’m sure that this sense of home can be found during any religious service while abroad, and I definitely recommend attending at least one French religious service, whatever you identify with, even for just a taste of another culture.

6. Marches des Puces/Chez Louisette

Every weekend, there is a huge flea market at Port de Clignancourt (the last stop on metro line 4) that is impossible to get through in a day (or two days, or three days, or more). We headed down one Saturday morning to check out Marches des Puces (literally “market of fleas”)  and were amazed with the place (after searching for it for about 45 minutes —getting lost has been a common theme throughout this trip). The market features everything from cheap shoes to jewelry to street painters to antiques. We spent most of our time in the antiques section which was fun and interesting to browse around. For lunch, we stopped at Chez Louisette, the figureheads restaurant of the market. Our lunch was, to say the least, an experience – featuring an accordion band entirely over the age of 60, groups of tourists taking pictures (although I am technically a tourist myself, I have begun to develop the Parisian attitude toward my fellow travelers since I have been living here for a longer period of time) and shouting, hectic waiters. In the words of my friend: “The theme of this place is tacky.” It was still, however, a neat experience, and worth checking out for a laugh!

Chez Louisette...quite an experience.

Chez Louisette…quite an experience.

7. Paris Plages

Each July, the city of Paris sets up “Paris Plages” (Paris beaches) along the bank of the Seine. The French people never cease to amaze me, but Paris Plages is a little strange. I’m used to beaches involving swimming, bathing suits, sunscreen etc. but Paris Plages is basically a giant sandbox on the street by the Seine. People wear normal clothes and drink wine in the hot sun but never go swimming. There is also a mini-Louvre with reproductions of the paintings and a miniature Eiffel Tower. The Paris Plages are very nice, but another interesting aspect of French culture that reminds me how American I am!

8. The People

Finally (this is the last stumble-upon, I promise), living in Paris and attending classes at the Sorbonne has introduced to me to so many new people from all over the world. Being a part of the Temple group is awesome and we spend most of our time together, but we’ve also all made friends in our respective classes. I have great friends I know I could stay with anytime in Australia, Sweden, Turkey, Pittsburgh, Louisiana, and Texas, and that is very very cool considering that up until now I really only knew Americans. I will be sad to leave a city with people from literally all over the world.

It is also interesting to be an American in Paris. In the States, there is a shared bond between people from the same city or general area—I automatically bond with anyone from Philly, Pennsylvania, or the Northeast (with the exception of Yankees fans). Here, that bond expands to include people I would normally never feel a connection with back home—two of my close friends in class are from Louisiana and Mississippi, and go to school in Texas. In cafés or at bars or even just on the street, Americans hear each other speaking English and automatically introduce themselves or smile. It’s a very friendly atmosphere and will really make me feel more connected to people in other parts of the country once I’m back home.

Thanks for reading the incredibly long post—believe it or not, this is the condensed version. There is just so much to stumble across in Paris! Stay tuned for my next post during my final week in France. Merci!

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