5:28 PM EDT, July 12, 2011
In a twist on Caesar's "Veni, vedi, vici" (I came, I saw, I conquered.), the French writer Victor Hugo wrote: "Veni, vedi, vixi. (I came, I saw, I lived.)
Either way, I went to Paris, I saw everything possible in a week, I conquered any apprehension about being responsible for my niece on a trip out of the country. I lived through some 95-degree days in the City of Lights, and I had a trip my niece and I will remember as long as we live.
Much has changed in Paris in the 37 years since I had last been there. Everyone is on cell phones. Computers sit in hotel lobbies. Breakfast is no longer just rolls and café au lait but a buffet of fresh fruit, cereals, yogurts, pastries and even scrambled eggs, ham, smoked salmon and champagne at our second hotel. Notre Dame is no longer black. City center is squeaky clean without a pissoir (public urinal) in sight.
A Ferris wheel and other rides fill one edge of the Tuileries. The gardens themselves sport new ornamental trees and plantings, including geometric hedges. The chairs there seemed lighter in weight, and I could not find the old round tables, except refurbished one for resale at Deyrolle, the renowned, 180-year old business on the Rue du Bac filled with garden implements, taxidermy, exquisite posters and cards.
Featured in Woody Allen's film, "Midnight in Paris," Deyrolle is something I missed on trips of my youth. Horticulture was not a priority then. Deyrolle's large menagerie of exotic stuffed animals — ranging from a lioness, polar bear and zebra to a swan, badger and ostrich — initially made my niece tear up but soon appealed to her intellectual curiosity and visual acumen.The colors in their butterfly and coral collections rival or surpass anything a human artist might conceive.
Patterns on the butterflies are as intricately wrought as any hand-worked gold and bejeweled jewelry in state-of-the-art displays at the Louvre's Museum of Decorative Arts.
The manger of Deyrolle told me, in English, that the animals were for sale or rental for parties, films and special events.
The amount of English spoken is stunning. In visits long ago I never spoke English when asking a question. This trip, while I asked in French, most responded in English. Not so with my niece, whose accent is more Parisian and who looks more Continental than her Talbots-clad auntie.
Woody Allen's movie at the Odéon cinema was even in English, something I had not experienced there before. As shown in that film, sturdy Paris buildings have evolving lives. Café Monaco, a neighborhood café last trip, is now Le Comptoir, a sophisticated bistro and part of the stylish Hotel Relais Saint Germain.
In the nicest hotel I used in decades, the K + K Cayré, one thing was missing: a bidet. I did not ask why but can only assume features are standardized in this hotel that is part of an international chain. It was filled with Americans.
The more modest hotel Le Cardinal, where we also spent three nights, had all-French tourists and bidets.
In 37 years much has stayed the same in Paris. Prices are high. Regulations against billboard signs preserve the landscape and uncluttered views of wide boulevards and exquisite architecture, save selected large banners for sponsors of building renovation. Traffic is worse but public transportation seems better than ever.
A new attraction is the Batobus, a large water taxi on the Seine with stops at places like Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and the Botanical Gardens I plan to visit on my next trip to Paris.
Yes, my next trip to Paris. And I hope it will be sooner, rather than later, and with my truly "Accidental Tourist" husband.
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