The Paris and Normandy Diaries: Days One and Two
Paris, Neuilly, Giverny (briefly)
Sunday afternoon, the glass doors of Dolloyau opened and Alistair and I walked in to a wave of air conditioning. It was time for lunch, so we peered into marble glass cases of delicate French food. Alistair was pointing at a salad, and suddenly I remembered: it's summer, and I'm in Paris. Its rare for me, whenever I am in Paris it is cold and rainy, and on my first day there it was 90 degrees. We sweated on our walk from the hotel in the Eighth Arrondissement and I looked around me, surprised. We got a table near the window and shared a plate of smoked salmon, mini pancakes, salmon mousse, and a burrata and tomato salad. I told Alistair about the flight, about our plans in Normandy. We had been apart for two weeks while he was in Switzerland. We had so much to catch up on.
The Paris I know is closed; holding its breath. I know it from under an umbrella, in a coat, praying for a warmer day the next and the next. It was my first time seeing Paris in the summer, and in the summer Paris expands, it breathes. We walked everywhere that day, pausing under a group of trees to have an Aperol spritz in the Jardin de Tuileries.
For the first time in my life I thought Paris seemed livable. Even as my pits stunk, sweat rolled from my forehead to my shoulders, I thought: "Some small part of me could see myself living here." But as I explained to Alistair, for me New York feels like the personification of power and Paris feels like the opposite. I can't communicate freely there. For me, speaking and writing are the only times I feel in power and proficient. The little French I do speak is only 1% of the things I wish I could say.
"In Paris, it feels like...like..." I looked up at the trees and punched my fist into a fake wall, "It feels like a constipation." Alistair laughed.
In the afternoon we went back to the Hotel Augustin to freshen up. Henri and his wife were due to meet us. I stood on the balcony, hoping I could see them walking down the narrow streets around our hotel, a call back to the first time we met, when I leaned out the window to see him.
Seeing Henri is always so emotionally confounding. The first time we met was in 2012, and I get little visions of the person I was then when I see him. I miss that person sometimes. The last time I was in Paris in October of 2017, Henri and his then-fiance treated us to a long, boozy, exciting dinner and I left feeling so moved by the little life coincidences. How you think you meet someone that you will never meet again, but they end up in your entire life. We were even invited to their wedding in France but were already in Switzerland at the time.
We took the metro to the 15th to visit their favorite Vietnamese restaurant. We got a corner table, my back to an open window and a periodic breeze. I ordered carmelized pork bathed in a heavy sauce of onions and mushrooms. "You are eating pure fat," they joked. After dinner we walked toward the Biblioteques Nationale pavilion, the national library built around a sub-level natural forest. We had drinks at one of the bars along the quays, then took a walk over the pedestrian bridge across the Seine. At 10 pm it was still bright out. It was just enough to keep me pushing through my jet lag.
On Monday the heat turned to rain. I opened the balcony door at the Hotel Augustin and felt a mist and cool air. We had breakfast in the hotel and then took the metro to lunch with Alistair's cousin in Neuilly. As Alistair explained, Neuilly was the toniest neighborhood in Paris. When we got out the metro I noticed that everyone was fashionable in an Upper East Side sort of way (read: girls with long hair and expensive handbags hanging on bird-like arms). We had a lovely lunch and planned to see the Musee d'Orsay, but found out it was closed on Mondays. Alistair's cousin suggested the Louis Vuitton Foundation, a brand new Gehry museum in the middle of the park. It was the first museum on the trip. (At the end of the week, we would have gone to a museum every day.)
Seeing a new part of Paris was just as enlightening and eye-opening as the day before in the 15th. Who knew Paris contained so many unknown parts beyond the tourist loop at the center of the city?
Before returning to the hotel we stopped at the Louvre shops so that I could go to Delfonics, my favorite paper store in Paris. Then we stopped for a quick coffee and apple galette with heavy cream on a terrace. I adore the terraces of Parisian restaurants. There was a family sitting next to us and a sparrow sat on the top of one of their empty chairs, stole a chip from their table and flew away.
We went back to the Eighth to pick up a rental car and start the next portion of our trip: Normandy. Alistair wanted to attend some of the D-Day 75th Anniversary events. We rented a modest Volvo, but the attendant backed a gray, brand new Mercedes into the lot. That car was ours, no extra charge.
An hour later we arrived at the first stop on our trip: Giverny. We booked a hotel right on the Seine, Domaine de la Corniche, which used to be an old chateau. We made a 9:30 dinner reservation at their little restaurant across the street. The waitress sat us in a beautiful, all-glass room (a solarium, perhaps). We both got a ravioli stuffed with goat cheese presented in a pool of herbs and fresh curls of parmesan, a lean short rib with vegetables and tiramisu for dessert. We went to bed late. The next day we would go to Monet's Garden and visit my oldest friend in Lisieux.