Note: Check out the PreservationNation Blog later this week for a piece on what I am calling “The Return“.
When this post goes live you’ll find me thousands of feet in the air flying toward a week in Paris.
Paris. It sounds incredible right? I honestly think when we first booked our tickets all I could think about was food. Crepes, chocolate, pastries. Mmm. Mmm.
But then the historian (the imaginary angel that sits on my shoulder) shook me out of my mental sugar high. She reminded me that I wanted to do this trip right, to land already knowing a little about what I was about to see.
To take advantage of this visit to explore, experience, and to defy expectation.
So I prepped like I was prepping for a marathon (well a 5K) and in a month was able to read three memoirs, one history book and skim two additional titles on myth and architecture in Paris.
…And when the pressure was on the historian reminded me gently, “It’s not like you haven’t been here before.” Truth. The last time I was in Paris we visited the same friend that is traveling with me today. I was sixteen and it was a quick three day stop over on our way to India. But this time I get to call the shots so I am looking forward to week of spontaneous leisure, planning each day as it comes.
But what about all that prep work? The three memoirs I read were Paris in Love, Paris, Paris, and The Sweet Life in Paris. Authored by three Americans who found themselves living in Paris for an extended period of time these books provided a unique glimpse into live in the City of Light. I also read a history called the Seven Ages of Paris which took you from Kings to Emperor to the great wars of the twenty-first century.
So when I stride onto French soil, I arrive with an understanding that this is a city with a history of great heights and great turmoil. A city not only of aristocracy and wealth, but also of extreme poverty. A city where the push for glory brought often brought it to the brink of disaster.
I also understand that like many urban spaces, Paris is a city with many layers: from the grand architecture of Versailles and Notre Dame to the modernist glimpses of the Pompidou Center and structures by Le Corbusier. I learned that Napoleon III (the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte) began what is now called Haussmannisation after the Barron Haussmann who oversaw the changes. This re-design gave Paris its broad boulevards and open spaces, dictated in part by the city’s history of revolution and barricades.
Eloisa James (Paris in Love) a romance author and Shakespeare professor who made her way to France after a cancer diagnosis, chronicled her year long stay through elaborate Facebook posts. These posts revealed a city that was welcoming and sophisticated and a place of inspiration. As she closed her book James tell us that “this book is [her] phone call-not from the top of a mountain, or even the top of the Eiffel Tower: the “here” is negotiable. It’s so beautiful here. You must come before you die.”
So I am looking forward to a week of good food, good friends, good history and to embrace whatever inspiration comes my way–and I’m pretty sure the historian approves.