I have been reading Pink Frenchie’s blog for quite a while and absolutely adore the photography and style she presents in Les Petits Plaisirs, it reminds me of Paris of days ago. She writes about women, about France, about Anthony Bourdain (yes!) and I always come away feeling good. In this edition of A Passion for Paris she tells us about Paris through the five senses, definitely a unique approach!
The Five Senses of Paris
I don’t exactly remember when my love affair with Paris started. I think it was somewhere around the seventh grade. My mom and dad had just generously agreed to fund spring break travels to France with my school. The Christmas before that initial trip abroad, I received my very first Paris guidebook, a new red carry-on bag, and a velvety leather passport cover (my parents’ requisites for international travel, I suppose). As I thumbed through the travel book, I let my mind meander. What would this new foreign city really be like? Would it be the Paris of Sabrina or Charade or Breathless? Would it be the Paris of my dreams?
Nearly two decades later, I have discovered that my Paris did not disappoint. She was even better than the movies, more delicious than my dreams.
Every Francophile has his or her reasons for adoring Paris: the bounty of good art, the eclectic elegance of the architecture, the simply divine taste of bistro fare, or the ability of Parisians to just pause and savor life. For me, there is no one clear reason. For me, the ultimate appeal of Paris is its profound capability to engage all five senses at once.
One of the greatest little pleasures when visiting Paris is allowing enough time to look and watch. Forget the plan for the day, abandon the itinerary and become a nomad. Whether browsing the boquinistes on the Seine for a yellowed copy of Hugo’s Les Misérables or drifting aimlessly along the cobbled streets of Montmartre, Paris offers a visual feast beyond the museums and architectural gems.
The best sounds I’ve heard in Paris are completely serendipitous. They are not produced within the splendor of the Opéra Garnier or inside a rowdy cabaret. My favorite sounds of Paris are the noises that could easily fade into the background. One trip on the mêtro, I remember being impatient to make my way to Printemps for a little department store indulgence. But what first seized my attention was a hauntingly lovely sound coming from the street corner, just beyond the mêtro stairs.
A tiny old man with a small pushcart calliope played “Non, je ne regrette rien” (Piaf seems to be a darling of street musicians or more likely of foreign tourists dropping coins in their collections). Seated on the calliope were one very well-mannered tabby cat in a bowtie and a pug in a béret. Utterly unexpected, the charming scene unfolded along an otherwise unremarkable Paris street. That uniquely Parisian sound is marked indelibly on my mind.
Perhaps surprisingly, more than crusty baguettes or decadent pain au chocolat, my gustatory memories of Paris aren’t even of French food. Certainly Paris affords a variety of sublime restaurants and cafés offering traditional French dishes; but, I best recall my Parisian experiences with the exotic flavors of North Africa. Brought across the Mediterranean by immigrants from Morocco and Tunisia, the rich spices and unusual sweet and savory tastes of North African food reveal the delicious diversity of Paris. My first taste of a chicken tagine with cinnamon and apricots awakened my palette from the slumber of a French carb coma.
Some cities just don’t smell good (ahem, I’m looking at you, Beijing), especially in August. But, Paris, somehow Paris preferably in the winter, offers a bounty of olfactory wonders. The smell of the boulangerie baking early in the morning or the scent of roasting chestnuts on street carts in the afternoon tickles the wintry Parisian air. The crispness of the temperature seems perfectly suited to delivering the aroma of Paris in the winter.
Paris is a tactile city. Selecting soft fuchsia tulips at the local flower stand or choosing a cashmere scarf at a tiny boutique in the 1st arrondissement delights and invites the sense of touch. From holding a warm crêpe on a cold day to feeling the weight of a demitasse of espresso, we sometimes forget to be aware of the joys our hands encounter on our travels.
So, next time you get the chance to explore enchanted Paris, don’t just open your eyes in the Louvre or rouse your taste buds at your favorite bistro, keep all your senses sharpened to enjoy the city in its full splendor.
About the author
“Pink Frenchie” is an art historian by day and food, travel and culture blogger by night. Her blog Les Petits Plaisirs is a celebration of all of the little pleasures in life.
Merci Pink Frenchie!