Paris is Alive

In Paris, The Art of Travel Spring 2015, Bliss by Rose Gilroy

Today it was 77 degrees Fahrenheit and Paris came to life. The Paris that met me when I walked out onto the street this morning could not have been more different than the chilly, continually grey, and buttoned-up city I arrived at in January. Whereas the midwinter Paris felt desolate and deserted, today the city felt like it was filled to the brim with Parisians and visitors alike, pouring out of their apartments and hotels to greet the warmth and sunshine. There have been a few other warm and sunny days in Paris this spring, but they were different. On those sunny days I watched Parisians tentatively come alive with the spring, unbuttoning their coats and eating lunch on park benches. Today, however, Paris was in full bloom, and everyone exuberantly went through their days, sitting outside and congregating on the streets, finally free of so many layers of winter scarves, sweaters, and coats.

Being from the northeastern United States, I’m used to interminable winters and am always thrilled when spring arrives; even though I found Paris’ winter to be rather mild, I was still extremely excited to finally defrost today and bask in the sun. I could not have been more excited to wear a dress with no tights, and leave for class without a coat. I spent as much of my day outside as possible, taking an extra long time to walk to class, and then finding a café with outdoor seating where I did my homework. The Paris café scene is one of the aspects of the city I like most. I never tire of visiting the tiny cafés on every corner, filled to the brim with customers and the sounds of forks clinking on plates, crowded with people sitting outside even on the chilliest of days. But today the cafés were unusually lively. I noticed on my way to classes that they were all opened up, the roofs to their porches had been removed and people were eating right on the street in the sun. Finally, Paris’ streets were as full of diners as pedestrians.   At the café at the bottom of my street the owner had moved a few tables outside right onto the sidewalk, and diners happily sat at tables on the slanted, hilly street. It didn’t matter if their coffees nearly slid onto their laps—they were determined to enjoy the sunshine.

I texted my roommate this afternoon and told her that we absolutely had to have a picnic dinner tonight; Paris was finally alive and we needed to be a part of its newfound spring vitality. Around seven o’clock we packed up our salads and sandwiches and headed to Jardin des Plantes, a large park near our apartment in the 5th arrondissment. We quickly found the one area of the park where it is not “interdit” to sit on the grass; every park in Paris has just one of these not-off-limits grasses. We followed the sounds of others chatting loudly, eating large spreads of French food, and listening to music, and took a spot on the grass. We sat down on our blanket and began to eat, taking in the scene around us; some people were even dancing in their excitement at the warmth. The park closed at sunset, but we could not stand to go home quite yet, so my roommate and I decided to take a walk along the Seine.

Most people do not think of the part of Paris along the Seine south of Gare d’Austerlitz to be particularly Parisian, but Sophie and I wanted to check out the village of Bercy, so we headed in a direction we had never before ventured and were quickly surrounded by a completely unrecognizable Paris. The buildings were huge, modern, and built entirely out of glass, the traffic was loud and fast, and there were no Haussmannian edifices in sight. However, as we walked along the river at dusk we noticed ahead of us the silhouettes of crowds of people congregated along the Seine. There, in the shadows of Paris’ modern city Sophie and I discovered a part of Paris livelier than we had ever seen. Thousands of warm-weather-appreciators sat along the banks of the river drinking wine, and crowds of people walked along the riverside path. We even stumbled upon numerous restaurants on the banks of the Seine where people were eating, drinking, and enjoying a night out, even on a Tuesday! Even though we each had a lot of homework to do, we could not tear ourselves away from the scene and we continued to walk along the river and take in the new, boisterous version of Paris. When we finally crossed the bridge on our way back home, we took a moment to contemplate this previously unknown, modern city in front of us, while watching the sun set over the silhouette of old Paris and Notre Dame farther up along the river. For the first time we stood in Paris’ modern center, listening to the New York-like familiar sounds of traffic, standing under tall buildings glowing orange in the sunset. I’ll always love picturesque, old Paris, but standing in such a modern part of the city was incredibly refreshing, and the perfect way to end a day where my faith in Paris’ liveliness was restored by the warmth and sunshine. Paris is awake, and I cannot wait to be a part of its spring time rebirth.