How to Placemake in Paris

In The Art of Travel, Paris, 14. Tips, Places by SaranshLeave a Comment

It’s difficult to fathom that the semester will be wrapping up in less than two weeks, but Paris is certainly giving me clues. Its skies now dwell in a permanent state of grayness. Its yellow-leaved autumn trees have now gone bare in preparation for winter. And there is now a melancholy air which pervades the thin hallways of the NYU Paris academic building, an air which seems to ask, “am I ready to go just yet?”

I’m not sure if I’m equipped to answer that question, because time really has gotten the best of me, just like everybody warned me it would. But what I can say confidently is that studying away has been a whirlwind of newness: new places, new people, new languages, new cuisines, new modes of travel, new opportunities for self-growth—the list is endless. While all these new experiences have had a profound impact on me throughout my time here, it is the experiences that have become familiar to me that will truly resonate with me in the long run.

It takes time, exposure, and intention for a space to become a place. This brings me to my first crucial tip: make it a point to spend numerous weekends in Paris (or wherever you may be studying) so that you can develop a strong relationship with your home base. I spent the first few weekends of the semester traveling around France and other parts of Europe, and while I was having an incredible amount of fun collecting exciting and culturally stimulating memories, it was difficult for me to feel as though I truly understood Paris. Returning to my room from the airport each Sunday afternoon felt disheartening, like stepping back into a limbo-of-sorts for a couple of days before jetting off on my next adventure.

In October, I made a point out of staying in Paris, and my perspective began to change. One weekend, my girlfriend and a group of friends from New York visited me, and I found that showing them around the city was incredibly invigorating. First of all, it gave me an opportunity to gauge what my favorite tourist sites, restaurants, and nightlife spots were so that I could share them with people I loved, and furthermore, it doubled as a seamless chance for me to explore new parts of the city that I had not yet tapped into. During two other weekends in October, I spent my days enjoying art in historic museums I had been dying to visit, listening to music in iconic Parisian concert venues, trying out new study spaces, and happening upon restaurants, bars, and clubs across the city. These weekends ended up becoming my favorite of the semester. My French improved drastically as did my relationships with my newfound friends, and I really started to feel like I belonged.

Since this initial phase of exploration, I have had a chance to re-encounter some of the highlights. When another friend from New York visited me in November, I was able to bring her to haunts that had become more than just novelties to me, but rather, genuine staples of my life in Paris that I had taken the time to get to know. For example, visiting the Louvre with her for the third time meant that I was well acquainted with its makeup, and we were able to avoid getting lost, even having a chance to discover the relatively unknown Islamic Art section. Similarly, bringing her to my favorite boulangérie meant that I could recommend which sandwich exactly was the best one to order since I’d gotten in the habit of coming there numerous times a week. Instead of visiting a new restaurant or museum or country every day, consider revisiting your favorite places. This is what will help you establish a sense of familiarity and “hominess” that separates you from just another tourist.

Furthermore, the best way to placemake is to do so on foot. Some of my most special memories in Paris have involved walking, both solo and in groups. It has allowed me to make spatial connections between arrondissements and understand the geographic layout of the city. It is also the best way to observe local culture and people-watch in an intimate sense since it has involved physically and figuratively placing myself into the narrative of the streets I’ve wandered. Additionally, walking has been a fantastic way to clear my head during overwhelming moments; the fresh air, the glistening Seine and the gorgeous antiquated architecture have never failed to fill me with a sense of fulfillment and gratitude.

My biggest piece of advice in regard to placemaking would be to do your very best to create a sense of routine. I try not to have any regrets, but I do wish that I had been more successful in practicing what I preach in this regard. The weeks during which I did abide by a routine—eating a banana before my first class, working out on the Cité campus in the afternoon, shopping at Monoprix in the evening—were the ones during which I felt most at peace. However, the weeks during which I meandered, woke up at different times of the day, and didn’t plan ahead were the ones which caused me the most stress, anxiety, and disillusionment. Do not underestimate the emotional importance of maintaining structure in your life, especially coming from New York, where micromanagement is the name of the game.

I would absolutely recommend studying in Paris; it will challenge, excite, and inspire you, and above all, it will give you the tools to learn a lot about yourself and how you want to navigate the world and all the nuance it entails. If you do decide to come here, think about how much is at your fingertips in Paris itself, and don’t be in a rush to get out of the city. If you do decide to travel a lot, make sure that you enforce a routine in your life to ensure that a sense of consistency can anchor you. To conclude, here is a large (but nonexhaustive) collection of miscellaneous tips which involve many of the spaces I’ve made into places while in Paris:

  • Beyond crêpes and croissants, make sure to partake in the vast variety of East Asian food available in Paris. With a massive immigrant population, the city plays host to many restaurants which offer genuinely authentic dishes. Some highlights include Foyer Mon Vietnam, which is a delicious Vietnamese restaurant that is less than a five-minute walk away from the NYU Paris building, and Kokonor, a Tibetan staple with dumplings that would make anyone’s mouth water
  • My favorite bar in the city is called Le Comptoir General, which is adjacent to the ever-energetic Canal St. Martin. It is tropical themed, with a model of a pirate ship on the dance floor. Their Pina Coladas are incredible!
  • Right next door to Le Comptoir General is Siseng, a trendy Laotian fusion restaurant which is famous for burgers wrapped in bao buns—a must try before drinks next door!
  • My favorite club in the city is called Le Duplex, just next to the Arc de Triomphe. Imagine what you thought a club would be like when you were six years old: neon lights, lounge chairs, and a bunch of college-aged kids dancing to pop anthems without a care in the world. It’s basically The Sims 2 Nightlife in real life.
  • Coordinate your travel around France according to the time of year. I’m so glad that I went to Giverny in late summer while the flowers were still in bloom, Nice around the same time while the water was still warm, and Bordeaux during the fall so that I could see the vineyards in a vast array of color. Season and weather are good criteria to use when deciding where to travel.
  • Visit Luxembourg if you’re looking for an easy day trip outside of the country. It is quaint, peaceful, and resembles a fortress, like a portal to yesteryear. It’s especially gorgeous during the fall.
  • Visit London to get a sense of a metropolis that feels somewhat like a mixture of Paris (European culture) and New York City (urban energy).
  • Visit Budapest for an incredibly lively, youthful atmosphere that culturally differs from all of Western Europe. Szimpla Kert, a ruin bar in the city center, will go down in my mind as one of the most jubilant places I’ve ever been to!
  • Take advantage of NYU Paris sponsored trips, because the school makes the process super easy with great food and great accommodations, all expenses paid.
  • Free Mobile is by far the best phone carrier in France. With my SIM card, I have been allotted 100 GB of data per month in France and 25 GB of data per month in every other part of Europe—I’m paying less than I do back in the States for so much more.
  • Paris has many lovely co-working spaces which serve as great vessels to get work done in pleasant, dynamic environments. Nuage is just a couple of minutes away from the NYU Paris building and Hubsy is another great spot in Le Marais. You typically pay by the hour and have unlimited access to coffee and snacks!
  • Spend at least one full day in Le Marais if you can! It’s such an exciting, vibrant part of the city with a complex history, once home to wealthy aristocrats, then home to disenfranchised minority communities (the Jewish and LGBTQ communities, primarily), and is now revitalized as a trendy, cultural hub.
  • Palais de Tokyo stands out to me as the most innovative museum I’ve been to in Paris. Its exhibits are immersive and experiential. One that I went to involved a room full of webs that collectively formed an instrument that people could play with their bodies. Plus, it’s uniquely open until midnight, allowing for a different type of late night adventure.
  • If you’re having a tough time, ask for help from friends in Paris, friends back home, your parents, or the wellness counselor on campus—whatever works best for you. There’s nothing wrong with not feeling your best 100% of the time as long as you do your best to be self-aware.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed by the pressure to constantly be doing something exciting! Take care of yourself, whether that means staying in a couple of nights in a row or taking a mental health day. Trust your instincts and everything else will fall into place.
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(Image: 5 PM from the 8th Floor; Source: Saransh Desai-Chowdhry)

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