In January, Paris can test our patience. The days are so short that by 3.30pm-4pm the cars begin to turn on their headlights. This winter has also been wet. Even on the days when it is not raining properly, a mist and a drizzle has filled the air, as if Paris had decided to be and look like London. There has been so much water that the Seine is now overflowing and I cannot run down through the sculpture garden in front of the Institut du Monde Arabe. And the Seine even looks more like the Thames than usual – it is churned up, dirty; as it flows west towards the channel it tows with it refuse, natural and man-made alike.
And for those of us lucky enough to find sun in the winter as many of my friends have, vacationing in Thailand, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, the difficulty of coming back to the cold, drizzle of Paris is compounded by having holidayed with happy people, people pleased to serve and to step aside as we pass on the street. In Paris, the pride, the pushing and the arrogance on the streets are hard pills to swallow after a week or two in the sun and surf, surrounded by personalities that complement the weather.
(The creatures on display at the gallery downstairs. Photo by Frances Guerin.)
I was feeling gloomy about Paris until the other night when I walked my friend Irina home through my neighborhood and into hers. This is why I love having visitors to Paris. Because they remind me that I live in not just the most beautiful city in Europe, but one where the importance of aesthetic presentation filters through into every aspect of life.
I showed Irina the shops and storefronts in my street: the hairdresser, Cizor's, that might be mistaken for a museum, it is so elegantly decorated; the gallery with ornaments and design objects that are the fantasy of adults and children alike; the florist whose windows are displayed with the arrangement of the day also sent out to companies and offices; one of Paris’ best loved restaurants that used to be a pharmacy and has kept the original façade and some of the accoutrements of the early 20th century pharmacy it once was. A little further along, there is the man who makes shoes – he doesn’t just sell them, he makes them; and the nativity scene in lights at Ste Elisabeth's Church which embraces all of the subtlety and taste of Christmas lights all over the city. And the list goes on.
(Cizor's. Photo by Frances Guerin.)
I walk past these shops and storefronts every day. And some days I look in them and wish I could afford what they sell, or at least, justify spending the money to buy what is on offer. But usually, I know, most things look better in a Parisian shop window than they do anywhere else, including my home.
It takes a visitor to show me how elegant and beautiful even the street that I live on can be. And it takes a visitor to reflect back to me a view of Paris that reminds me, inspite of the wintry weather, the tourists, the long lines and the gruff Parisians, it’s still the most beautiful city in Europe.
(top image: On rue Saint Honoré looking at Nicolas de Staël's La Seine à Paris in a gallery window. Photo by Frances Guerin.)