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After living in a small city like Frankfurt now for several months, despite having grown up in a huge one like New York, the challenge of visiting a big city overwhelms me now. Four days in Paris would simply never be enough to see all the things I wanted to see: all the diverse neighborhoods, browsing world-famous shops and department stores, and taking the time to wander and find hidden ones – not to mention museums, where I have always been able to spend hours upon hours, and which are sadly lacking in quality here in my new home.

So with the help of two guidebooks* I planned, made essentials lists and other lists by neighborhood, and set out early on a Thursday morning for the 6am-10am train to Paris. I would rave about the beautiful scenery in the countryside, but unfortunately at this time of year the sun had still not risen for most of the journey!

I have a few things I’d like to post about my trip to Paris, but I think I want to start with my impression at the end, and work my way backwards… On the last day I was wandering in the cold, grey yet somehow perfectly fitting Paris weather, I realized how many moments I was having, feeling just like Gil (Owen Wilson) in Woody Allen’s movie “Midnight in Paris”…

“Are you sure you don’t want to walk in the rain in Paris? It might be our last chance!”

Cliché, yes of course, and I’m absolutely sure the novelty wears off if you’re there for more than four days, but I must say you know you’re truly happy somewhere when it’s 40 degrees and starts to rain and you aren’t annoyed, but rather think it’s the most beautiful thing.

All roads lead to Saint Germain….

Earlier, after a quick jaunt up to Montmarte, I came back down to the Rue de Bac and found my way finally to Deyrolle – up the creaking wooden stairs that lead from the innocuous-looking garden store on the ground floor, you turn the corner at the top banister and it really is a wonder. Lions, giraffes, and butterflies to impeccably white skeletons in glass display cases – and yes even a small elephant, all there one next to another with no pretense. You don’t touch of course, but you can get close enough that you could. It’s such a different experience to be right there next to one of these animals, than even all the zoos and natural history museums and documentaries – these things you’d not want to be so close to in real life.

And of course it’s now known to me as well as the setting for that scene in “Midnight in Paris” when Gil (Owen Wilson) comes to find Adriana (Marion Cotillard) there at some Surrealist’s wedding party or some such. And there she was, between the peacocks and rows of cabinets where you can pull out trays of more butterfly and insect specimens, from iridescent blues to common speckled varieties you remember from your childhood. The legendary shop has recovered quite nicely from an apparently devastating fire a few years ago – and while to me it seemed clearly like someplace just to look and visit, while I was doing so there were actually other people shopping – asking for prices and logistics on purchasing one of the smaller items. Logistics must be at least half of it – I mean how much does that stuffed elephant weigh?, I wondered. All in all it’s something that truly must be seen. It’s only unfortunate that pictures are not allowed inside, although this is also completely understandable. Just something you’ll have to discover for yourself I suppose!

And then on my last walk along the Quai, past those booksellers in green wooden boxes perched upon the wall, where Gil magically finds Adriana’s diary, I got an old postcard from I think 1910, written and postmarked and everything. Someone else’s borrowed moment, though I haven’t understood it all yet.

Trying to learn a little French – one way to keep it all with me, Paris.

*The books I used were: The Louis Vuitton City Guide and the Little Black Book of Paris, published by Peter Pauper Press. They made a good team, as the Little Black Book is organized by neighborhood, with detailed maps showing the sights, shops, and restaurants in each, but it doesn’t have information like hours or prices for visiting museums. The advantage of the LV guide is that it is updated every year so it does have this kind of useful information, but the disadvantage of course is that this information can become out of date by your next trip so it’s best to check anyway. Between the two there is a good selection of recommendations, varied and thorough and stylish but not too cliché, but both are quite light on the history so for that I had downloaded last year a Lonely Planet app during a free promotion.

(Second picture is a still from “Midnight in Paris,” all others are my own.)