Paris – 7th arrondissement
While this isn't my first time in Paris, I can't say I'm very familiar with the city or the character of its many numbered neighborhoods. That's why I'm here for two whole weeks. I want to walk around, take my time, avoid any sort of structured planning, and just run into things. We're in the 7th arrondissement and, while I wasn't immediately taken by the surroundings, in just two short days I've come to really enjoy the many amenities within a few blocks of our hotel. There's a real community feel in these parts.
There are secrets behind secrets. Doors that are closed one hour, but open the next. Timing is everything.
And yet time is an elastic quantity in France. Les heures d'ouverture are really just hazy ideas of what may or may not actually be the case. For example, we were up early this morning, unable to sleep, so we braved the dark, cold streets to get coffee at our local café; open at 7 AM according to the sign posted on its window. At 7:34 there were still no lights on, and no one in the place. When I walked back into our hotel lobby in defeat, the concierge rebuffed my dismissal, sternly saying all the cafés nearby should be open by now; yet most were just coming to life by the time eight o'clock rolled around.
After a brief walk through the freezing, empty streets of the 7th, we found the spot. Everyone was jammed up at the counter getting their espresso before work. We were strangers in the midst of a daily ritual.
The classic Parisian brasserie is a wonderful thing if you're intimidated by French restaurant dining. It's casual. There are many drinks to be had. No one is pressuring you into eating more than you're comfortable with. The food can be ordered à la carte.
That's where you'll find me currently in the 7th arrondissement. Eating, drinking, stumbling over my French in a relaxed, laid-back Parisian manner. While other Americans are counting the stars in their Michelin guide, crossing venerable institutions off their lists of must-try-before-you die, I'm happy to just visit with the waiter at the corner café.
I ordered the sausage tonight. He paused and said, "Are you sure? The French like it, but I don't think you will. It smells very badly." You've gotta respect the honesty. I can see some Bay Area sophisticate (the same one who thought he could handle the habañero chile in Mexico) shooting down that warning, responding with something like, "I spent a year in Gascony and my best friend is from Bordeaux, so I think I get it." That's not me though. I'm not trying to win any culture awards.
I went with the beef stew.