Au Revoir, Belle Paris

Au Revoir, Belle Paris

How do you say farewell to a city like Paris? My time here has come to an end and yet I’m not ready to leave. As with any complex city, it has presented highs and lows. I’ve been pickpocketed on the metro, kissed by the Seine, saddened by the grey skies and brightened by the blue. All are memories which I’ll treasure.

I know this isn’t the last I’ll see of Paris, but I feel like it requires a proper farewell all the same. Should I try to cram in all the tourist activities I always said I would do but never quite got around to, or simply try to immerse myself in the city and soak it in as much as possible, so that my memories will remain forever vivid?

On my last day in Paris, I decide to wander one last time through the 6th Arrondissement, which I’ve called home for the past year. As I walk down Rue Racine, I pass the moustachioed owner of Hemingway’s old haunt, Les Caves du Polidor, leaning on the wooden doorway and surveying the street scene as usual. And as always, he nods a curt hello.

Further down the street, nearer to the Odéon Theatre, I see the dark curls of fleuriste Stanislas Draber bent over a vibrant, elaborate bouquet, as he shrewdly adjusts each stem. I stop to read the hand-written note he leaves outside the tiny enclave each day and savour one last glorious breath of the redolence emanating from within.

I stroll to Le Jardin du Luxembourg, stopping at the fountain, where little boys are prodding their wooden sailboats with sticks, propelling them like a gust of wind into the centre of the pond. The smartly dressed garçons balance precariously on the fountain’s edge, tongues protruding from their mouths, in deep concentration. Concerned parents call out words of warning, knowing that only seconds lie between a state of perfect grooming and head-to-toe saturation.

Just past the fountain, an elegant Frenchwoman in her sixties guides a tiny terrier – as immaculately coiffed as its owner – up the steps, tittering sweet nothings to it along the way. The shrill, angry blast of a whistle sails into the air from behind the bushes, and a kepi-hatted policeman leaps to attention as if he has been waiting for this very occurrence.

He scurries after her, calling out, “Madame, it is forbidden to take your dog in this part of the gardens!” She ignores his calls and the increasingly urgent trill of his whistle, and continues walking calmly in the same direction. He repeats his warning, momentarily losing his footing in his pursuit.

She turns to him angrily, picking up her pooch in her arms and continuing to walk. “There – are you happy?” she sniffs, haughtily. He is not. “No dogs in this part of the gardens,” he repeats firmly. She turns on her stiletto and glares before launching into a exasperated tirade. “Why don’t you spend your time chasing real criminals like murderers and drug dealers?” she sneers. “You are wasting the government’s money here, outlawing picnics and dogs!” As he stutters to respond, she storms off down the path in defiance.

This reminded me of one of the many things I’ll miss about Paris – the incongruence of its strict rules and its citizens’ blatant disregard for them. When I first arrived, a fellow expat gave me some sage advice: everything’s negotiable in Paris. The trick, he said, is to acknowledge the rule and then defy it anyway – they are to be interpreted as one pleases. It’s this elegant roguishness that I love about Parisians. Although I can never hope to embody such stylish defiance as well as Parisians do, I hope that just a little has rubbed off, so that I might carry my little piece of Paris with me, wherever I go.

Originally published in the February-March 2014 issue of France Today

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  • Lisa
    2014-04-15 00:22:04
    I agree how do you say good-bye to a beautiful city like Paris. Even my second visit to Paris this past March made me realize my soul and heart is falling in love with Paris. Hopefully in a couple of years I'll be working, living and successful in the City of Lights.


  • Milka
    2014-04-10 14:57:37
    My dream is to visit Paris and I look forward to the bon jour as well as the au revoir. One thing I know is certain, I will not be the same after I have been there. I pray that it will be soon, and it will all I have anticipated it to be. Merci beaucoup for the article, which was eloquent in its simplicity and intent.


  • Robert .Penny
    2014-04-09 20:36:39
    Robert .Penny
    There is no way to say goodbye to Paris. You may leave physically, but mind,heart, and soul you remain. That, along with the absolute of the eventual return.