Those of you who have followed my column, you know about my October 2013 diagnosis of breast cancer. Before you start feeling sorry for me and saying, “What a shame she has cancer”, I want you to know that I am a lucky person. My dream came true in May when I traveled to New York followed by Paris. No matter what else occurs in my life, I’m blessed to be able to say, “I spent eight wonderful nights in Paris.” I’d like to share my journey with all of you.
Paris is heaven for most women. It’s a place where their fantasies come alive: hot men, beckoning pastries, sexy lingerie, the latest trends in fashion, mouth-watering chocolates, colorful umbrellas, and don’t forget the fabulous shoes.
Landing midday at Orly began the magical journey. After finding a taxi, I felt like a child in a candy store as I pressed my nose to the cab’s window to take in the changing landscape. As we drove closer to the city, I couldn’t help but ask my driver to slow down while I snapped some photos of the colorful architecture and the people walking the boulevards of Paris.
We arrived at the Hotel Pas de Calais (named after a state and major ferry port in northern France) just after 1:00 PM. The town of Calais came to be called the ‘brightest jewel on the English Crown’ which became our sentiments as well.
I noted the French bathrooms which are sometimes a rare find. Toilets were usually located in a small room with cracks in the wall, separate from sinks and electric hand dryers. There always seemed to be a shortage of soap and paper towels.
This charming family owned establishment combined comfort with historical significance. The structure, built in 1750 as a residence, was home to famous writer and philosopher Chateaubriand and later transformed into a hotel in 1810. Madam, whose father bought the property in 1930, still lives in the hotel six months out of the year. We had the honor of meeting her and her grandson, Alexi. She told us that her father was born at this hotel and died there. We sat them in the lobby on our last night sipping rosé and talking about the hotel’s colorful history; a meeting place for Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and J. Greco. When we inquired about Hemingway, she replied, “Oh no, he stayed at the Ritz.”
Alexander Calder and Jan Voss were some of the artists who stayed there. Madam added with a smile, “My father tossed Jan Voss out in the street when he couldn’t pay for his room. Then he burned some of his early paintings that were offered up as payment.”
We loved everything about the hotel from its magnificent tended orchids in the front lobby to the narrow decorative elevator which allowed only two ‘very friendly’ people to use the lift at one time.
Streets were cobblestoned and narrow. People drove fast in small cars with loud horns and liked to park on the sidewalk; sirens screamed from police cars just like in the movies. American music played in stores and eateries. Motorcyclists and bicycle riders without helmets raced by us. Gypsies begged on street corners and homeless people sat on benches and curbs. One indigent man sat under an ATM machine. There seemed to be a constant movement on the streets; men and women sitting in front of cafes sipping wine, people with their dogs (mostly French bulldogs), people on cellphones and smoking cigarettes. Shop keepers were busy with customers and the general feelings in Paris seemed to be calmer than in America.
On my last day in Paris, I remember the cab ride to Charles De Gaulle airport. I rolled my window down and enjoyed the soft misting of rain. Looking like a paparazzi, not wanting to miss any part of the city, I videoed all that I could. A tremendous wave of nostalgia mixed with a premature yearning for a place I had not yet left overwhelmed me. I kept snapping photos—in hopes of bringing a slice of Paris home with me, not knowing when or if I’d ever return. Looking out the window, I watched the twilight descend and the capital became bathed in a translucent misty lavender glow.
You can view my New York and Paris photo gallery by clicking here.