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Paris by Heart by Maxine Schur


I love Paris with such a passion, it hurts. Last year I lived there for four months but still, I can never get enough. When I'm not in Paris I ache for the city as if for a lost love.

If I could return once more, I'd jump feet first into all the wonderful places I still want to discover. And, I would also make a personal pilgrimage to my favorite places from chic to charming all that hooked my heart.

First I would re visit my favorite arrondissement, the Marais. Here the streets follow their ancient circuitous routes and hold a rich collection of museums, galleries, boutiques, bars, cafes and fountains so that the illogical confusion of the streets makes it illogically joyful to get lost. The Marais is the 16th century heart of Paris with its elegant hotels particuliers (mansions) paving stone sidewalks and at its center the rosy brick symmetry of that most elegant square, the Place des Vosges. Despite its noble history, the Marais is edgy, hip and diverse. It is traditional and trendy, gay and straight, old and new. The quarter houses buildings that have borne witness to some of the most important events in French history yet walk along the rue des Rosiers and you will find not only the ateliers of hot new Japanese designers, you will find a Jewish quarter with Hebrew school, synagogue, kosher butchers and bakeries. One winter evening I was on the rue des Rosiers in a gentle swirl of snowflakes and had the curious feeling I was inside a pretty snow globe, not of Paris, but of Jerusalem.

The Marais holds today the highest concentration of artisans in Europe and so it's here where I meet truly creative people. So I would return to Claire Orengo on Place de Thorigny who not only sells elegant velvet and silk fabric but makes all lampshades, diaries, tassels and lingerie bags with it. Claire who'll make whatever you like even wraps boxes of fireplace matches in thick plum and black velvet. On rue Ferdinand Duval I would seek out gentle Djossu from Togo who so slowly winds silver thread round and round and as he says "soothes the jewelry" by weaving it with pearls and semi-precious stones and Swakovski crystals which he hand-paints. I would return to Celis on rue Vielle du Temple whose proprietor can be seen on any day in the window knitting her finger puppets of more than 100 story book characters!

Come evening perhaps I'd walk down to Le Felteu. The word means leprechaun and like a leprechaun, it's small and quirky. The place is an anomaly in the trendy Marais because it has few tourists but a regular clientele of locals. The red and white check tablecloths, plates on the wall and gruff proprietor say rustic and so do the prices. I'd order the dish I discovered there: endives baked with ham topped with a browned crust of melted cheese. Even the smoke at Le Felteu which would outrage me in California, I like. The grey smoke lends a mystery to this tiny time-warp and along with the old Paris regulars makes me feel I'm in a 1940s French film.

On another day, I'd stroll to the Café Ile des Fous on the Ile St. Louis. This is the friendly cafe where Patricia La Plante, an American and longtime island resident brings her dog, Evelyn. Bringing a dog to a café is not unusual in France but here the cute waiters baby-sit the mutt while she runs errands! They spoil Evelyn with bowls of party mix from the bar and table scraps. As for Patricia, she is a Paris institution. Every Sunday evening this Georgia native opens up her apartment to Parisians and visitors alike. For 25 dollars, she whips up a hearty buffet of Southern American and French cuisine and fortifies her guests with French wine. The real draw is each other. The guests are a potpourri of the most fascinating people you're likely to meet in any one place. One evening I chatted with a Brazilian film director, a curator of the Los Angeles County museum, a French novelist an oil rig engineer from Greenland and a singer from Berkeley, all the while enjoying a plate of black eyed peas, fried chicken and salade niçoise.

Perhaps I'd spend the afternoon in the Latin Quarter taking mint tea at the exuberant Moorish garden of the Grand Mosque, poking around in the used bookstores and saying hello to the delightful Sylvia Beach who I had met at Shakespeare & Co. Then, just at that time of afternoon when Parisians are seen in the cafes as they say "taking a glass," and when the excitement of being in Paris has made me tired, I'd slip into the 15th century Cluny Abbey whose thick stone walls house the National Museum of the Middle Ages. I have a friend who says that when she discovered the Middle Ages, she felt she had come home. I understand that for when I'm at the Cluny I am serene. Medieval art is harmonious and sensuous yet there is a still quality to this art that makes you still before it. Whether it's a rosewood statue of a saint or the exquisite colors of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry, grace and passion are revealed so humble, so human, that makes this museum for me the most peaceful place in Paris, like a spa for the spirit.

For the rest of my stay, I'd grab my companion and we'd discover all the things I still want to see such as Bercy Village, St. Denis Cathedral and Les Buttes Chaumont. I would stretch out each sweet moment like taffy and record them all in a notebook to always remember. After all, as the French know and I have learned, the Latin origins of the word "record" mean "to take back through the heart." And that is the only way to remember Paris.

Maxine Schur - Foster City California, United States