Genetic Memory by Mary Ann Nicoud
Going to Paris is the infusion of genetic memory life-force my soul needs to keep my spirit alive. My French heritage is all but lost unless I occasionally connect with my past by being physically present in the City Of Lights, pounding my feet on the Champs-Elysees , and strolling along my favorite little street in the world, Gregorie de Tours. This tiny street is where I begin my transformation and truly feel my soul re-connecting with my spirit. To make sure I'm still part of the physical world I stop for a meal at Ah Beaujolais where the host is always welcoming, before I venture out to soak up the rest of the city.
What I love about Paris is Paris. The gritty city itself. The traffic, the noise, the crowds, the sights, the smells and the tastes. All that mixed together is the most overwhelming sensual experience I have ever had.
The smells of sweating onions and ripe open-market goat cheese mixes with perfume wafting from a small boutique and fresh cut flowers on a street corner mingles with Peugeot exhaust fumes and rotisserie chickens. An open door salon filled with powered people, almost overtakes the scent of an overflowing, big green sanitation bin just at the curb. Intoxicating!
The sights of open street construction unearthing 500 year old pavers stacked behind orange plastic-net fencing, shop windows bejeweled with pastry, chacuterie, or 20 varieties of olives reflect chestnut trees flourishing in stone walkways. Patches of grass at small points of space in the middle of a walled gray-green river, connecting one side to the other by bridge after bridge sets a geometric grid for romping children and well behaved dogs all loving their Paris. And lovers kissing in the City of Love give this city a glow as if the Bateau were permanently passing by illuminating each photogenic sight for all to see that everywhere you look is a specticical to behold.
The sounds of impatient taxi horns, punctuating opera singers taking advantage of ideal narrow street reverberation, mixes melodically with an occasionally clochard ranting and the cheers of the crowd that gathered to see the ``artiste'' fire-breather. The wizzzz of the roller-bladers disguises the silent prayers of the worshipers just inside Notre Dame a few yards away. This city melody is like no intended composition. Not classical, not jazz, not New Age, or Fusion. It can only be the sounds of Paris!
And Ahhh the tastes. Good food can be found world-wide but Paris has, for me, destination tastes! Flavors unique to Paris. A warm cup of chocolate nothing short of a pure melted bar in a cup at Café de Flore goes down so smoothly after picking up a crepe at a street stand. The dark bitter berry taste of a cassis sorbet from Berthillon after a cozy evening meal at L'ilot Vache on Ile St-Louis can't be found anywhere else in the world. The thirst-quenching true lemon delight of a ``make your own'' citron presse at Bar du Soleil on the right bank, overlooking the Seine tastes like sunlight in a glass. No tea and croissant ever tasted better than my indulgence at Laduree' on rue Bonaparte at rue Jacob. Pomme frites and steak tartar at Closerie des Lilas never tasted better, knowing Hemingway was there, a novel taste indeed! The Lux Bar on rue Lepic draws me back because I see the same Lady each time I go. Red lipstick and nails, high high heals, yellow hair sort of ``up'', and smoking a cigarette with a long cigarette holder! This is a place for locals ordering plates of lentils and sausage at the bar. And what a bar! Flowers in a vase at the end and the most beautiful tile work scene to feast your eyes on while you sip a beer at the open window table right on the street, yes, next to the construction! Perfectly, overwhelmingly Paris!
Being truly overwhelmed in Paris is a regular occurrence. When sights, sounds and tastes merge simultaneously, one is in for a sensory treat extraordinaire. That is the experience of the Galeries Lafayette. The must see fashion show blasts hip-no-tech tunes while model-gorgeous models strut an elevated runway in a frenzy of fashion. Wine is served to round out the experience intended to encourage a pleasurable buying atmosphere. The secret of the Galeries for me, is the roof top restaurant, with no better place to be on top of the world that includes a view of that perfect tower!
The St-Germaine area near St-Sulpice has boutique shop windows bursting with funky designer bijou where I deck myself from head to toe in Les Nereides and Michall Negrin if someone doesn't stop me. And to see the model-gorgeous models up close? I sit next to them at American Cafe, a bare bones hamburger joint. The tastes and sights are delightful here but the real treat is the sight of seeing the French eating these American hamburgers with knife and forks! Good for a secret American laugh.
The only disappointment Paris holds for me is leaving but I can always count on sensory treats at the airport to send me off until I return. The glass tube escalators taking me from one level to the next under a glass ceiling let me know the city is still there. The hundreds of multi-national flags hanging down the endless corridors promise unexpected and unfamiliar experiences when I return. African women in spectacular Liberian dress or Muslim women in burka remind me that Paris fashion will always be there to surprise me. I hold on to a crazy hope that I decipher the PA system calling my name, telling me to pick up a hospitality phone. I am not to return to America but must, for some crazy reason, remain in France. But no, its just my spirit slipping quietly from my soul. It happens like this and I know I'll just have to return to Paris.
Mary Ann Nicoud - Fox Point Wisconsin, United States