“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
~Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
The sun was reflecting off the Louvre’s glass pyramid, casting shadows along marbled monuments, dancing through trees that were beginning to transform themselves into palettes of dusty orange and goldenrod. Overhead, a brilliant blue sky seemed to be hanging on to the days of summer even though the calendar was clearly turned to late September. Morning had barely begun and already Paris was hard at work, mixing the colors of the seasons to create an impossibly beautiful scene.
Herb and I were spending our first day here simply walking. We weren’t sure what to expect, with remnants of the pandemic still swirling about. We didn’t know whether our U.S. vaccination cards would be accepted at Paris cafés and museums. But after almost two years of staying close to home, the only thing that really mattered was that we were traveling again. As our son so wisely reminded us before we left home, “It’s not about sightseeing. It’s a change of venue.”
And oh, what a venue it is!
The Louvre Courtyard
We began our walk at the Louvre, the city’s iconic museum complex that seems to stretch for miles along the Right Bank of the Seine River. Its landmark glass and metal pyramid sits prominently in the Louvre Courtyard, surrounded by three smaller pyramids. Just beyond is the stunning Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, built between 1806 and 1808 to commemorate Napoleon’s military victories.
The Left Bank to the Pont Alexander III
We crossed the Pont des Arts and walked along the Left Bank, heading toward the Eiffel Tower. It was quickly becoming apparent that we seemed to have this beautiful city all to ourselves. Parisians were going about their daily lives, but tourists like us were harder to spot. It was somewhere between the Louvre and the Pont Alexander III that I realized I had been taking pictures rather effortlessly. No jostling for a spot. No waiting patiently for someone to move on. And on such a glorious sunny day.
Place de la Concorde
Back on the Right Bank, we turned toward the Louvre, stopping first at the Place de la Concorde, home to Paris’ Luxor Obelisk. Built in the thirteenth century B.C., the obelisk was a gift to Paris from Egypt and is the oldest monument in the city. I had been dazzled by the obelisk’s 80-foot-tall “twin” at Luxor Temple two years ago and was curious to see the one that had been sent to Paris.
The Tuileries Garden between the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre must surely be one of the most beautiful public parks in the world. Created by Catherine de’ Medici in 1564 as the garden of the Tuileries Palace, it opened to the public in 1667 and was designated a public park after the French Revolution. The Tuileries has a formal yet welcoming feel and is the kind of place where you could lose yourself for hours, especially on a lovely autumn day.
A short walk from the Louvre sits the Palais-Royal, Paris’ seventeenth century royal palace-turned government office building. Although closed to the public, its outdoor Coeur d’Honneur – Courtyard of Honor – is open to visitors and is decorated with two intriguing art installations.
In the first installation, artist Daniel Buren has designed 260 black and white striped columns of various heights, arranged in rows throughout the courtyard. Their modern look is a sharp contrast to the Palais-Royal architecture, but they seem to look as if they’ve always belonged there. The second work by sculptor Pol Bury features two basins that each contain seventeen polished metal spheres. As the water flows around them, light bounces off the spheres, reflecting the surrounding architecture – as well as the people taking photos of them! Both installations were completed in 1986.
While doing research for the trip, I ran across a beautiful reading room at a Paris library called the Bibliothéque Richelieu. Visitors are not permitted to enter the room, but are welcome to take photos from the doorway. Since the library is a brief walk from the Palais-Royal, I figured it would be worth the time to see if we could get inside. A security check and proof of vaccination later…and we found ourselves standing in the doorway.
Back on the Left Bank
One of the Paris places I especially wanted to revisit was Shakespeare and Company, the extraordinarily charming English-language independent bookstore on the Left Bank. With its distinctive green and yellow exterior and old-fashioned signage, it’s a place that feels like you’re stepping back in time. The original shop opened in 1919 during Paris’ Jazz Age and was a popular spot for Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and other great writers of the day.
There’s a romance to Shakespeare and Company that still lingers, much like the surrounding streets on the Left Bank. It’s the Paris that lives in the imagination, where the present day seems to melt away and almost anything is possible.