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Travel guide: Unlocking Cuba
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May 11

My first agenda when I got to Paris was to nest and make my apartment my own. Never mind that the Musée d'Orsay and the Louvre are both five-minute walks away. I spent my first week or two at the Habitat store on the Rue de Pont Neuf, the BHV department store near the Hotel de Ville and Monoprix, investigating bath mats, desks and baskets. I bought a bunch of potted plants for my wonderful terrace at the flower market on the Isle de la Cite, too early in spring. They promptly died, except for the bright red geraniums in a window box overlooking my courtyard. I've always had a green thumb with geraniums, here and in L.A.

I put up posters for every art exhibition I saw: a fat ballerina from the Botero show at the Musée Maillol, the Lady and the Unicorn from the Cluny, a Rubens nude from the big retrospective at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Lille. And charts that look as though they were made for kids, showing the kings of France and the history of this extraordinary country from 125 B.C. to the Fifth Republic.

That reminds me: It was a very good thing to have read "Seven Ages of Paris," by Alistair Horne, before I got here. Required reading for all lovers of the City of Light. Not that I retained much, but it seems to have grounded me in a historical sense.

So now, on an overcast Saturday afternoon, I'm in my apartment, feeling at home.

Home.

I remember what the owner of a Montmartre apartment I almost rented, a French teacher, said to me: In a new place, with imperfect language skills, you don't just not know how to speak. You don't know how to be. I'll be frank. I came to Paris -- but it could have been Hong Kong or Rome -- for just that kind of dislocation. That opportunity to start all over. For an American woman of a certain age, with entrenched habits and opinions, is it possible? We shall see.

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