Travel

April 20

Today was the sort of day that makes a person want nothing more than to be alive in Paris. It rained and stopped, and clouds chased the sun and vice versa, with dramatic lighting effects.

I had to go to the area around the Hotel de Ville to buy a sleeping bag. As quotidian as it sounds, that's just the sort of errand I like to try to accomplish in Paris. I took the Rue de Seine to the Pont des Arts and found, there, at the Rue Mazarine, one of Paris' countless pocket parks, the Square Gabriel Pierné. A purple flowering tree had lost its blossoms in the recurrent spring deluges of the weekend. The ground was covered in purple, like snow. It was beautiful. Beyond it gleamed the gilded dome of the Insitut de France, built between 1662 and 1691, an architectural high point of the Roman Baroque in Paris, my Blue Guide to Paris says. It houses, among other things, the vaunted Académie Française.

I am having a little trouble resolving my status in Paris. I'm not exactly a tourist, because I live and work here. But I feel guilty if I let a day go by without seeing something I might never again get a chance to see. This is the baggage of a Puritanical American upbringing. I keep telling myself that I don't have a list, there won't be a test and I can spend my time as I relish. So I'm trying to teach myself how to sit in cafes the way the French do, with no apparent agenda.

Near me are Les Deux Magots and Flore, but I prefer Le Bonaparte because it's off the noisy Boulevard Saint-Germain-des-Prés. I sat there today, drinking tea and eating tarte tatin with a scoop of raspberry sorbet, thinking about the way I lusted after things Asian in L.A. -- Buddhism, yoga, the Dalai Lama -- all of which teach us how to be in the present.

Paris seems to offer the same approach to living, though its way of being in the here and now has to do with matter, not transcendence, the good things of the earth that make us happy. Tarte tatin, wine, cafes, walking everywhere, the Seine and all its lovely bridges. I never understood that before.

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