My wife and I lived in Paris for two months back in 2006. She had just left a stressful job, and I was writing a screenplay about Teddy Roosevelt so we figured, I can write anywhere so why not Paris?
We lived in a tiny, perfect, one-bedroom apartment in the Latin Quarter, a five minute walk to Notre Dame and about two hundred yards down from the Pantheon where Voltaire, Victor Hugo (Les Miserables), and Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers) are buried, among other French luminaries.
Writing in Paris
We had the time of our lives. I’d get up early, get an exquisite espresso and croissant and then write all morning. My wife would sleep late most mornings, trying to catch up on ten straight years of working her butt off at the White House, on Capitol Hill and for the owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers, among other of her employers.
It worked perfectly because once she got up, I’d be finished writing and we’d head off to explore Paris. One day it was the Picasso Museum. The next day the Rodin or the Louvre or Montmartre…We walked everywhere. And of course, interspersed through it all were sublime meals.
And then…We came home. And quickly missed Paris. But in the ensuing years, and two more trips to the City of Lights, we have learned how to bring Paris back with us. Here are three ideas.
1. Dinner at home
FOOD: The best part about living in an apartment was that we didn’t go out for every meal. In fact, our favorite nights were when we shopped for our food at the local outdoor markets and brought it back. Everything we bought and ate is doable in most locales.
What to get? First, of course, is a baguette. If you have a local bakery that makes them fresh, do that. If not, most grocery stores these days have decent baguettes.
Second, buy some good cheese. Don’t skimp here and get Velveeta. We love brie and soft cheeses. But get whatever floats your fromage boat.
Third, buy a dozen oysters.
Fourth, buy some lettuce and fixins and make your favorite salad, with your go-to dressing.
Fifth, dessert! Go to your local bakery or grocery store and see if you can find macarons, chocolate mousse or an éclair. Don’t buy a huge amount. Why? See below.
Finally, get a bottle of wine. Champagne goes great with oysters as does Chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. If you want to really go hard-core authentic, buy a bottle of Sancerre, which is where the premier sauvignon blanc comes from in France. If you don’t drink, maybe just try some Perrier with lime.
The key to this dinner is keeping things light. Notice I don’t have a main course here of fish, meat or pasta. This is what the French often do. It’s also what my wife and I did when we were there. We had plenty to eat, but never felt absolutely stuffed at the end of the night.
MUSIC: This is crucial to bringing Paris home. Listen to some cool French music. My wife and I listened to the soundtrack of the Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton film Something’s Gotta Give all the time during our trip. The film’s climax is in Paris and the soundtrack has fantastic songs by Louis Armstrong, Eartha Kitt, Charles Trenet and other French artists. Most people have Spotify, Pandora or Amazon music these days and you can find this album and other French greats like Edith Piaf there.
FILMS: If you really want to go all out, after dinner watch a Paris-based film like Midnight in Paris, Moulin Rouge, Amelie, An American in Paris, Charade or Before Sunset.
FLOWERS: Finally, consider buying flowers for your Paris night at home. Not a massive bouquet with twelve different kinds of flowers. Think simple and elegant, like the French. Half a dozen yellow tulips hits just the right note.
2. Go to a café
This one is tres simple. Most cities and towns have a café or coffee shop. Head to your favorite one, preferably on a weekend when you won’t be rushed.
Sit outside, if possible, and weather permitting. Order an espresso or your favorite coffee drink. And get a pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) or regular croissant if that’s your fancy.
Just sit. Relax. Don’t gobble everything down as you would a quarter-pounder with cheese. Take your time. Watch the world go by. Maybe intersperse that with reading a book.
This is what the French do. Instead of rushing and stuffing stuff down their throats, they savor. It’s a mindful way of being.
3. Go out to dinner at a French restaurant
Actually, I recommend a bistro over an expensive French restaurant. Bistros normally serve the traditional dishes that people throughout France eat at home.
What are these dishes? Coq au vin (chicken cooked in wine), cassoulet (a hearty stew of white beans, sausage and pork — it’s amazing!), sole meuniere (sole in a butter and lemon sauce) and duck confit (duck legs cooked in duck fat) to name a few of the can’t-miss options.
For dessert, try a chocolate souffle. Or if you really want to live on the decadent edge, order vanilla ice cream profiteroles topped with chocolate sauce.
Again, the mantra here is go slow. Don’t rush the meal. Savor is the name of the game.
Two final points before wrapping up:
Try not to dress slapdash
First, dress casually elegant for all three of the above. Try not to wear shorts and flip flops to dinner at home or the café. I know this may sound presumptuous to offer sartorial advice, but the French generally don’t wear leggings or sweats when they head out.
This is most true with the way French women comport themselves. They apply minimal makeup and don simple outfits — well-fitting jeans, flats, a white tee-shirt, an unflashy sweater, and a light scarf. Maybe a bracelet or a necklace. Probably not both.
For men, just a decent pair of pants and a polo or button down shirt. Nothing too flashy.
In the end, it’s about showing respect for yourself and the meal/experience you’re partaking in. And it’ll enhance the Parisian vibe.
Walk like you’re in Paris
Second, after your dinner at home, café stop or dinner out, go for a walk. My wife and I walked miles every day when in Paris. It’s good for the heart, good for the brain and, most important, good for the soul.
Bonne chance, mes amis.