Would you call me crazy if I told you I turned down luxurious rooms at the George V, Le Meurice and the Hôtel Plaza Athénée during my recent trip to Paris? Would you ask, “What in the world got into you?” if I said I traded the famed address 228 rue de Rivoli across from the Jardin des Tuileries for a tiny lane in the 2nd arrondissement? What had gotten into me was the desire to have a Paris experience that included a Parisian’s point of view so I exchanged my condo in South Beach for a place in Paris and voila: a light-filled apartment on a quaint street that trickled to its end beneath the elaborate stone arch at Faubourg Saint-Denis!
As I journaled during my first morning there, lounging on fluffy pillows stacked against a headboard upholstered in toile, I thought how fitting it was that I was staying in an apartment filled with antiques and collectibles, which had obviously been gathered and arranged with love. As a design journalist, I was realizing a dream that day as I headed to the Porte de Vanves and the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen at Clignancourt to have my first crack at the famed Paris flea markets
The apartment, which was a spacious two-bedroom with high ceilings, was tucked into Paris’ version of the garment district. Every morning when I exited the building, I found myself facing a fabric shop window holding a cranberry-colored tulle dress that would have made Marie Antoinette take notice—all flouncing folds and cascading creases. Walking down the street to catch the Metro at Bonne Nouvelle meant ducking between brawny men carrying bolts of fabric over their shoulders and circumventing hanging carts with assorted prêt-à-porter collections swaying with the chilly February breeze.
Before I’d set foot in the sophisticated city, I’d imagined myself shopping for brie, a baguette and a bottle of Sancere; then kicking back in the apartment to rest my weary feet from a grueling day of doing research for the articles I would write. That didn’t happen: there were simply too many restaurants calling, too many incredible experiences beckoning and too few hours available before I hopped my ride with Air France back to New York. I did shop for milk for my morning coffee and yogurt for breakfast in the neighborhood supermarket, which held a jostling throng of Parisians looking impatient to scurry quickly home from work. It doesn’t get more local than this, I thought, happy to be the only one standing in line with a pleasant expression on my face rather than a frown or a yawn.
The one night I was tempted to stay in, pop the cork on a bottle of wine, fix a salad, and work my way through some of the homeowner’s impressive collection of Italian opera CD’s, my travel-mate simply wouldn’t have it. She shamed me into action by reminding me that I was in Paris and I wasn’t allowed to stay home! We walked the quiet maze of cobblestone streets, an advantage of staying in a neighborhood that held lots of activity by day and little traffic by night, to a tiny brasserie we’d heard was a favorite eatery of François Pinault. The quaint restaurant was packed with locals and presented us with one of the strangest celebrity sightings either of us had ever had. Sitting at one of the tables was Joan Collins of “Dynasty” fame, quietly eating dinner with what appeared to be her family. The other diners were trying to be gracious and not watch her eat but there was a bit of fanfare taking place that had the maître d’ flustered.
As we strolled through the inky air toward home, we shook our heads at seeing the most unlikely star we would have imagined bumping into on any given night in Paris. As I sipped my coffee the next morning, I wondered how Aaron Spelling, Dynasty’s producer, might have spun a backstory for our evening. I sure hoped it would include a catfight between those high-haired Denver divas Krystle and Alexis. I could only imagine how the maître d’ would have handled that! Because this post has been submitted to the Grantourismo-HomeAway travel writing competition, I’d love to have your comments as to whether the post resonates with you; whether it inspires you; whether you’ve had similar experiences or whether you’ve visited a city in a similarly “local” way.