Paris in Winter: A Mix of Old and New and an Injury, Too

Musée du Quai Branly, Paris

Paris in winter is as wonderful as Paris at any other time of year.

The light is beautiful even if the sun doesn’t shine every day. Lines are short(er), cafes and restaurants less crowded and the general ambiance more cozy and drawn-in than during the warmer months. The aroma of cassoulet, a traditional rich, slow-cooked stew, joins that of baking bread as you wander down the street.

Winter late afternoon, Paris

Our Goal

Claude Monet’s Nymphéas (Water Lilies), one of eight panels at Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris

The evening Clive and I arrived in Paris, we received an email from a dear US friend after her Christmas and New Year travels. She wrote, ‘I was weary when we got home. I’m really noticing my age – my mind plans busy days, but my body says slow down by evening!’

Funny, that. Clive and I had been noticing the same thing about ourselves and vowed (once again) to go at a slower pace on this trip.

Our goal was to allow some time to rest and just be, something I’ve always treasured in Paris, despite maintaining a lengthy, running list of things I want to do and see in the City of Light.

Paris: a challenging place to practice patience

Breathtaking bamboo art at Musée du Quai Branly

Our time in Paris is limited – not to mention our time in this earthly life, which of course is true at any age but especially in our (ahem) ‘later years’. It feels even more important to me now to seize the day, or as the brilliant poet Mary Oliver (who died while we were in Paris) wrote:

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
                            [from ‘The Summer Day’]

In Paris, my answer is, ‘Make the most of our time here.’ This triggers the ongoing tension between being and doing. The impulse often arises to move on and do the next thing.

Uniqlo, the wonderful ‘unique clothing’ chain currently featuring Hokusai’s wave

Out and about: Bus dramas, or, words that strike terror into Clive’s heart [he would say not terror but ‘concern based on experience’ …]

View from bus stop on Cours la Reine looking back to the Orangerie, Place de la Concorde – but where is the bus?

A regular Carolyn (CSB) and Clive (CJR) conversation:

CSB: ‘Let’s take the bus! It’s so much more scenic than the metro.’

CJR: Silent, clearly struggling to maintain a neutral expression but giving off massive ‘here we go again’ vibes.

CSB: Studies bus page of dog-eared Paris par Arrondissement, the version with three maps (regular, metro and bus) for each district. ‘Bus xx goes to yy, where we change to Bus zz. Bus zz goes very close to D (destination).’

CJR: ‘Is yy definitely where we change? Does the next bus leave from the same stop?’

CSB: ‘I think so.’

CJR: ‘You think so.’

CSB: ‘I’m pretty sure.’

CJR: Silence.

CSB: Checks Paris par Arrondissement again.

CJR: ‘Let’s see what Citymapper says.’

CSB: Checks Citymapper, our favourite Paris phone app.

CJR: Not-so-surreptitiously looks at metro map.

CSB: ‘Citymapper says the bus stop is there. If it’s not, we can just walk to the next one.’

CJR: ‘There’s a metro stop right at D! Why aren’t we taking that?’

CSB: ‘Because you’re still recovering from surgery and there are two line changes and there might be a ton of stairs. And the bus is much more scenic.’

Return to the beginning and repeat.

By this point, Clive says, he is worn down. He also says the metro has a certainty about it and is often quicker (always quicker if it’s a long distance – true).

Bus stop La Muette – Boulainvilliers, Paris

In fairness to Clive, we took the bus often on this trip. And as if the Universe were supporting his concerns, we experienced all manner of dramas, from buses dumping passengers at unplanned stops; to others, for no apparent reason, not following the published route and going nowhere near our stop; to our own confusion – despite Citymapper and Paris par Arrondissement — about which buses went in which directions from which stops. It varies – a lot. But figuring them out is worth it and other than walking, still my favourite way to be out and about.

View of Pont de la Tournelle from Café l’Escale on Île St-Louis

Maison Sarah Lavoine, Paris (with apologies to the woman I inadvertently caught in front)

Maison Sarah Lavoine – love this tray but not its 130 euro price

When museums aren’t much fun: final-week crowds at the Alphonse Mucha exhibit, Musée du Luxembourg

The Red Wheelbarrow bookshop, a Paris treasure

A special treat this trip was a rendez-vous with an author I admire, the lovely Roni Beth Tower, who wrote the memoir Miracle at Midlife.

This is a beautiful story about the early years of Roni Beth’s relationship with David, who lived in a houseboat on the Seine when they met. They’re now married and have been together for 23 years.

Félicitations, Roni Beth and David!

A beautiful memoir about a mid-life romance – and Paris

Chess, anyone? Le Jardin du Luxembourg — and a few of Paris’s signature green metal chairs, found in parks all over the city

One after the other: an unwanted lesson in practicing patience

I thought we were maintaining a reasonable, if not exactly slow, pace in Paris. That said, in hindsight we realise we ignored some important warning signs our bodies were giving us.

They weren’t anything dramatic, just gradual, accumulating feelings one or both of us had, of weariness or needing more sleep or having less than expected enthusiasm to get up and go right back out again the morning after a long, busy day. But we didn’t take any significant actions in response to those feelings

Jardin du Luxembourg and the Pantheon in the distance (and a couple of vacant chairs)

On a sunny Monday afternoon in the Luxembourg Garden, I stupidly bent from the waist (tsk tsk) and tried to move one of the classic green metal chairs. I’ve only known for – oh, about 40 years now – these chairs are HEAVY, especially the ones with arms and the ones that recline. My lower back immediately shot me daggers of pain for the next several days.

To top off the fun, we couldn’t find the right bus outside the garden, had to trek around many blocks to find it and then got off at the wrong stop to change buses. Given the exceptional circumstance, I should have agreed with Clive’s recommendation we take a taxi. C’est la vie!

The Seine, Pont Alexandre III and the Grand Palais – not the worst place to wait for the bus, even when your back is killing you

The next few days were spent mostly lying in bed, sleeping, dozing, listening to the trill of French conversations in the courtyard, reading the England NHS website (my trusted medical information source), and moving rarely and only thanks to paracetamol and Clive’s help.

I contemplated the bedroom’s green walls and admired the clean, leak-free ceiling, whose repair and restoration I wrote about in the series Painting and Patisseries in Paris.

Clean and fresh after the sinistre dégâts des eaux (sinister water damage – not my favourite French term)

We cancelled an apéritif with our neighbours, who immediately offered to go shopping for us. Later, Madame rang the bell and insisted on lending me a back brace.

On the second and third days after the injury, we went for a slow, gentle walk to keep my back moving, as per NHS advice. I tried to look on the bright side, that the pain was decreasing, albeit slowly, each day. Mostly it was torture, to be in Paris and unable to do much at all. My respect and admiration deepened for those who live with a chronic pain condition.

On the fourth day, Clive contracted a nasty 24-48 hour stomach bug. Reluctantly, we sent apologies to the host of a Burns Night supper, where we actually had planned to taste haggis for the first (and last?) time in our lives. Maybe next year.

Peaceful and serene: Notre-Dame de Grâce, Our Lady of Grace, a ‘village’ church built in the early 1600s. Like most Paris churches, it’s a lovely place to pause and reflect.

These were days of forced physical rest, forced slowing-down and limited mobility. I had ample time to ponder the necessity for a few new C&C travel rules.

New rules for travel well-being

Gare du Nord, Paris

These are pretty simple, really; I think following them is the challenge.

Mainly there are two. Doing the first without the second is what got us into trouble:

  1. Pay attention to the body’s signals.
  2. Take action in response. Slow down, change plans, exercise patience.

Plus:

  1. Expect random bus issues, especially on a Sunday afternoon.
  2. *Always* bend at the knees when moving a Paris park chair.

Clive says we talk about these challenges, but something takes hold of me once I’ve arrived in Paris. Out comes the lengthy list, and that’s when I need to be a bit stricter in my prioritisation and to lower my expectations of how much we can actually do.

No need to rush: statue in the Luxembourg Garden

Getting back out there

Bibliothèque Germaine Trillion (photo taken Sept. 2018), Paris

For our remaining days, we stuck to gentle walks and a slow pace, with a few bus and metro rides.

We’d previously noticed the outside of the Bibliothèque Germaine Trillion, bibliothèque de tourisme et des voyages (library of tourism and travel). Here we enjoyed exploring well-stocked rooms of books (virtually all in French), music collections, study spaces and reading areas, which included one or two English-language newspapers.

Clive in one of the library rooms at Bibliothèque Germaine Trillion, Paris

Only a few steps from the bibliothèque is Passy Cemetery, which I’ve written about in my mother-daughter post and is always (unless it’s raining) an excellent destination for a peaceful interlude.

Passy Cemetery, Paris

I was pleased to see a couple reading Berthe Morisot’s (a favourite Impressionist painter) gravestone, as I’ve observed other visitors who give all their attention to the bust of her well-known brother-in-law, Edouard Manet.

Grave of Berthe Morisot, her husband Eugène Manet, Eugène’s brother Edouard (bust) and Edouard’s wife Suzanne Leenhoff, Passy Cemetery

Grave of Julie Manet (daughter of Berthe Morisot and Eugène Manet), Julie’s husband Ernest Rouart, both also artists, and several of their family, Passy Cemetery

At Musée du Quai Branly (now officially named Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac), we hiked up a long, winding and rather dark ramp and through several equally dark viewing areas until finally we found the fabulous exhibit Fendre l’Air, Art of Bamboo in Japan.

Darkened viewing area at Musée du Quai Branly

An inspiring exhibit

I adore bamboo and was awed by the artists’ works. Clive concluded that yes, this was an excellent temporary exhibit but it will have to be a real blockbuster to get us to make that long hike up again (or we’ll find the lift, presuming there is one, from the ground floor).

A taste of artisanal bamboo basketry:

Fendre l’Air, Art of Bamboo in Japan, Musée du Quai Branly

Fendre l’Air, Art of Bamboo in Japan, Musée du Quai Branly

Fendre l’Air, Art of Bamboo in Japan, Musée du Quai Branly

Fendre l’Air, Art of Bamboo in Japan, Musée du Quai Branly

On another day, a short stroll in the Tuileries followed by a one-room Monet/Clemenceau exhibit at the Orangerie completed our round of current offerings. So many to choose from, so little time – the essence of the problem!

Jardin des Tuileries and its classic Parisian chairs

View to Place de la Concorde from the Orangerie

Renoir’s tulips, among the don’t-miss lower-level collection of the Orangerie

And on the Île St-Louis, a comfortable café lunch and browse in a favourite papeterie made my day.

Window of papeterie Marie-Tournelle, Paris

Papeterie Marie-Tournelle (located between two bridges, Pont Marie connecting to the Right Bank & Pont de la Tournelle to the Left), a Paris favourite

You never know what you’ll see in Paris – maybe some snow, or a random bus passenger with an un-leashed galah (large pink & grey Aussie bird) on her shoulder.

Moi, in les Jardins du Ranelagh, Paris

A woman just off the bus, with a galah on her shoulder

0 Lady with Galah (resized and cropped)

Closer view of elegant woman with galah

And at the end of an outing, there’s nothing like returning home to your local – café, that is.

Clive in our local, a welcome return

Gratitude

Santons de Provence (little saints) at Georges Thullier, Paris

I’m so thankful my back injury is temporary; it’s almost fully-healed now. I’m thankful we had the time we did in Paris, and that we managed to do quite a few activities despite the days of painful, forced rest – which we could have avoided had we paid attention to what our bodies were telling us and taken action accordingly.

I’m thankful for three nights of Clive’s beef stew (despite the endless quest for non-droopy parsnips), chocolat Viennoise at Carette (now our preference over Angelina), santons de Provence (little saints figurines from Provence) on sale at Georges Thullier, the re-opened Red Wheelbarrow bookshop, the bus and the metro and all our old and new favourite Paris places.

Chocolat Viennoise and pastries at Carette, Paris

Georges Thullier shop, Paris

Penelope Fletcher, knowledgeable and helpful owner (along with her investors) of the Red Wheelbarrow Librairie Anglophone (English-language bookshop)

The Eiffel Tower and Australian Embassy from line 6 metro

Clive accurately (and unnecessarily, I might add) reminds me my Paris list is waaay bigger than the time we’ll ever have available to do everything on it. I’m OK with that. I’m thankful for the chance to practice patience (and prioritisation) in the city that never fails to lift and comfort me.

Improvement needed

Alphonse Mucha poster for Ruinart champagne

If this were a happily-ever-after post, I’d end by saying we returned to the Jardin du Luxembourg, where I leaned back comfortably in one of those hard green chairs, soaked up the sun and relished the present moment, patiently pausing for an extended period of time.

Impression, Sunrise: one of Monet’s featured paintings at Musée Marmottan

But I’m afraid I haven’t quite mastered the art of patience in Paris. A return in the near future should provide an opportunity to work on it.

A Paris café: sight for sore eyes (and sore back) and a fine place to savour the moment

More to come. Merci for reading this long post, and à la prochaine, until next time.

8 Responses

  1. Carolyn, I’m so sorry to read about your back injury, etc. during your stay in Paris. How very frustrating! But a delightful post as always. We will hopefully see you next fall. Our dates are 15 Sept to 8 Dec. Can’t wait.

    • Linda, how I envy you those dates! Wish our schedule permitted … definitely must find a time to get together. À plus tard cette année à Paris 🙂

  2. Hi Carolyn … I so love reading details of your latest visits to Paris and envy your good fortune to be able to make regular trips to my favourite city. I do hope your back is OK – the simplest mishap can cause great pain and disruption to your daily routine. I was so pleased to see photos of L’Orangerie … a must-visit every time I get to Paris. I hope you and Clive are well and would love to catch up sometime when our paths cross in whatever hemisphere or continent

    • Thank you so much Judy! I hope you’ll let me know if and when you’re in Paris 🙂 and/or our paths cross anywhere else … would love to meet at the Orangerie xx

  3. Yikes….your back (that’s the worst 😧.Clive’s ‘flu’….🤢. What a way to acknowledge our age….like there are not enough other hints…it sounds like you had these ailments relatively early on in your visit. I always enjoy any pictures and your notes of/from Paris….but, I am a sucker for travel. I must say it is hard to beat Paris. Try to rest back at home . You know for the next trip. xo lynda

    • Merci Lynda and have to agree it’s hard to beat our beloved Paris. Hope your gang continues to do well there too.

  4. During my Paris visits in recent years I have also faced the choice a number of times: to do one of the many things on my list, or go back to the hotel for a nap.

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