5 days. Solo in Paris.

Months before I arrived at the little hotel with its red geraniums, I was in Paris on an assignment for the Travel section of the New York Times. I had five days and a headline: “Solo in Paris.” The story was up to me.

To find it, I went walking. Each morning I left my hotel in the 9th arrondissement, just east of the apartment where Proust wrote much of Remembrance of Things Past, and didn’t return until I had gone some twenty miles in whichever direction whim and croissants (and olive fougasse and pistachio financiers) took me. It was April, and like any tourist I saw monuments and statues, naked nymphs, and gods among the roses. But alone, with no one at my side, I was also able to see le merveilleux quotidien, “the marvelous in everyday life”: a golden retriever gazing at a café chalkboard in Montmartre, as if reading the daily specials; boxes of pâtes de fruits arranged in grids like Gerhard Richter’s color charts. The city had my full attention; I was attuned to the faint whir of bicycle wheels and the scent of peaches at the street market.

Although I was traveling without friends or family, each day brought passing companions: bakers, maître d’s, museum greeters, shopkeepers, fellow travelers. The hours were unhurried and entirely mine, like the “limitless solitude” the poet Rilke described in a letter to a friend; “this taking each day like a life-time, this being-with-everything.”

Only, it wasn’t a lifetime—it was five days. On the last morning, I slipped through a gate on rue de Rivoli into the Tuileries. Sprinklers flung water into the air. A man with a wheelbarrow bent over a bed of long-stemmed tulips. John Russell, the British art critic, once wrote that the rue de Rivoli seemed to say to mankind, “This is what life can be . . . and now it’s up to you to live it.” That’s what those days in Paris said to me. I wondered when, or if, I’d see the tulips again.

On assignment, I would play detective; partake of everything, get up early, record the details, do the things that felt strange and uncomfortable. But the assignment was over. Months passed and back in New York, the days grew shorter. Yet my head was still in Paris. It wasn’t a matter of missing cream confections flirting in the windows of boulangeries. I missed who I was in Paris—the other me, Stéphanie with the accent on the “e”: curious, improvisational, open to serendipity.

Finally, I took a long weekend to think about why I couldn’t let go of that particular assignment, why alone in Paris time seemed to be on my side; why my senses pricked up; why I was able to delight in the smallest of things and yet failed to see and feel with such intensity at home. Friends loaned me their empty house near a bay on Long Island where on an autumn afternoon I stepped off a bus with a week’s worth of reading and Chinese takeout. Without car or television, I spent days orbiting between a bench on the front porch and an oversize pink wing chair at the head of the dining room table, like the one at the Mad Hatter’s tea party in the 1951 Disney film, eating vegetable lo mein and reading about different experiences of solitude. I plumbed newspaper archives and Gutenberg.org. I ordered used and out-of-print books. I wanted to know what scientists, writers, artists, musicians, and scholars thought about alone time, how they used it, why it mattered. Sometimes I walked a dead-end street to the bay. Other times I would lie on the wood floor in a patch of sun, staring at the ceiling, trying to deconstruct those solitary hours in Paris. There was something there; some way of living that I’d failed to fully grasp, let alone carry with me to my own city.

~ Stephanie Rosenbloom, from her “Introduction” to Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude (Penguin Publishing Group. June 5, 2018)

Comments

  1. Sounds like a fascinating read. I enjoy being with others tremendously, yet find that the older I get, the more I absolutely crave solitude, though I should qualify that. I like being alone with my dogs. They are the best quiet companions I know…. Into the queue this goes, pal…

    Liked by 3 people

    • Lori, should time and circumstances ever permit it, having a dog again would be my goal…. It MUST be a question of getting older/wiser/less-vain-and-self-conscious; I certainly have no problem to spend much time on my own, I value my inner freedom and I adore discovering places with my own thoughts and (maybe inner) eyes. BUT for me discovering a new place (and I’m not talking about monuments, churches, museums here) with my Hero Husband (HH) is even better. This description of Paris is all everyone needs to hear…. it’s my way of discovering and this is a book I shall put on my list of things to read.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. How are you spending yours? Scrolling Facebook? Texting? Tweeting? Online shopping? The to-do list is endless. But time isn’t. Alone time is an invitation, a chance to do the things you’ve longed to do. You can read, code, paint, meditate, practice a language, or go for a stroll. Alone, you can pick through sidewalk crates of used books without worrying you’re hijacking your companion’s afternoon or being judged for your lousy idea of a good time. You need not carry on polite conversation. You can go to a park. You can go to Paris.

    ~ Stephanie Rosenbloom, from her “Introduction” to Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude (Penguin Publishing Group. June 5, 2018)

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Until you get there, this is the next best immersion possible. I could feel the arguing with the would of my feet, in the Garden. And just when you are certain you have found the best outdoor walking snack, there appears…another kiosk

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Sorry David, poured my feelings to Lori, but know you read it all 🙂
    I have memories of my first visit to Paris (live now 35’ by train from the heart of P) – very unhappy – fleeing my home, and I wandered and viewed, and dreamed and got lost, ate when I needed something, sat for long moments in the grass of Jardin du Luxembourg/Tuileries but also in cafés with little tables and chairs on the pavement, I fell (hard) on the impossible stairs of a metro station, hurt my sheen and cried like a baby (because I was so sad, not as much in pain as in sadness), picked myself up and went to the next museum where I sat until the pain ebbed away with all the beauty surrounding me….

    Liked by 2 people

  5. this is wonderful. she has described the magic powers of alone time and really being present. i’ve not been to paris, but this makes me yearn to go. in the meantime, i’ll always seek out this magic wherever i am.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. May I just add that I’m INSANELY jealous of Stephanie Rosenbloom for being able to do all these discoveries and being paid for it 😉
    But with a name like hers: Stephanie (doesn’t that sound regal?), it should be Stéphanie…. and The Blooms of Roses – God, she must be blessed!

    Have already looked this book up – shall order it asap

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Since I just returned from Paris and totally fell in love with the city, I love this post. I don’t know why I waited so long to visit. It is a city that would be perfect to be alone in. I will return.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love this piece 💛 Paris can be a special place. It’s so alive to the senses. Perhaps too alive to those who want to retreat, rather than embrace life fully.
    Thinks ….. take-out Chinese on Long Island can never match the bread and patisseries in Paris.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Solitude anywhere is intoxicating.
    Different places induce different flavors of elation. Paris is special. Red geraniums play a major role.

    It took me a very long time to find my solitude here in Chicago, and especially where in here at home, Little India! I’m trying to duplicate it in other places and keep failing.

    Go soon, David. Go soon, please 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I’ve spent much time in Paris, most of my cousins, aunts and uncles lives there. I too love the silence and reverie of alone time — and interesting, I’ve always tried to bring the feeling of solitude by the sea or in the mountains back to the city with me. I’ve never thought of bringing what I experience when I travel to other cities back — and she describes it so well. A book to add to my summer reading list.

    And I do love this question — How are you spending yours?

    Too often, in the busy hectic life I live in the city, I squander it.

    A good wake up call kind of question.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Beautiful. I wish I could write like that. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. where were you in Paris?
    You could have contacted me, so we would have met

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Oh this sounds like a must read. Thanks for sharing David!

    Like

  14. It’s the energy generated by the city. Last year we spent a week in Paris, our first time. The energy of the city is addicting. We wound up walking everywhere, we don’t do that but here we felt compelled and like Stephanie we enjoyed the smells, the food, the people, the artist and life as it unfolded before and around us. Listening to conversations in a language barely understood but so romantic and sitting outside a cafe enjoying a coffee and watching the world go by. We can’t wait to go back.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing. Your experience is inspiring. I must go….

      Like

    • @witzshared; really good description of your experience. Every city, every place should be discovered with no particular expectations but wide open hearts, eyes, ears and minds. That way, you’re never disappointed. Just don’t drink your coffee at one of the most expensive ‘café’s or bars’ as some of our Swiss friends did. They were (quite well off) pensioners but were stunned by the tab for something like €15 for two cappuccino. I told them before they went that, for our espressi we pay (some yrs back) between €1.20-1.50 at the bar (huge difference as ‘being served’ outside or terrace or even IN restaurant adds up massively but €7.- is also hugely excessive) and they said But we were….. – However they got their money’s worth because when they saw that bill they stayed for more than 2hrs, read their newspapers, took countless photos and made their buck going a long way 🙂 🙂 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  15. She rights EXACTLY how I felt in Tuscany when I travelled alone. I was amazed at myself for never feeling lonely the whole time I was there. When people ask me what I loved most about my time in Tuscany, expecting to hear food, wine, history… my answer has always been, the rhythm. I loved how you never felt pressed to get out of the way, hurry up, don’t dilly-dally.
    I would go back there right now. No, yesterday!

    Liked by 1 person

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