For 2017 we’ve decided to reflect on the places in Paris that are the most significant to us, as well as ask some friends for their contributions.
Rue du Faubourg St. Denis, between Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle and Boulevard de Magenta
Here is my favorite bar in the city. It’s called Mauri7, pronounced MORE-ISS-SET, MORE-EES-SET if you’re French. Here there are beers for average prices and wine for cheap. It’s two fifty for their house red, which you can ask for without embarrassment, as it should be.
In my brokest months, I brought a flask filled with trash whiskey from the Lidl, ordered Coca-Cola and made myself endless mixed drinks that got stronger and stronger.
They play good hip-hop. It’s very busy on weekends. There is a small smoking area in front cordoned off under a dark awning. In the warm months it’s packed shoulder to shoulder, and a stocky bouncer polices its boundaries. I saw him at the Franprix on Boulevard de Magenta once, but I didn’t speak to him – what was I gonna say? This smoking area is where my mischievous, slightly-too-old friend Alexandre introduced me to an 18-year-old Polish girl with blue eyes and a Tumblr. She still likes my photos online even though I just accompanied her to the nearest metro station when Alexandre encouraged us to leave together.
I brought my brother here. I brought my friend from Cincinnati here.
My first time here was with my English friend Isabel. I was walking around the neighborhood and texted her an inside joke about a storefront nearby – she invited me over to her apartment on Rue de Paradis and fed me leftovers. She was meeting a friend for drinks at Mauri7 and I said I had some ambiguous work to do, which is the permanent mindset of a freelancer, which is what I was doing at that time and just amounted to a gnawing sense of time wasted if you weren’t sending pitch emails. Her friend – our friend, actually, Elianor – was late, so we wandered in and out of the stores selling cheap objects made in China.
In front of the bar, we saw a girl we’d just met at a party the previous weekend. Her name was Myriam – she had big eyes and curly hair. Boy, was she pretty. Wow, we exclaimed, what a surprise to see you again so soon. We spoke until Elianor arrived – they knew one another as well. Moments later, Elianor squealed at an older woman walking by – it was her godmother who she hadn’t seen in months. Elianor said it was destiny, and I decided to stay lest I miss another mystical occurrence. Elianor has that effect on people, like good and meaningful things are meant to be when she is around.
Mauri7 has a pinball machine and a foosball table. Our friend Jack, Elianor’s roommate, arrived later but we were sick of spending money so we bought tall boys, which English people call tins, at a corner store, which French people call an arabe, which is probably racist but ubiquitous in the slang, and we sat on a stoop drinking and talking and watching kids walk by until we got tired and went our separate ways.
The back of Mauri7 empties into Passage Brady, one of these covered passageways that snakes through apartment blocks. This one hosts the best Indian food in Paris at a restaurant called Pooja. Pooja means prayer, it says on their menus. It’s open until midnight and their palak paneer is like the first time I heard The Beatles. I went there on a first date that led to many more dates. I went with my friend Toby the week he left Paris. Toby talked to me about overlapping sensory experiences, a type of synesthesia he sometimes had. He showed me a prose poem he wrote that is directly associated with a song he listened to and the spot on the metro in Hong Kong where he wrote it, and another song makes him see some oceanside cliffs. We sat for hours – we ate all the mukhwas that Indian restaurants bring as a digestive aid and breath freshener that white people never eat. Everyone leaves Paris.
I went with my little sister. I went with my friend from New Zealand.
There are other things in this neighborhood that mean a lot to me. There is a taxiphone print shop where I print my short stories to edit, or administrative documents that you inevitably have to sign and mail and send to the government, phone company, etc. I don’t have a printer.
There is Chez Jeanette, with five euro cocktails of the week and beautiful ceiling moldings. There is Le Daily Syrien with great falafel, Urfa Durum for fantastic and cheap Kurdish wraps. There is Le 52, my favorite restaurant in the city, home to My Last Great Meal and the best burratta I’ve ever eaten.
Down an alley is Cours des Petites Ecuries with half a dozen neighborhood bars. There is Tribal Cafe, a dirt-cheap bar with three euro beers that serves free Mussels and Fries on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and Couscous on Fridays. English people pronounce Couscous kuhs-kuhs. There is another bar whose name I’ve never quite internalized that plays 90s hip-hop albums front to back.
On Rue de Paradis is the Starlight Glam Club, sometimes. Isabel and I would stumble there from her apartment at three in the morning – sometimes we’d find an afrobeats party raging in its basement, sometimes we would check our coats and realize the club was empty besides dry ice vapor and lasers. Other times we could not find the club at all. It was the Club of Requirement. I don’t question it.
Men sell socks and rubber-banded parsley and phone chargers on slabs of wood on the sidewalk. I buy pita by the five pack for a euro at the Halal food shops. The best library in Paris sits at the corner of this street and Boulevard de Magenta. The kids wear all black here like everywhere else in the city. I will miss it.
Paris will always be a very special place to me. I know that I will look back on my time spent living there and consider those years some of the most meaningful and exciting of my life. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to live in one of the most amazing cities in the world, and all of the people I’ve met and things I’ve experienced will make a lasting impression.
If I had to choose one place that is the most significant to me it would be the Luxembourg Gardens. I realize this is not a very original choice, but I’ve had some of my best and most memorable days there: people watching, picnics with mint tea, sun bathing, sitting for hours reading a good book or daydreaming. My first Parisian apartment was right around the corner. I would often escape my tiny cramped space (with sloped ceilings and not enough light) by strolling through the Luxembourg. I have the feeling that these classic gardens are like an oasis right in the middle of the urban landscape with their perfectly groomed trees, impeccable lawns and iconic and terribly uncomfortable green metal chairs. It’s a uniquely Parisian oasis. I’ve watched Paris change and evolve over the past 3.5 years, and yet the Luxembourg Gardens never really change. When I’m there I am transported and I experience the beautiful, romantic, peaceful, old-fashioned Paris – the Paris of dreams.
Quai de la Tournelle
There are few quiet places in this city, outside of the parks. Surprisingly, even with the tourists grazing at Notre Dame nearby and the adjacent bridge that has become the new spot where couples chain their love locks, Quai de la Tournelle, on the left bank of the Seine, always seems to block the din of Paris. The sirens, the motorcyclists, the bouqinistes selling “vintage” posters to tourists are muffled, then muted, as you walk down the ramp to the bank.
I come here first in the fall, when I’ve just arrived in Paris to begin teaching. I buy a Berthillon ice cream cone that is too expensive for what I’m making on my teaching assistant salary. I bring some book I’m trying to read in French and balance the cone in one hand, the book in the other. I hang my feet over the edge of the bank and feel very free.
I come back in the winter, with one of my best friends from home. A friend of mine from college has just passed away. We sit by the river’s edge and strip white roses of their petals, throw them into the water and watch them float. We talk about my friend and her grandma and whether people can be tied to places they’ve never been. Our hands are freezing when we get up a few hours later and walk back home.
I go to the Quai one summer night with members of the Anglophone writing workshop. We sit in makeshift circles and drink cheap white wine. Couples are dancing salsa on the adjacent bank; Spanish guitar drifts from across the way. The sun has already set but the sky is still pink enough that everyone’s teeth look very white. I can still hear the last few bars of the melody when I walk up the ramp and make my way home.
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