Milchtoast

Chronicles of a writer abroad

A week in Paris

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So, I didn’t fall in love with Paris at first sight. Nor did I realize we were meant for each other the second time I went. On my third visit, I still failed to swoon, but I did begin to better understand and appreciate the city’s diversity. I realized that while I don’t so much enjoy being a tourist in Paris (given my aversion to crowds and lines), it could be nice to live in a city where work-eat-sleep routines are punctuated by feasts for the eyes, ears and taste buds. For me, Paris’ charm lies in the man who stands up from his seat to preach salvation through Jesus the moment the metro doors have snapped shut; in the saxophone music issuing from another car as I exit the train; in the sense that dessert is sometimes obligatory; and in art that is unexpected and whimsical.

For my week’s stay, I rented a small (small enough that there was considerable toe-stubbing) apartment in the 15th arrondissement. From there, my commuting options to the American University of Paris, where the workshop was held, were either a 40-minute walk which took me right past the Eiffel tower, or a 10-minute metro ride. I did a mixture of walking and metro-ing during the week, and while the former was lovely, it was being sardined with office workers in a stinky, humid metro car that made me think, “Look at me! Comme une vraie Parisienne!”

The Eiffel Tower pops up unexpectedly

The workshop itself was great. Our instructor for the morning master class was, in addition to being an accomplished writer, also a very gifted teacher. He arranged our five days of class around five core themes: Structure and plot; consciousness and thought; dialogue; description; and narrative. Each of the twelve participants had submitted a manuscript in advance, and certain of them were chosen to be discussed each day to tie in with the given theme. I have left other workshops feeling deflated, but I came away from this one full of ideas about how to revise my piece, and excited to try out some newly learned techniques.

A week was also long enough for friendships to form among the participants. By midweek the excellent Café Constant, near the AUP and quite affordable at midday, had been deemed “our place” for lunch; in the evening we ate crepes — both sweet and savoury, the latter being a revelation to me — discussed books and writing, and walked around the city. Here are some of us at the Shakespeare and Company bookshop, a place I had long dreamed of visiting but hadn’t made it to on previous visits to Paris:

Since the workshop finished on Friday but the apartment rental lasted through Sunday, Stelian came to stay the weekend. Together we spent some time poking around the Marais district and the Porte de Vanves flea market. We considered buying a lamp made to look like a robot before we learned its shockingly high price, and we went to the combined museums of Magic and Automation, where I had the dubious honour of being the only non-child selected by the magician to take part in a trick during the “spectacular,” or magic show.

At the Porte de Vanves flea market

All in all, I had a great week away, and I will continue to savour my third taste of Paris, that bustling, glittering, maddeningly unpredictable city. As always, though, I breathed a sigh of relief upon coming back to Zürich, where things are wonderfully clean and quiet, and where I revel in simple pleasures like running through the city’s forests and drinking my beloved pasture milch.

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9 thoughts on “A week in Paris

  1. I’m glad the workshop gave you some inspiration! And I’m with you on the savory crepes–with the right ingredients they can be brilliant!

  2. It’s so interesting to me how your thoughts and feelings about Paris change with each visit. Nice also to see photos of some of your writing compatriots. Your descriptions are a delight to the senses and so revealing of a third-time visit to Paris. Are you glad you left the robot lamp behind?

  3. Great first picture 🙂 It reminded me of that guy and his street monsters, also in Paris : http://lecyklop.blogspot.ch/p/photos.html

  4. Love the pictures Kristen! You got a better shot of the Eiffel tower than I did. I really wanted to go to a flea market in Paris. Missed out on that and a lot of other stuff. One week in Paris is too short, especially when most of our days were spent in class. I guess I’ll just have to come back soon. 🙂

  5. Your post has made me nostalgic for that week in Paris at the Writers’ Workshop – and I live here! Great to get to know you, Kristen. Come visit any time…

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