Is Paris Drowning?

Excuse the hyperbolic headline but I couldn’t resist. With most media headlines and startling photos all over the Internet these days about the flooding in Paris—happening smack dab in the middle of prime tourist season—the City of Light has been on my mind too much these days not to write about it.

Paris, France - June 01, 2016: Seine river water flooding after major rainfalls.

Paris, France – June 01, 2016: Seine river water flooding after major rainfalls.

The thing that truly horrifies me is not so much that this beloved city is dog paddling like crazy trying to hold it’s head above water or that it’s being forced to make emergency runs to rescue the best bits from the Louvre and the d’Orsay—although that’s bad enough. I understand when natural disasters happen and there’s nothing for it. That’s life.

These. Things. Happen.

No, that’s not the thing I hate to see the most about Paris treading water during the biggest tourist month in their calendar year.

I hate that Americans are using the floods as one more reason why they won’t visit.

This is a one-two punch for Paris after the November attacks. I know it’ll rebound. After all, it’s Paris. But it makes it so much harder to overcome, to clean up, to rebuild, when they lose the tourist dollars that let’s face it, are integral to helping Paris stay…well, Paris.IMG_1633

While I love being in Paris any month of the year, it seems like I’ve tended to be there in June the most.

June is a great time to jaunt over to Normandy because it’s an easy day trip and being American I like the idea of visiting the D-Day beaches around the anniversary dates of the landings.

June isn’t blazing hot yet so if your hotel doesn’t have AC—and some of the really charming ones don’t—it doesn’t matter. It’s still comfortable for sitting out with an apéro and watching the street life, or taking a cruise down the Seine or just relaxing by the fountain in the Tuileries.

Okay technically this is Aix-en-Provence but you get the idea. Oui, c'est moi and oh how I wish I were there this June!

Okay technically this is Aix-en-Provence but you get the idea. Oui, c’est moi and oh how I wish I were there this June!

Plus June is when all the best veggies and fruits are busting out all over the great food markets in Paris. Again, not to take anything away from October or Christmastime or April (OMG can anyone take anything away from springtime in Paris?) but June flower and food markets pretty much trump any other month and in any other place.

I know some people think I’m weird because I see all these photos of the river rising around the Seine embankment stairs on the Ile de la Cité and people coasting down city streets in little rubber boats and I still ache to be there.

Floods or not, whacko terrorists or not, the City of Light draws me.

What about you? Glad you dodged a bullet by not being there this summer? Or wishing you were there anyway—maybe somewhere on high ground—with a café crème in one hand and a pain au chocolat in the other? Like maybe the Eiffel Tower? I hear it’s still open. One thing is sure, you’ll definitely keep your feet dry!

(I’m including a blog post by one of my favorite bloggers, French Girl in Seattle, which was written a few days after the terrorist attacks last November but which is an open love letter to Paris—and I thought the Grande Dame could use a little love at the moment!)

An open love letter to the city of Aix-en-Provence

Kevin Kiernan Copyright 2014

Kevin Kiernan Copyright 2014

In my mind, Aix-en-Provence is a city created for the way people should live. Should really live. I am finishing up a too-fast week in Aix but I feel pretty confident in my statement. Now it’s true I’m probably inadvertently, unavoidably comparing it to the city I’m currently living in back in the States. (A Facebook friend posted on my timeline yesterday the fact that north Florida was experiencing three digit temperatures and an outburst of yellow flies. She kindly didn’t even mention the humidity.) I’m not sure there’s even a word in French for humidity. (Well, I guess there’d have to be because of Tahiti.) The weather for mid-summer in Aix is probably described most aptly as pleasant, warm and breezy but more succinctly as perfect. I sat out evenings here in weather that just didn’t exist. It wasn’t hot or cold, wet or dry. It was exactly right. It was so perfect you didn’t have to think about it. It just was.

I’d have to say the key reason I think Aix is a city made for how people should live is because of the daily food markets. The idea that you can wake up and take a quick (and gorgeous) walk to an outdoor array of the freshest, best possible choice of seasonal food—is something we Americans have largely given up on and the French wisely would never.

Kevin Kiernan Copyright 2014

Kevin Kiernan Copyright 2014

When did we Americans decide that we don’t need fresh-baked bread? Or to have strawberries that taste like strawberries? Or vegetables in season? When did we accept the fact that the way food should taste—succulent and specific—was something we could live without? (I have a French friend who did an internship at the advertising agency I worked at and she used to bemoan the fact that all American food tasted basically the same—like it was coated with a light caramel coating: sugar and salt but no real distinct flavors. Live a week next to an open air produce market and you’ll know exactly what she means. I feel like I’ve rediscovered my palate this week.)

Kevin Kiernan Copyright 2014

Kevin Kiernan Copyright 2014

Not surprisingly, I haven’t seen a single seriously overweight person since I’ve been here. Could the availability of delicious, fresh food ingredients combined with a beautiful walking city have something to do with that?

Yuh think?

Okay, so now Aix has seen to it that you’ve gotten your cardio in such a way that you’ve window shopped and wound around and through ancient alleyways and streets. It’s de-stressed you by insisting you stop every now and then in your daily round to sip a cup of coffee (which everyone knows is good for you) and maybe nibble on a hand-made pastry (balance! Everything in moderation.) It’s made it practically impossible to find processed foods so you’re stuck with the real thing—ten kinds of olives harvested from the area, olive oil so pure it will make you weep even if you use only a dribble on your salads, tomatoes plump and red that make your plate look like a work of art (this is France after all) and that really taste like tomatoes.

Now on to the social aspect of this city. As a writer, I spend a lot of my time alone. When I finally break away (or come up for air as my husband puts it), I go to the grocery store or drive to a restaurant to meet with friends for an hour or so or maybe wander around St Augustine to find an art gallery.

Kevin Kiernan Copyright 2014

Kevin Kiernan Copyright 2014

In Aix in the summer time, because it doesn’t get dark until after ten o’clock each night, and because the city is made up of French people, the city markets are taken down and the cafes are re-erected so that people can come together—to eat, to drink, to laugh, to talk. It is such a healthy, amazingly fun, exquisite way for people to commune and connect that I literally found myself longing for anything similar in my life back home.

Kevin Kiernan Copyright 2014

Kevin Kiernan Copyright 2014

How can you not relax and unwind in a café setting? You’re outdoors, the waiter is unobtrusive but ever-there, all the food tastes better, the warmth of the day has hardly dissipated but the most soothing of breezes has been added, and you’re surrounded by your friends. As I watched café life from my own café table, I noticed over and over again how people in the café were joined unexpectedly by friends or family members wandering by (usually with ice cream cones or Nutella crepes in hand). I couldn’t help but think how it would change a person to be enjoying the evening air with the expectation that they might well see, unplanned, a loved one or friend.

Community. Food. Beauty. And on that last note, I have to add one more thing: I travelled with two men this trip and one of them a photographer. I am sure he’ll be doing his own page about the beautiful young women of Aix but even I could not help notice them. I loved watching all the city life saunter by my café table—or balcony—but the exquisite Aixoise in their inimitable fashion and style, their confidence in their beauty and youth added a intensified sense of panache to the trip. In a phone conversation with my ninety-year old mother, she asked, “Are the French women still beautiful? (We lived in France in the sixties.) How do they wear their hair styles? Their clothes?” I was happy to tell her that while plus ça change, the facts were clear when it came to French women and style that plus la meme chose too.

I leave you now until next time, mes amis. I am off Googling immigration possibilities…