1. The stones are alive (with history)
It’s something otherworldly to be in a place where I walk up a set of stone stairs, and realize they’re worn in the middle. Solid. Stone. Worn down in the middle. From all the souls walking up and walking down, on their way to work, to La Sorbonne, to the museums and metros, cafes, to market to market … and home again, home again. This happens especially along the stairs that lead down to the walkway along the Seine river. You can walk almost the whole length of the city (about 9 miles), right along the river. These days, you’ll see houseboats and artists with portable easels and carts, people getting together for an afternoon chat, and big, open bateau mouches boats filled with people cruising along the river, taking in the sites.
In neighborhoods like Montmartre, you can hike up the 90+ stairs to Sacré Coeur, and wander through narrow cobblestone streets with your fresh gelato and your Salvador Dali postcard purchases from the museum tucked back in the nooks.
Photo by BRASSAI (https://www.etsy.com/listing/182564557/postcard-steps-of-montmartre-paris-1936?ref=market)
While Paris is famous for its neighborhoods that still have small streets packed with vendors selling fresh bread, fruits & vegetables, textiles and treats, it wasn’t always so great to walk the city streets. The center of Paris in the 1800s had become a dank and dirty business. Enter Haussmannization.
2. The city has a pattern (like a yantra)
Enter the second awesome feature of the streets of Paris:
In the mid-1800s, an architect by the name of Haussmann, under the directive of Napoleon III, began the arduous process of changing the structure of the city to include wide boulevards, iron balconies, and better sewer systems. This restructure also gave Paris some of its renowned hub-and-spoke thoroughfare structure – the streets lead up in a wheel pattern to many of Paris’s most striking monuments. The city plan itself draws attention toward the feats of artistry, like the Arc de Triomphe at the western end of the lavish Champs Elysees. The movie the DaVinci Code made famous the fact that, along the central line of the city, all of the monuments line up perfectly. It’s called the Axe Historique. If you stand just at the right spot, you can see that the triangle at the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, all the way out to the Grand Arche de la Defense, on the western outskirts of Paris.
3. People-watching at its best (nous voyons.)
Sit. Almost anywhere. Eat some chocolate, or a baguette with breakfast radishes and butter, and/or drink some fantastical beverage like a renversé or Kir. Then enjoy some of the best people watching in all the land. Paris still holds its own in the world of fashion, of haute couture. The city is full of people who like to play dress-up.
5. Hidden Layers (art on top of art)
Beneath the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Wreck of the Medusa; in the basement of the Louvre are the remains of a fortress built in 1200.
On top of this, a king built his castle…
On top of this is the world’s largest art museum.
Example numero deux:
The Pont des Arts –-a popular place for an evening pique-nique with friends in full view of the lights of Notre Dame—became a popular place to padlock your lover’s name to the bridge in a romantic gesture. The bridge walls got too heavy. So the city asked artists to make panels of graffiti that line the Bridge of the Arts. Here’s an article about it.
Paris stands as an ancient city, as many European cities do so well. And, it’s a carousel of reinvention, twirling into modernity to the tune of rusty accordions.
Libby Cox is a yogini, a teacher, and an artist who, for a time, lived in Paris as a student of art and art history. She currently lives in Eugene, Oregon, with her husband and their 2-year-old twin boys. www.libbyyoga.com