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  • Writer's pictureCaroline Olesen

Paris: Mused

Updated: Jan 9

All photos are shot and edited by Caroline Olesen. All copyrights belong to Caroline Olesen.

A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life...” ― Thomas Jefferson

Paris was a universe whole and entire unto herself, hollowed and fashioned by history; so she seemed in this age of Napoleon III with her towering buildings, her massive cathedrals, her grand boulevards and ancient winding medieval streets--as vast and indestructible as nature itself. All was embraced by her, by her volatile and enchanted populace thronging the galleries, the theaters, the cafes, giving birth over and over to genius and sanctity, philosophy and war, frivolity and the finest art; so it seemed that if all the world outside her were to sink into darkness, what was fine, what was beautiful, what was essential might there still come to its finest flower. Even the majestic trees that graced and sheltered her streets were attuned to her--and the waters of the Seine, contained and beautiful as they wound through her heart; so that the earth on that spot, so shaped by blood and consciousness, had ceased to be the earth and had become Paris.” ― Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire

I hadn't fallen in love with Paris prior to this past trip. In fact, I liked very little about Paris besides the architecture and the idea of it. Paris had always seemed touristed, grimmy, wet, grey, and dirty. I'm not quite sure why, I don't know if Paris is cleaner or less touristed or more sunny than the other times I've visited the city, but this time, I fell in love, with the small streets and the Seine, with always carrying an umbrella and walking in the rain, with the life and the living of the city which sat in every café and in these small cafés sits black coffee and red wine to butter up the smooth tongues you hear of which so little is understood although so much is said.

Paris felt like a gift I hadn't been ready to receive. As if my soul and heart hadn't unfurled enough to understand her poetic language of avenues and one way streets. 9 days in Paris made me understand Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Porter and Hugo and all the others who wrote about her greatness for artists, perhaps because I finally felt like one myself.

He who contemplates the depths of Paris is seized with vertigo. Nothing is more fantastic. Nothing is more tragic. Nothing is more sublime.” ― Victor Hugo

The City

The City of Light is aptly named, but I think what draws our attention to light is the surrounding darkness. Melodrama seems to seep through the cracks. The city that set the stage for dramas like "Les Misérables" is sure not to disappoint those who come looking for a heavy atmosphere. Right around dusk as the sun will set into the clouds, walking on narrow sidewalks I often found myself a little afraid. Not quite enough to have me worried or change behavior, but Paris can be so quiet and still. I was never sure of what I was afraid. It would just sneak up on me as the shadows deepened and lengthened and darkened. Oddly, it would disappear when the night had fallen completely. It existed only in the inbetween and herein lies much of Paris' mystique.

Paris adopts those who fall into these inbetweens. Its vastness of small streets allows you to vanish and for moments you might find yourself feeling like you live a life untouched by modern anxieties. Walking through Le Marais from SpokenWord at Au Chat Noir to my hotel in the Latin Quarter, I decidedly walked technology free. No music, no social media, no photos, no podcast, only the occasional checking of Google Maps. And I saw kids playing ball in the Place de la République, young adults hanging out along the edge of the Seine smoking cigarettes, couples engulfed in each other sipping wine on checkered chairs. I looked into windows lit yellow against the shaded blue hues of the buildings. Walls full of books in dimmed lights, an easel with a blank canvas, a dartboard accompanied by roaring laughter and music. It's a city so lived in, it's hard not to get caught up in the living when you're there.

I never rebel so much against France as not to regard Paris with a friendly eye; she has had my heart since my childhood.... I love her tenderly, even to her warts and her spots. I am French only by this great city: the glory of France, and one of the noblest ornaments of the world.” ― Michel de Montaigne

The Country

France is often criticized for the French, yet loved for all its other virtues. Wine, cheese, pastry, landscapes, architecture, the list goes on. However, in my experience the few ruin it for the many. Paris treated me no different this time around, no waiter or waitress looked down their nose at my limping French nor did I experience lack in service in stores when browsing through vintage scarfs.

Really, I've mostly experienced the French as a people with immense pride in their culture and country. With reason to be - I've spent not a few summers around the French Riviera. Nice with its Promande, Cannes so full of enormous boats, St. Tropez a rich small town with luxury in excess, and Monaco where the views are as beautiful as the cars and the buildings. Walking up the narrow streets of Saint-Paul de Vence, it's not hard to see why it's considered a traditional artist's town. Along the snaked cobblestones, galleries pride their windows with modern works, but just a few steps further in the cemetery you will find Chagall's grave.

There's a charm to the French village that's hard to find in Denmark. Or perhaps this is simply the rose-colored glasses of holiday traveling which gives one such an impression. Either way, much of France is like champagne - thoroughly enjoyable especially when the weather is nice.

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young [wo]man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

Ernest Hemingway

The Food

Notes from dinner at Chez Julien (June 14th, 2019):

"The foie gras was rich and the salmon was rich and the Chablis was rich and I felt rich as I sat under the chandlier and between mirrored walls on a red velvet cushioned seat. A wonderfully rich feeling when you're spending money you don't quite have, or rather, more money than you probably should. But money has always come and ends have always met, so I sat on red velvet and sipped my golden Chablis with a smile playing at my lips.

Oh treat myself more. Unnecessary, for sure, but life's pleasures are rarely derived from the necessary now, are they? And so I ordered Amaretto and chocolates and the French women beside me, perhaps in admiration or maybe in judgment, smiled and shared a knowing look. I would walk home, I thought, the long way to the top of the Île de la Cité, getting in a few good shots of the sunset over Paris, if I was lucky. What wonderful evening I had made for myself."

Food in Paris, however, need not always be rich in price or complex in taste to be delicious. A green bean salad became my personal favorite at the café that hosted my workshop. Tomatoes, shaved spaghetti-like carrots and squash, romaine leafs, green beans, and a few small pieces of fried goat cheese topped with pine nuts and a balsamic dijon dressing. I have never tasted green beans that good, and it makes me doubt if I have in fact tasted true green beans at all. Salads might be a favorite thing of mine to eat in Paris. The produce is always fresh in the local bistros and this freshness is refreshing mid-hot-summer-day.

What Paris hides is lots of great reasonably priced restaurants. You just have to lift her skirts a bit, look under the first layer of big streets cafés and you'll discover the kind of hole-in-the-wall effortless chic the rest of the world tries hard to mimic.

And there is little better for a writer than to wake up with Paris, wander her sidewalks as they stretch from a night's rest before entering the Luxemburg Gardens for a stroll under the trees and along the fountains. Then to sit and write about the people and the thoughts that pass by like clouds in all shapes and sizes, feeling the paper give slightly as the pen presses ink upon it. All this before finding a café with checkered chairs and enjoying a classic French breakfast comprised of coffee, juice, and a croissant. An element of three that lends itself poetically to the writer, as if composed by one with such a morning in mind.

Paris is the city in which one loves to live. Sometimes I think this is because it is the only city in the world where you can step out of a railway station—the Gare D'Orsay—and see, simultaneously, the chief enchantments: the Seine with its bridges and bookstalls, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Tuileries Gardens, the Place de la Concorde, the beginning of the Champs Elysees—nearly everything except the Luxembourg Gardens and the Palais Royal. But what other city offers as much as you leave a train?” ― Margaret Anderson

The Sights

The Eiffel tower at night looks like a oddly shaped galaxy glittering its stars faster and clearer than what we see in the evening sky. The galaxy reflects in the Seine doubling its fantasm by simply applying water to the equation. The Seine, frozen by my camera, looks like a slab of obsidion. Contrast this, because by daytime the Seine looks like a city river, murky and greenish in its shades depending in the weather.

I like Paris best in the corners of the day: morning and evening. Either bright eyed and brushy tailed or jewelled with lights and silken dark hues. Mornings promise adventure and the light is soft on the dew as it settles. Everything filtered through pastels. The tour sites, less crowded in the early hours, back to their purity, as if they revert and return to a time before hop-on-hop-off busses and selfies sticks. Walking up to Sacré-Cœur and Montmartre, hands in pant pockets swiping back my navy pinstripped blazer, I wonder which tall windows used to house artists. If I could have lived in their time and survived and thrived and loved the city as they describe it, painted it with words and oils.

When twilight ebbs out and the city of lights light up, Paris becomes two-toned. Blue and yellow in many shades, but blue and yellow none the less. The midnight sky lending its canvas to the stars and the street lamps. The antique looking ones are my favorite - I can almost see the lamplighter who lit these before electricity came along, who would fire up and put out the lamps manually. Again, I go to walk the Louvre and imagine what the castle housed before the Mona Lisa and her colleagues. Golden light from the antique styled lamps cast shadows on the stone exterior and the roof falls into the deep indigo of the sky.

After joyfully working each morning, I would leave off around midday to challenge myself to a footrace. Speeding along the sunny paths of the Jardin du Luxembourg, ideas would breed like aphids in my head—for creative invention is easy and sublime when air cycles quickly through the lungs and the body is busy at noble tasks.” ― Roman Payne, Rooftop Soliloquy

The Nature

Nature in Paris is not unlike the Parisians: elegant, subtle yet distinguished, and embedded with a luxurious quality. The greens seem to glimt with an emerald undertone, and as the trees line the avenues it's not difficult to imagine the carriages of times past. The riches of nature mingles with the Parisian cityscape the way wild flowers dot a meadow, light to their touch but sharp to the eye.

Past ten o'clock on a Saturday, my mother and I were walking home from a fusion dinner. The decision of walking was made by the weather because the sun was setting over Paris and the sky was speckled with only a few clouds so lilac and rosy colors were spreading across the heavens. Down the stairs we went to stroll the bank of the Seine, and a myriad of life met us. A quiet couple sharing a baguette and cheese with a bottle of red wine. A group of university students laughing at a joke I didn't understand but somehow still found funny. An old couple walking, not hand in hand, but as gentleman and lady, arm offered and accepted with loving eyes. A woman legs pretzeled focused on the book in her lap. Someone loud on the phone not happy with who was on the other end. And the sun set on all of us, the light changing as time passed and steps took us closer to the hotel.

My contrast to this busy scene, I found in the Jardin de Luxemburg or the Luxemburg Gardens. The mornings were midway through their beginning so the air was fresh on my cheeks. The sun sent its messengers of light through the leafs, switching between blinding me and shading me. Mornings in early June. Summer feelings sneaking up as the day grows hotter. But the mornings, their light so delightful that it's hard not to be enchanted even before one's morning coffee. I would walk the paths, slowly, unrushed, deliberately unpurposeful. Sit in the forest-colored chairs, book in hand, sunglasses tipped on my nose, hair clipped to my neck, legs crossed, and breaths coming from my diaphragmm - a version of paradise in plain sight.

Paris is a place in which we can forget ourselves, reinvent, expunge the dead weight of our past.” ― Michael Simkins, Detour de France: An Englishman in Search of a Continental Education

On the Mused Series:

Mused is the product of my love for traveling and my passion for writing. It’s not a series of travel blogs nor is it something meant for guidance for the places to which they pertain. The pieces are meant to be dives into these cities, towns, locales. A kaleidoscope of perceptions mixed with history and experiences. The series will have original photos and stories, facts and details with the purpose of sharing the feel and atmosphere of the subject.

All photos are shot and edited by Caroline Olesen. All copyrights belong to Caroline Olesen.

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