I Prefer Paris

This item appears on page 46 of the June 2011 issue.

We are pleased to present, below (in random order), the winning entries to the essay contest announced in the February ’11 issue (pages 48 and 85). The topic was “I Prefer Paris” and the challenge was to communicate that in no more than 300 words.

Each winning entrant will receive a 50-dollar gift certificate for Magellan’s Travel Supplies (800/962-4943).

The next essay contest for ITN subscribers begins now. The topic is “My Way is Norway.” Write on that in no more than 300 words. The deadline is July 31, 2011. Include the address at which you receive ITN. As usual, prizes will be awarded.

On our first trip, we planned to conquer Paris in four days. Impossible! Then we learned to relax and let our senses lead us. Mostly by accident, we established this first-evening agenda.

Just after dark, we stand by the Palais de Chaillot, enchanted by the Tour Eiffel. The first 10 minutes of the hour, strobe lights set it all atwitter. The magnificent fountain at our feet comes alive. Eventually, we turn and cross Place du Trocadéro to restaurant Le Coq for Plateau de Mer.

Returning to our streetside room on a market street, we pause at a window of Boulangerie Paul. A young baker is hurriedly rolling baguettes. On the corner, a café, previously overflowing with young people, is winding down.

5:45 a.m. — through the open window, sounds of the city wake us. Delivery trucks, the green grocer setting up displays, the butcher loading his rotisserie with chickens…

Five stories above the baker’s window, a cat steps out of a garret window onto a narrow ledge that encircles the building for its morning stroll.

The street cleaners have left the pavement wet when I sit down with coffee at the corner café. People are leaving Paul with their daily croissants and baguettes. The inertia of Paris is reawakening. My wife joins me. Now that we are settled in, we can think about today.

A nice weekend? A baguette, jambon, fromage, some wine and a tart for a picnic in the Jardin du Luxembourg! The band opens with the overture from Carmen. Children sail boats in the fountain. The dress is contemporary, but the feel is Renoir.

Maybe explore a favorite (or new) neighborhood, museum, garden, church, cemetery or shop? Take a side trip? Tonight an opera, the ballet, a show or just stroll?

Opportunities and temptations are unlimited.

Charles Green
West Des Moines, IA

Wherever I may be, if I smell diesel fumes in the air, I am transported to Paris, whose grand boulevards and tiny side streets are always faintly scented with that odor.

Vibrant, beautiful, entertaining, earthy Paris, where one is constantly surrounded by a history both glorious and cruel — the luminous Ste Chapelle, built to the glory of God; the ancient Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette spent her last days; the incomparable Louvre museum and modern glass pyramid; remnants of the ramparts of the city built in the Middle Ages by Philippe August; wall plaques memorializing locations where famous authors and politicians resided or where Resistance fighters were murdered by the Gestapo… .

There is no end to history in Paris and no end to the change and movement of the city.

At Métro stops, one sees the elegant native Parisians waiting side by side with the new immigrants of every race and culture — and all speaking the same Parisian French, often accented with their birth language.

Emerging from the Métro, one can find oneself in the bird market of the Îsle de la Cité; in a quiet green corner of the seventh arrondissement; facing the Eiffel Tower; at the base of a Seine bridge; in the midst of a farmers’ market; in a calm botanical garden… .

A break for refreshment at a café, for example, at the Carrefour de Buci, where five streets converge in one spot, can provide a comedy of traffic unparalleled in any other city.

The shops and people of Paris are a feast for the eyes. It is impossible to be bored or to spend enough time in this great city.

Yes, I prefer Paris!

Elizabeth Johnson
Lee’s Summit, MO

My husband, Burt, and I love the pomp and the theater and the history of London, but in the very air of Paris there is a carefree feeling of savoir faire that, quite simply, captured our hearts in the spring of 2009!

From our first glimpse of l’Arc de Triomphe to our first stroll down the Champs-Élysées, we experienced such unexpected lightness of being that it took our breath away — and boating down the Seine at night, as lovers and guitar players lolled on the banks and a million lights exploded over the Eiffel Tower, was truly the stuff of fairy tales.

We toured Notre Dame and dawdled through the Louvre and ambled through acres of the Père Lachaise cemetery to find the graves of Édith Piaf and Jim Morrison. We ate pomme frites and profiteroles at a cozy brasserie on the Avenue Victor Hugo and munched on challah, pastry and falafel at Sacha Finkelstein’s kosher bakery in the heart of Le Marais.

There is too much to capture in 300 words, but I can tell you this: in our kitchen hangs a picture of the Eiffel Tower painted on ceramic tile; in our master bath are two whimsical views of l’Arc at the head of the Champs-Élysées, and in our bedroom hangs a watercolor we bought from the artist in bustling, trendy Montmarte, where we mingled at the foot of Sacré-Cœur after gazing at a view of the Paris skyline from the steps of the classic basilica.

We have only to stare at these wonderful mementos to bring us back to the look and feel of the Paris we fell in love with — and to promise ourselves a trip back soon to this wonderful City of Light.

Barbara Pronin
Placentia, CA

I prefer Paris because it has 400 parks, from the formal Jardin du Luxembourg to the wooded, meandering Buttes Chaumont, the contemporary Jardin de l’Atlantique atop Gare Montparnasse (you feel the trains rumbling beneath your feet) or the Parc de La Villette, where you can board a boat and spend half a day on canals that bring you to the heart of Paris… and there are still 396 more.

I prefer Paris because within 45 minutes the Métro will get you almost anywhere in the city, which — since I live in Los Angeles, where I can have difficulty getting out of my neighborhood within 45 minutes — is impressive.

I prefer Paris because the Tour d’Eiffel is RIGHT THERE when having lunch on the terrace between the Palais de Tokyo and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris… and the latter has one of my favorite artworks, painted by Dufy for the 1937 Exposition, which you can see for free along with their remarkable contemporary art collection.

I prefer Paris because Parisians take food seriously even in neighborhood restaurants and cafés that aren’t in the guidebooks. Food is prepared and served with pride, and the table is yours for the rest of the afternoon or evening. Waiters aren’t wanna-be actors; they’re professionals. House wines are almost always good, or for a few euros buy wine for a picnic in the park along the Seine.

And while most rave about pastries, my weakness is the bread, especially the huge round loaves baked in wood-burning ovens, purchased by the chunk — my idea of heaven when spread with butter from Brittany or any French cheese from anywhere in France — and washed down with wine, of course.

And, finally, I prefer Paris because there’s always another quartier to explore.

Susan Hirsch
Los Angeles, CA