"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." Helen Keller

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QUIZ: Are You Gauche or Droite? Paris, City of the Seine

AF008901_3(Place Monge)

The constant river Seine flows through the heart of Paris, a meandering muse that divides the city into two distinct halves, the rive droite (the right bank, or northern half) and the rive gauche (the left bank, or southern half). Most travelers find themselves strangely attracted to one side or the other and remain fondly enamored for the rest of their lives.

Are you gauche or droite? Answer the questions below and find out. Continue reading

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Death in Paris: A Guide for the Gothically Inclined

There is no better way to feel alive than to travel, except perhaps by having a brush with death while on your trip.  With beauty, art and history manifested on almost every corner in Paris, it is the perfect place to use your heightened state of awareness for a little contemplation.  While some may prefer to keep their near-death experiences on the table (another crème brulee, anyone?), others will want to visit in the flesh the city’s offerings in the realm of the gothically inspired and downright creepy.  Get a copy of some Baudelaire and prepare to experience your own humanity. Continue reading

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Parisians Are Too Nice


“Parisians are just TOO NICE!” my boyfriend exclaimed, and I had to agree, as we once again managed to pull ourselves away from the garrulous Francophones and return to our daily quest for fresh provisions. Living on a tiny pedestrianized street on the left bank was exciting, moving, and… slow going. Every time I left my half-a-shoebox apartment I conversed with Francois, the waiter next door who seemed to live at his cafe. A few steps down I would “bonjour messieurs” with the staff of the Indian restaurant, inquiring about today’s football game. Continue reading

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Paris 2K: Les Grands Projets


[La Defense]

Just as French rulers of the past wanted to leave their mark on Paris with various monuments, churches, squares, and gardens, so too did Francois Mitterand, who was president from 1981-1995, during the bicentennial of the French Revolution.  Many things he was not, but Mitterand was a big dreamer, and he wanted his building projects (dubbed les grand projets) and his legacy to have a big presence in Paris.  Though some were controversial, most you can’t miss: Continue reading

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An American Poet, Un Policier Parisien


Nothing. Not a peep. Out of 70,000 tombs, crypts, graves, and urns in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, not a single ghostly shadow crept across my path; no cold breezes inked their way down my spine. It was Halloween and the moon was bright. I grew bolder:


Only the blowing leaves answered me as I wandered around my favorite éspace verte (green space) in Paris. Père Lachaise is not a graveyard. It is a sculpture garden, a decaying, crumbling ode to the ephemerality of life, the setting for a Gothic tale of terror. It is romance, like Venice is romance, with its crumbling walls and sinking streets. I go there to remember that it is the fleeting nature of life that makes it so impossibly wonderful. Père Lachaise is one of the world’s most famous resting places and like Studio 54, has a waiting list to get in. Even with a map it is easy to get lost, and I often spent my afternoons wandering around the labyrinthine acreage, stumbling upon the graves of admired poets, artists, and authors: Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Bauldelaire, Abélard and Heloise, Molière, and La Fontaine, plus hundreds of others. Père Lachaise is heaven for French art and literature nerds like me.

perelachaise2“I AM NOT AFRAID. I COME IN PEACE!”

Statues of angels stare back at me with blank eyes. I had come to Père Lachaise this All Hallow’s Eve for one reason, to share a bottle of red with my favorite denizen of the dark, Jim Morrison. After tempting and taunting the various spirits and ghosts of the area, I wander towards Jim’s small marker and find him there as usual, still waiting for the sun. The bust on the tomb was stolen years ago, and now it is just this small rectangular stone, always littered with an array of dying flowers, unsmoked cigarettes, empty wine bottles, and impassioned notes. It is inscribed with the Latin “KATA TON DAIMONA EAYTOY”- True to his own spirit. I talk to Jim, I ponder my existence. I’m a romantic like that, and my bravado increases with every sip of the blood-colored Côtés du Rhone.


Still with no takers from the underworld, I leave Jim’s side and wander back towards the iron gate along the very high, very thick cement wall that separates this City of the Dead from the City of Lights. Still slightly disappointed in my failed rendezvous with Jim’s spirit, I am ready to commune with some of my living companions at a warm café and knock off the chill that has slowly started creeping along my sides. I put my small white hand on the big metal door handle, and pull. Nothing. I push. I push harder. The giant gate does not budge. It is no use; it is locked. I now see the sign indicating the fermeture of the cemetery at 6 PM.

It is just after sunset on Halloween night, and I am locked inside the largest cemetery in the Paris, along with the spirits of 70,000 dead people I have been taunting and screaming at and commanding to show themselves for the last couple of hours.


I walk, sort of creep, along the path across to the second gate, surprisingly silent given my previous courageous outbursts. I can’t decide whether it is better to make a mad dash for it, or to slowly try to, what- outcreep the ghosts? It doesn’t matter; I arrive at the second gate and see that it is locked tight, and I know the others will be too. I consider finding a tomb and just hunkering down until daylight comes to save me. Should I try screaming through the gate? Climbing a tree and cheerleading it over the top of the wall? I fear that I may now have forever to ponder my situation, trapped with my ghoulish compatriots here in this land of death.

perelachaise6Merde, merde, merde.

Just then a bright light flashes to my left, outside the gate. A round light, a flashlight, and behind it a hat, a uniform, and to my delight: an armed police officer. I’m saved! I rush over to the gate, French words of praise stumbling over my tongue, the terror obvious in my pie eyes, my breath spilling out in punches. The policier is…whistling? And chuckling? Apparently this happens all the time, he tells me, and calms me down with an array of stories about people getting locked inside. Relieved to not be trapped in Père Lachaise for eternity, I exhale, and laugh. We chat while he calls up the security guard to let me out, and I tell him the (now hilarious) story of me screaming and taunting the ghosts and trying to manifest up dead poets. We laugh, I am released, and we wish each other well for the rest of the night.

“I’m Shilo, by the way, nice talking to you. What’s your name?” I ask.

“Jim,” he replies, and walks off into the night.stillwaitingforthesun

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Rue Mouffetard Market, Paris

On my street they sell life,

Prices written in chalk on small black boards

Every day (except Monday)

The wares are laid out,

Polished and placed next to shiny ripe eggplants and crimson apples

Stacked into produce pyramids

Bought by the handful of eager pedestrians

Sandwiched between smelly mold-covered goat cheese (the best in France)

And rolling by bottles of gem-red wine

Here is where life does its dance

Pain d’épices and piles of spices

Near the butcher who thinly slices

All sorts of collections of lamb, beef and rabbit

The fishmonger piles it

On top of the scallops and urchins

It’s nestled between pink roses, blue daisies, and orange sunflowers

But smells sweeter yet than that

This life walks slowly, listening

To the rush of the fountain

Feels soft angora sweaters

Gazes over tables piled high with 4 euro handbags

“Mirabelles! Les plus belles!”

Every day (except Monday)

They sell life on my street

But you can never buy it.

Rue Mouffetard, Paris

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Montparnasse: Paris’ Mountain of the Muses


To many of it’s artist habitues, the Parisian neighborhood of Montparnasse was known simply as ‘The Quarter’. Here the cancan and the polka were introduced to the city, new philosophies were born at shaky sidewalk tables, and crazy poets walked pet lobsters on leashes. In Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, written in part at the café La Closerie des Lilas (see restaurant list below), the character Jake explains that one doesn’t have to live in the neighborhood to belong to it : “Perfectly good Quarterites live outside the actual boundaries of Montparnasse. They can live anywhere, as long as they come to the Quarter to think.” Continue reading