Off the Beaten Path: What to do in Paris That Doesn't Make You Look like a Tourist.

May 6, 2021

“You didn’t leave enough tip.” You look over the rims of your sunglasses as your wife finishes her Champagne. “He was flirting with you.” She laughs and puts down her glass. You get up and brush off a lap full of crumbs. The quiche was delicious but incredibly flakey. “This is Paris. Don’t be a prude. It’s your fault you married a beautiful woman.” She winks and you smile. Yes. You did marry a very beautiful woman.

The bus carrying the tour group you ditched after breakfast has inconveniently come to a stop at the traffic light across from the cafe. Francine and Marv are gawking, pressing their noses against their window. Others in your group look out and wave. “Whoops! Allons-y my love!” Your wife laughs. “Quick! The bus door’s opening.” You dash into the café and exit via the back patio. The tour guide runs and calls after you. Too slow. The warm shadows of Saint-Germain-des-Prés have already swallowed you up. Now, quickly, to the Seine!

A marsh. No one will think of looking for you in there.

France was not always the cobblestoned, croissant producer it is today. The river tours through France you have most certainly enjoyed have hinted at that, right? It was once a much wetter place. Ah, the Rhine & Moselle delights! Ahhh the colors of Provence! But I digress. 

Right in the middle of Paris, running through the 3rd and 4th district (arrondissements) is le Marais. The Marsh. You have crossed the Seine from the 6th district and are now walking past the mansions left by the original Parisian aristocrats for which The Marsh is famous. Lose yourself in one of the many art galleries. The tour guide will never find you there.

“Historically, this area, built over marshland ("Marais"), was the neighborhood of choice for the aristocracy from the 13th to the 17th centuries.”  Paris Insiders Guide

Hop on board a swanky train that goes nowhere.

Unlike most board games, in Paris you can move from the 4th to the 12th district without rolling doubles. In fact, they border each other. “Come on Bella, they’ll be looking for us. If they tracked us to the 4th district, they’ll look next in the 5thth. We’ll outsmart them!”

When you were younger, you came to Paris.  You stood nervously in front of Gare de Lyon’s most famous snack bar – le Train Bleu – the blue train. Opened in 1900 as a station buffet it quickly turned into one of the city’s more exclusive eateries. You felt too unsure of yourself to go in as a younger man, but one of the benefits of getting older is losing your inhibitions. “Wayne, are you sure? This place looks swanky.”

You open the door, usher your wife inside and greet the Maître d'. “Bonjour. Café et gâteau s'il vous plaît.” The Maître d' is a good-natured fellow who smiles slightly, and nods, leading you to a cozy table in the corner. Did I say cozy? As cozy as a table in the corner of a gold encrusted room can be. You still feel a little nervous, but only a little.

“Visiting this magical place allows you to experience the wonderful sensation of stepping inside a time machine and finding yourself in the Belle Epoque.” Le Train Bleu 

My parents went to France and all they brought me was this English book.

You have come almost full circle as you stroll the Rue de la Bücherie in the 5th district two hours later. The cake was rich, and the coffee was strong, but you feel younger somehow. You stop to admire yourself in a bookstore window. Have you lost weight? Ah, Paris. When an old man’s fancy turns to love.

Walking hand in hand, you spy a tiny bookstore in the distance. Your wife, the Brown English major, excitedly tells you about Anais Nin, Henry Miller, and Simone de Beauvoir. Ah, the amazing years when a poor American could live like a rich one in Paris. “I’ve always wanted to go book shopping in Paris.” And she is off, pulling you behind her.

One of the most iconic bookstores in Paris is Shakespeare and Company, named after Sylvia Beach’s 1919 store of the same name. The store was a meeting place for writers like Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and many others.

“I found it!” Your wife’s cry reaches you from the back of the shop. “Katrin always wanted a copy of this book. And, from Paris. Won’t that be nice.” 

A sign at the cash register catches your eye. A small concert of Parisian café music here tonight. “Two tickets please.” 

“From the first day the store opened, writers, artists, and intellectuals were invited to sleep among the shop’s shelves and piles of books, on small beds that doubled as benches during the day. Since then, an estimated 30,000 young and young-at-heart writers and artists have stayed in the bookshop.” Shakespeare and Company

We’ll always have Paris.

“Mr. and Mrs. MacGyver!” The shrill tone of the tour guide stops you in your tracks as you walk towards the hotel. “I must insist that you stay with the group.” You turn around. The tour group looks frazzled and unhappy. “We already lost you once in Berlin, and I don’t want to lose you again in London.”

“Busted!” Marv laughs, wiping the sweat from his brow as he tugs at the neck of his shirt. Francine frowns and pokes him in the ribs. “Hey!”

You feel your wife’s arm slip around your waist, and her hand goes into your pocket. You turn to her, “The concert tickets?” She nods and smiles. “We’ll lose the group right after dinner.”

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