I blame my piano teacher's husband. If he hadn't regaled me with tales of Parisian travels and rattled French phrases at me nearly every week, I may be content to always stay here in the United States, firmly and immovably rooted in my corner of the hemisphere. But he did, and now I have a proverbial jar of pennies that are being saved to someday go to Paris.
I started taking lessons from Mrs. Dougherty when I was eight years old, going to her house weekly with my two sisters. At first her husband wasn't around very often-- he was always at his office, running his business of vacation barges that traveled up and down the rivers of France. The idea was exotic and exciting enough, but when he retired a few years later, he would come up during lessons and tell stories from his globe-trotting years. Tales of visits to Russia right after the Iron Curtain fell, visits to Irish priests, and German adventures during his service in World War II were brought to life in my imagination. But my favorites by far were the stories of Paris, of the art in the Louvre, visits to the Southern country, and encounters with the inhabitants of the far-away place know as France.
Even though Mr. D. died almost a year ago, I still remember his stories. And they make me want to go live them myself, to see with my own eyes the things I've heard so much about. But that's not possible right now, so these are a few ways that I've found to bring a bit of Paris to my own life.
It's simply a personal recipe for importing a bit of joie de vivre, and I'll be happy if you can enjoy it with me.
1. Listen to the Music
There's nothing like a good Frenchman or woman singing their own country's music to put you in the Paris mood. There are the great French classics like Bolero, Debussy's works, and the opera repertoire with favorites like Romeo et Juliette.
And then there is another one-woman genre, called Edith Piaf. She is something of a legend still, hailing from the forties but still popular and originating several songs that are classics. You can love her music or hate it, but the fact remains that Edith Piaf is quintessential Paris.
2. Speak the Language
Now I'm not suggesting that you become fluent-- that is entirely too time consuming and impractical, at least for most people. However, acquiring little bits of vocabulary and using them in every day life can be a lot of fun, and it will give you confidence when you actually get to your beloved Paris and are speaking with one of the natives. They will appreciate it, and you will feel all the merits of your accomplishments. So here are a few basic phrases to get you started.
- Bon Jour -- "Good day", also used as a greeting equivalent to an American "hello". To say "good night", change it to bon soir.
- Merci-- "Thank you" and if you add a beaucoup (the 'p' on the end is silent), you have "thank you very much".
- Tres bon! -- "Very good!" A general statement of approval
- Combien pour la___-- You guessed it... "How much for the ___?" Insert whatever it is you're needing a price on; a bus fare, a scarf, or a croissant.
- And my favorite, Ou donner de la Tour Eiffel?-- "Which way to the Eiffel Tower?" A highly necessary phrase for any potential traveler.
3. Make One of These
To make one of these quintessentially Parisian pieces of art, go here. Give it a place of prominence in your living room, or set it up next to your bed so that you see it first and last thing every day. From the snazzy, stylin' outfits on the paper people to the little splash of color in the flag atop the Eiffel Tower, it has all the standard elements of Paris.
4. Watch a French Film
They come with English subtitles, and no matter what you might assume they can be highly enjoyable. The comedies usually have sparkle and style, and the dramas have heart, and of course drama. Just make sure that no one is around who would be driven crazy by the sound of French voices firing away at lightening speed.
There are some good films in English that can give you the general mood. Even Pixar got in on the action a few years ago with Ratatouille, and gave the world the most authentic French accents it had heard. Not to mention Beauty and the Beast, which is based on a French fairy tale and maintained some wonderful names in it's character roster. Sabrina, both the version from the '50s and '90s has some French flavor, though I personally prefer the older one.
5. Eat French Food!
Get a fresh croissant from the bakery down the road. Get up to your elbows in flour and make some French bread. Find one of the creperies that have become popular recently and experience some authentic cuisine. Most of all, just enjoy eating like a gourmand, and you're getting into the spirit of things!