Today may be the first day of summer but we are calling this the "Spring" edition of our newsletter because it is all about renewal and reinvention in our favorite city.
We are focusing on people who have found their own spring in Paris all year round -- individuals who have made the city the lively and elegant backdrop for living their dreams and passions.
L'église St. Médard, 5ème.
We first meet Susan, a Canadian writer who has just spent the last six months living and writing her first novel in Montmartre while her artist partner spends her days drawing at the Louvre.
Laura Moore, another Canadian, is living her dream as a Paris tour guide (lucky for us) and Michelle Jacobi from Australia shares the story behind her lovely yoga studio in the heart of the Marais. She gives special senior classes in case you need to "downward your dog" while in Paris!
Finally, Steve Hilcox, a former Forbes Travel specialist regales us with his reflections on a recent "Christmas in Paris" trip he took with his wife. Also in this edition, arrondissements explained, identifying legitimate taxi drivers at the airport plus links to what's on this summer.
A Canadian Writer's Séjour in Paris.
Spotlight on Susan Harper
The writer at work .
Qui êtes vous?
Sue Harper. I’m originally from Ontario where I taught high school English with the Peel Board of Education for 31 years. During that time, I also co-authored English textbooks and my partner Bonnie and I wrote non-fiction books for struggling young adult readers. We now live in British Columbia but spend five months a year in New Zealand where we own a tiny cottage. People think we’re crazy, but we go there to ski in the Northern Hemisphere’s summers.
Pourquoi Paris? What brought you to Paris - originally and now?
Art originally brought us to Paris and continues to do so. My partner Bonnie Sheppard is an artist. She taught high school art for 24 years, also with the Peel Board of Education, and when she retired she wanted to see just how far she could push her drawing and painting skills. She applied for a position in Studio Escalier, an atelier-style art school that takes only 10 students per course from around the world. Her teachers, Tim Stotz and Michelle Tully focus on the techniques of the Baroque and Renaissance artists.
Bonnie at work at the Louvre
Bonnie’s first course with Studio Escalier was in 2011 in rural France, about an hour south of Angers. She loved the school so much she applied to their drawing course, which takes place in Paris. When she was accepted in 2013, we spent nine weeks in the city, living in Montmartre. In the mornings, she drew from the live model in the original studio of Toulouse-Lautrec – which was very romantic but a great deal of hard study with a huge learning curve. The techniques she was learning can be traced back to the techniques of Michelangelo. At night, I would help her transcribe her notes. It was like she was speaking a foreign language – fascinating.
Her afternoons were spent in the Louvre drawing sculptures. Copying from the masters is a technique used throughout the history of art.
The sculptures of the Louvre
I went back to university in 2014 for a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative non-fiction. As a limited residency course, I only had to attend classes three weeks a year. The rest was online working with a mentor. I’m writing a memoir about what retirement specialists call the “sugar-crash,” that time, several years into retirement when the first rush of “I can do anything” is replaced with “what now?” The crash hit me during Bonnie’s first course in Paris when I was alone five days a week.
We returned to Paris in the fall of 2014. Bonnie went back to the course in rural France for six weeks while I stayed in Montmartre. Going back to school gave me purpose and direction. I wrote in the mornings and in the afternoons followed up on some intriguing Paris stories I had found in 2013. I walked sometimes five kilometers a day, visited museums and galleries I had missed in 2013 and ate as many pain au chocolats as I could purchase from our local boulangerie, Coquelicot. Bonnie came back from rural France to Paris for another six-week drawing course. That’s when we met Geneviève and Keith from Paris for Seniors!
In January 2016, Bonnie and I returned to Montmartre. Bonnie undertook an eight-week drawing course followed by a two-week colour course. I continued to work on my writing and explore the city, visiting my favourite galleries in the Louvre and my favourite museums as well as exploring some of the grand parks I had not yet seen – Parc des Buttes Chaumont and the Bois de Bologne.
What is your story / MFA project about?
After my sugar-crash, I decided I had to go back to writing. The book follows the Paris stories that inspired me to jumpstart that part of my retirement dream as well as many other facets – music, art and study. My experiences with retirement, reconnecting with myself, re-establishing my identity and finally renewing my commitment to writing are woven through the streets of Paris over three extended stays.
Le Marais - The streets of Victor Hugo
Where in Paris are you staying?
Because of the location of the art studio, we stay in Montmartre. But I think even if the studio were somewhere else, we’d choose to stay there. We love the neighbourhood. There are cafes and restaurants, the streets feel safe, we walk at night. There is also one of my favourite museums, The Museum of Montmartre which was recently renovated to include the studio of Suzanne Valadon and her son Utrillo.
The studio of Suzanne Valadon and her son Utrillo.
The views from the top of the butte over Paris can’t be beaten. There’s a history of artists in the area and I think we feel a connection to that history. For me, I can walk just about anywhere from there, except perhaps Père Lachaise cemetery. When I’m feeling tired, I jump on the metro that stops at Abbesses, one of the deepest stations in Paris. Luckily, there is an elevator. But if people are feeling energetic they can climb the 180 odd steps to the street. We’ve had a different apartment each time we’ve come, but all within the neighbourhood and near to the metro.
Mind the steps
Why is Paris so special? How does it move and inspire you as a writer?
The iconic beauty of this city takes my breath away – the Eiffel Tower sparkling ever hour in the evenings, the Haussmann streets, Les Invalides’ golden dome and the Grand Palais with it’s wonderful glass and steel construction. Then there are the oldest parts of the city in the Marais, of course, but also along the little streets south of the rue de Rivoli between the Hotel de Ville and rue St Paul. I love wandering those streets, poking my nose into the stores. Paris is also special because of its history – as troubled as it has often been.
And then there’s the art. There are few places in the world where you can see the number and variety of collections, large and small as in Paris. And don’t get me started on the cemeteries where I spend a great deal of time enjoying the trees, the quiet, the stories each grave tells and the man-made beauty.
Père Lachaise cemetary
So many greats rest here - including Edith Piaf
Where do you like to write? A fave café?
I write everywhere. I always have my notebook with me. Sometimes I’ll see something on the subway I want to record. The other day I was in a café that was playing American music from the 60’s and 70’s.
A person comes in and orders a Croque Monsieur and Dusty Springfield is singing Son of a Preacher Man. I had such cognitive dissonance, being surrounded by French people in this small stereotypically French café/bistro, only to have this American music that was part of my upbringing. I just had to write about it – and I confess I sang along.
When I’m working on my book, I write at home – but only in the mornings. I save the afternoons for being out and about in the city.
Who is your fave famous writer from the special tribe of Paris writers?
That first winter in Paris, I read as many Paris memoirs as possible. Three of my favourites are Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon, Eloisa James’ Paris in Love and Thad Carhart’s The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: The Hidden World of a Paris Atelier. Adam Gopnik is an entertaining writer, and his book chronicles his five years spent in Paris with his wife and young son. If it hadn’t been for his description of getting a reader’s card in the National Library, I may never have gotten one myself. Eloisa James writes about the year she, her husband and two children spent in Paris after surgery for breast cancer. It’s a series of small e-mail sized entries that capture the feeling of Paris and give a pretty accurate description of raising children – no matter where in the world we live. Finally Thad Carhart’s book is about a piano shop. I play piano and found this memoir of his discovery of a hidden piano shop in Paris, through which he weaves the history of the piano, fascinating.
That first winter in Paris, I also read Les Miserables in translation. It was difficult as it’s dense with history, but it’s a book I often return to.
What do you most miss about Paris when you are not there?
Hearing French all around me, being forced to try to speak the language – I don’t speak at all well, although I can read fairy fluently. Mostly, I miss the history in formal settings like museums, and on the streets, especially on those little brown historic signs, which I always stop to read. I miss exhibitions. I even miss the street art, now that I recognize some of the artists. I’m not talking graffiti, but the actual art, whether it’s stencil or spray-painted.
Any special places you can recommend to visitors?
I always recommend the Petit Palais (which is free except for special exhibitions) and the Musée Carnavalet, the museum of Paris, which is also free except for special exhibits. I think both are manageable and have eclectic collections. I particularly love the old metal store signs in the Carnavalet as well as the Paris painting gallery. In the Petit Palais, the Carpeaux sculptures are magnificent but so is the rest of the collection. Both are in interesting buildings as well.
Petit Palais Museum
The Jacquemart-André museum is one of my favourites. The house is extraordinary – we certainly get to see how the other half lived – and the collection won’t be seen anywhere else. Nellie Jacquemart was a painter and had an exquisite eye for art and for decorating. I also love the café, even though it is a bit overpriced.
If your readers love fashion, they should check out the special exhibits at the Musée de la Mode. They don’t have a permanent collection, but they have some outstanding exhibitions.
NOTE FROM PFS: CONGRATULATIONS ON RECEIVING YOUR MASTERS OF FINE ARTS SUE!
Meet Laura Moore:"Your Gentle Guide to Paris"
PFS had the pleasure of meeting Laura at a special “Inspirelle" event for writers and Paris specialists. Laura hails from Vancouver, Canada, and has been a Paris blogger and independent tour guide for two years. After chatting with Laura at the event, it became clear very quickly that she would make a perfect guide for our PFS visitors. She is an incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide - caring, patient, ready for anything and she loves the history of Paris and sharing it with others.
Q - Vancouver is one of Canada's most beautiful cities. What brought you to Paris and what is making you stay?
People always ask me why I left Vancouver, and the truth is I didn’t intend on leaving when I first came to Paris. I moved to France for a year abroad and thought that would be it, but I fell in love with Paris and decided to stay. There’s just so much to discover here that a year wasn’t enough.
Q - How did you become a guide?
I became a guide because of Notre Dame Cathedral. I had visited Notre Dame when I was 14 when I came to Paris for the first time with my family, and I instantly fell in love with this beautiful building. When I moved to Paris, one of the first things I did was go to Notre Dame to ask if there was any way I could be a part of its daily operations, and they told me they were looking for English language speaking tour guides. I had never even considered being a tour guide before then, but I jumped at the chance to work at Notre Dame. It only took a couple of tours for me to realize that I loved being a tour guide. Not just a Notre Dame tour guide, but a tour guide in general. As a guide, you get to meet amazing people from all over the world every day, and I quickly discovered that the key to a good tour was telling a good story. As a writer, I love storytelling, so being a tour guide was a natural fit.
Q - Describe one of your most challenging outings.
One of the tours I do is a four-hour bike tour of Paris with a company called Bike About. These are really fun tours, because you get to see more on the bikes than you would on a normal walking tour, but going around the city on bikes poses its own unique set of challenges. Safety is always the number 1 priority as a guide, so you’re always watching for traffic and keeping an eye on your group while you’re riding. While the people on my tours have always been wonderful, the city of Paris can sometimes be fickle, and I’ve had to constantly change our route to adapt to traffic, detours, and/construction. One time a light wasn’t working at an intersection we needed to cross, so I had to go out into the middle of the road with my bike to stop traffic in order to let my group pass. The Parisian drivers weren’t too happy with me, but it worked!
Q -Describe one of your most pleasant encounters or unexpected events that took place on one of your tours.
I’ve had lots of families come on my tours, which means you have to make the tours engaging for a wide range of ages. It’s always a wonderful experience when families can come together for a tour, but sometimes you have to get creative to make sure everyone is having fun. I once did a bike tour for a family with a four year old boy, and this little guy was not interested in hearing me speak at all. Like most four year olds, he just wanted to ride his bike, so I turned the whole tour into a scavenger hunt for him to find things along the way. I managed to get in some of the stories and facts about the city along the way, but it mostly just became one big game across Paris and we all had a great time.
Q - Is there anything you think seniors need to know about before coming to Paris? How can they prepare?
I think the best thing you can do to prepare is to set realistic expectations for your trip. There are literally thousands of things to do and see in Paris, and people always overbook themselves. I see it all the time, and what happens is that they don’t really get a chance to see anything properly because they are constantly worrying about the next item on their itinerary. Doing some research beforehand to decide on what your must sees are and scheduling them in is always a good idea, but after that leave time to simply explore. Often the best experiences come from just walking around a neighbourhood you like and seeing what you can discover. Another good thing to consider is how much walking you can do in a day. I always tell people that they want to remember the sights, not how much their feet hurt or how tired they were, so be realistic with how much walking you can do in a day without jeopardizing your enjoyment of the rest of your trip.
Q - Why do you think a tour with a private guide is a good idea - not just for seniors but for anyone?
Going with a private guide is a great idea, because you can tailor your tours to see exactly what you want to see. While there are lots of great group tours available, they are designed to be broad in what they cover, but with private tours, you can create a trip just for you and your interests. When I create a tour for someone, I get to know them and their interests first, and I love the challenge of trying to come up with the best possible tour based on those interests. It’s also great to have the flexibility of a private tour. If we reach a site or monument that you find particularly interesting, we have the freedom to stop and go more in depth, as opposed to group tours that are often on a strict schedule.
Another aspect is the comfort of having a local with you to help navigate the city. If you don’t speak the language, it is easy to get overwhelmed, even for the most veteran of travelers. Having someone with you to take care of all the little details can alleviate that stress and leave you free to just enjoy the city.
Q What do you most hope your visitors will feel after one of your tours?
I hope they feel like they’ve heard a great story. I emphasize storytelling in all of my tours, because as the old adage goes, facts are easily forgotten, but stories last forever. Paris is full of amazing, fascinating, and crazy stories, and when I put together a tour, I take just as much time deciding how to tell it as I do deciding what to tell. I want my visitors to feel like they’ve seen what they want to see and they’ve learned something, but above all else, I want them to feel like they’ve just heard a really great story.
PFS Featured on Radio Canada!
Geneviève Spicer shares, in French, the story behind PFS and the wonderful people she and her guides have met along the way.
Please click link below to listen and then click on "audio fil" (with the speaker icon) next to the story called "Paris rendue accessible aux personnes plus agées"
I’m still pretty proud of that moniker as when I came to Paris, March 1, 2001 (my 15th birthday is around the corner), there were hardly any yoga centers in Paris. The ex-pat community is and always was very well organized here, so it was easy to make friends and when the word got out I was a yoga teacher I was busy, busy, busy. There were no yoga classes in English, and everyone I met was eager to get back to a yoga practice which they had abandoned when they left their community.
I was so busy in fact, that it was my fiancé’s idea to get a place for me and have students come to me, rather then spend much of the day on Paris metros giving private lessons to everyone from the well-heeled in fashion and industry to young students on trust funds who were in Paris finding themselves. I found the center when I was walking my beloved cocker spaniel Lucy, who moved to Paris with me from New York.
We lived and still live in the 3rd arrondissement, which I am sure we will never leave, I absolutely adore this neighborhood. Rue du Vertbois at the time was a street of rather dodgy store fronts, but we saw potential and the space we chose is just behind the renowned Conservatoire Arts et Métiers and has an unobstructed view of the 13th century tower of the Benedictine monastery, and the largest remaining portion of the ancient crenulated Roman wall which marked the city of Paris. Victor Hugo saved this tower and the fountain on the corner from demolition with his words in 1882, "Demolish the tower, no! Demolish the architect, yes!” This corner has a lot of spunk and it was for me.
The most important aspect? The ancient-beamed ceiling of the studio was just high enough for a space to reach up and stretch in. Those who know the Marais, know it is old and rooms are tiny. This one worked. Michele, then fiancé, and I bought it together on Halloween, we opened on Thanksgiving , 2001, flew to New York 2 weeks later and got married there in City Hall. 2001 was a very big year. My Italian husband moved here to the Marais permanently in 2002.
Although, I run the center and its programs, my first love is and always will be teaching, the regular schedule, seeing the students come in every week catching up with them. I know them all by first and last names. I’ve helped a lot of moms bring their babies into the world when I headed the prenatal program for nine years. Then the first of it’s kind in Paris in French or in English, he and I started Mommy and Me, as well. It’s been a profession immeasurably rewarding.
I still stay in touch with many who have moved away, as this is a high-transit city, and feel happy that there is this space that people can come to, to reconnect with themselves and to just be. Many have told me that the classes at the Center was their favorite experience while they lived in Paris. I feel the Centre de Yoga du Marais is my legacy and will be here for all the beautiful teachers who want to teach there for a long long time.
The senior/yoga therapy program is my most recent offering. The class now meets twice a week Tuesday and Thursday from 14h00-15h00. After completing my yoga therapy training in 2014 with IDYT at Hôpital Lariboisière, I recognized another niche to be filled. An increasing demographic who need a yoga therapy class as opposed to a conventional yoga class: http://www.yogamarais.com/about-yoga-therapy/ The make-up of the class is mostly seniors, but I found limiting it to seniors was keeping away many that needed a therapeutic approach while they were recovering from illness or injury. And Parisian seniors are a proud bunch and are not crazy about that senior-label, just yet. We are working on it. The seniors by the way, are the fittest in the room.
It would be my pleasure for you to try a class, come over and meet our lively bunch which meets twice a week. Genevieve will also have a special offer for you, her Paris for Seniors readers. I teach the course in French and English.
Yours in health and my warmest wishes,
PFS Spotlight on Stephen Silcock: Travel Specialist
Stephen Silcock has been involved in the travel industry since 1964. From passenger freighters, steamships and railways in the UK to travel agencies large and small in Canada. Among his many accomplishments, he was one of ten travel escorts on a chartered 747 jumbo jet that took 242 passengers and 25 crew around the world in 18 days, traveling 28,918 miles, with 62 hrs and 40 mins of total flying time.
For the past 15 years, he was a senior travel consultant with Forbes Travel International in Vancouver, but is now thoroughly enjoying his leisure time. Stephen is not a fan of relaxing vacations. He and his wife, Marlene, are of the opinion that there is simply too much in this world to see, do and explore. firstname.lastname@example.org
Reflections on Christmas in Paris By Stephen Silcock
I cannot remember how many times that we have visited Paris in the past. We love Paris and every time we arrive it is like coming home, we feel so comfortable. Our trip in December was to be a very special extended one. Plans were to stay in Bailly- Romainvilliers for a short while to decompress before tackling frenetic Paris proper. Then we had booked accommodations in a number of arrondissements so that we could explore areas that we had not visited before and completely immerse ourselves in the Parisian culture. The highlight was to be a Uniworld Parisian Holiday river cruise on the Seine down to Rouen and Les Andelys. On board we would dine on gourmet French cuisine at every meal and sip on excellent French wines while our every whim would be pampered to day and night.
Three weeks prior to our departure, the tragic attack of the evening of Friday, 13th November occurred. This obviously weighed heavily on our minds, but we refused to let these misguided terrorists dictate our travel plans to visit Paris over Christmas that we had been planning for so long. Many thought this was not the time to go to France, while others thought it was the best time to visit. I completely agree with the latter since, right after a tragedy, a destination is usually much safer due to heightened security.
Upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport we expected to see much more of a police and military presence, but, on the arrivals level, there was not a trace. It was not until the following day at Val d’Europe Shopping Centre we first encountered security at the main entrance examining bags, and, while having coffee and croissants at Paul’s, that we saw soldiers, in full camouflage gear carrying weapons, patrolling the mall.
Paris was another story. Security was very noticeably beefed up. Paris was being patrolled by unprecedented numbers of security, police and military personnel, especially in crowded areas, public transport, and places frequented by tourists, including monuments, museums, markets and large shopping centers, stores and and religious sites. We often passed squads of six or eight soldiers with semi-automatic weapons. Sights like this are more the norm than not. At major stores, malls and public buildings, security guards and police examining every bag, scanning our bodies and asking us to open our coats. A minor inconvenience, but one we quickly grew to accept and expect.
Place de la République
A visit to the impromptu memorial at Place de la Republique, under the watchful eye of the statue of Marianne, was very emotionally moving. It was hard not to tear up thinking of the tragedy of the events and what it means to all of us. However, Parisians are pulling together to try to put their lives on track. The French flag flies proudly from windows and balconies, the cafes and their terraces are full. The department stores were all so busy – but why do they all have the heat turned up to the maximum? The Christmas markets were all doing a booming business, especially the largest on the Champs Élysées where it was the survival of the fittest just to get through the crowds of people.
The Christmas market on the Champs Élysées
Christmas concerts at Saint-Sulpice and Sainte-Chapelle and the ballet at the Opera Garnier that we attended were all sold out. Those we spoke to emphasized that they were proud to be Parisian and would not let the terrorists win.
While we went about becoming flaneurs, roaming the arrondissements we had chosen, we discovered many hidden streets of Paris overlooked by tourists.
In the 16th. Rue Saint Didier with its family shops and small local shopping complex; Rue Mesnil with delightful family run restaurants like Le Coincidence – you must try the potatoes au gratin; and Avenue Victor Hugo with elegant fashion boutiques, antique, jewelry, cigar, gourmet shops and patisseries, bars and restaurants.
In the 7th., Rue Saint Dominique with cafes, patisseries and boutiques, and Rue Cler, a pedestrian market street boasting everything from fresh produce, cheese shops, bakeries and fine wine. Try the Café du Marche for a good, reasonably priced menu.
Noël on "the Champs"
In the 6th., Cour du Commerce St Andre, a historic passage between Boulevard Saint Germain and Rue St. Andre des Arts, contains rustic restaurants, bars and tea rooms, a charming shop selling olive oils and tapenades from Provence, and a wonderful artisan perfume shop.
Place de la Contrescarpe (5th)
In the 5th. winding its way from The Pantheon to Rue des Ecoles, Rue de la Montagne has many small restaurants and bars tightly snugged together – try The Bombardier, a cozy English-style establishment serving reasonably priced pub grub.
In the 1st. there are so many fascinating streets hidden from the tourist routes. Just behind The Palais Royal is the elegant Passage Vivienne with its tea shops. Rue Montorgueil lined with restaurants, cafes, bakeries, fish stores, cheese shops, wine shops, produce stands and flower shops has a village-like appeal that caters to Parisians while they socialize and do their daily shopping.
Try L’Escargot with its huge golden snail over the entrance. The restaurant was established in 1832 and I don’t think that it has been updated since! It was purely Parisian from La Belle Époque. Red velvet banquettes, dark woodwork, and a painted ceiling with cherubs watching us. There was even a spiral staircase in the middle of the dining room. Their specialty, escargots, are really worth the visit.
We had many memorable moments, but on Christmas morning we were walking across Pont d’Arcole toward Notre Dame Cathedral; the streets were unusually quiet as there was hardly any traffic around. At 10:00am all the bells of the cathedral started to peel out and continued for about fifteen minutes. The closer we came, the louder the bells became and the cacophony of sound absolutely surrounded us. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.
Noël at Notre Dame
Paris is the number one tourist destination in the world. Above all, the city needs to heal and rebound from the terrible tragedy, and it is my opinion that it is extremely important for visitors to support and stand behind Paris and keep its spirit alive.
Stephen and Marlene
I’m so happy I listened to my inner feelings and not the negative thinkers telling me not to travel to Paris. It was a magical trip just like every past trip to this beautiful city has been. For the most part, the weather was gorgeous, sunny and around 15 degrees during the day but chilly at night – unusual for Paris in December. Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and I can’t wait to go back.
Taxi! When you arrive at the airport, you may be accosted by rogue, illegal chauffeurs who furtively whisper "taxi? taxi?" to you. These people are to be avoided at all costs as they are not permitted to work at the airport and you may find yourself paying MUCH more than you should on your ride to your hotel or accommodations.
Be sure to only trust the men in blue vests at the airports. They will escort you to the legitimate taxi line and likely to the head of the line if you need assistance.
The good guys
Amid all of the UBER vs taxi driver chaos, there is some good news for those preferring to take taxis to and from Paris' two main airports of Charles de Gaulle (a.k.a Roissy) and Orly --- FLAT RATES!
Standard journeys to and from CDG range from 45-50 euros. A trip to Orly will cost between 30-35 euros. The range depends from which bank you depart. Check out this link to the G7 Taxi company and their rates. NOTE: Taxis in Paris charge an additional "pick-up fee" and fees for pieces of luggage. https://www.g7.fr/en/paris-taxi-fares
The city of Paris is divided into twenty administrative districts, more simply referred to as "arrondissements" inFrench. These are not to be confused with departmentalarrondissements, which subdivide the 101 French départements.
Some say the city is rather shaped like a snail - how à propos to be shaped like an escargot!
All the street signs have the arrondissement number above the street's name so that you will always know where you are! They also include any historical reference to that street.
Check out this excellent interactive website which describes what each arrondissement has to offer! It's a great resource for going off the beaten track a bit. http://www.parisnet.com/parismap.html