“We’ll always have Paris,” Rick tells Elsa at the end of the movie Casablanca, without mentioning any of their favorite haunts in the City of Light. But I say, “Play it again, Sam,” and this time with addresses. After all, everyone’s got their own Paris.
For instance, King Henri IV cavorted on the tip of the Île de la Cité, while centuries later the Seine bridges crossing the island captivated painter Edward Hopper. Fighting writer’s block, Hemingway liked to sit on a bench in the Jardin du Luxembourg and wait for his first true sentences (along with dinner: roast pigeon). Henry Valentine Miller hobnobbed it with the statues at the Tuileries, while the food stalls at the great Les Halles market sparked Julia Child’s joy of cooking.
Though I’m hardly a king or a master of French cooking (yet), I, too, have a few outdoor havens I run to for inspiration.
Peace: Le Mur pour la Paix (The Wall for Peace)
Métro: École Militaire
Located on the southeast end of the grassy Champ de Mars (near the École Militaire), Le Mur pour la Paix was created in 2000 by artist Clara Halter and architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte. The word “peace” in 49 languages is inscribed on large glass panes and tall, slender metal columns.
Gaze up at the Eiffel Tower through the monument’s glass panels, and try not feel a bit more cheery about the day! Like a new pair of glasses, the calm surroundings not only changes perception, but also attitude. Take heed: After your visit, you might even commit a few acts of random kindness!
Tip: For optimum viewing, the glass and metal play nicely against the soft late afternoon sun. Advance tickets for Eiffel Tower visits are now available online. Yes, life is groovy.
Love: Le Kiosque des Noctambules (The Kiosk of the Night Owls)
Metro: Palais Royal—Musée du Louvre
Hold on to your beret when exiting at the Palais-Royal Métro because the mere sight of its bubblicious and bejeweled entrance has never failed to lift this Cheapo’s spirits to soaring heights. The buoyant and beautiful Kiosque des Noctambules was built in 2000 by artist Jean-Michel Othoniel in celebration of the Métro’s centennial. Created also as a nod to Hector Guimard’s curvaceous Art Nouveau entrances, its glass-beaded cupolas symbolize the dreamy meshes of day, night and afternoon. Where is the love? Trust me, it’s here.
Tip: Free concerts are often held at the surrounding Place Colette. And don’t leave without checking out the fearless rollerbladers as they perfect their moves in the nearby Place Palais-Royal.
Understanding: Rond-Point des Champs-Élysées
Metro: Franklin D. Roosevelt
After hoofing it from my favorite shops on the Champs-Élysées to the Métro, I often stop and smell the roses on the traffic îles at the Rond-Point des Champs-Élysées. Here you’ll find beaucoup benches and a striking “needle in a haystack” glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Come with a sketchbook in hand, because it’s also the perfect spot to mull over art’s function in urban street planning.
At times, the shapely Art Nouveau street furniture blends so well with the manicured flowerbeds and sculpted trees that the eye can’t always separate the organic from the man-made. The city’s attention to harmonious detail and its resulting beauty both soothes and re-energizes my spirits every time.
Tip: Below ground, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Métro station is also a sight for sore eyes. Refurbished after WWII with orange paint, bright city lights, and rounded glass cubes, it looks like a cross between a ’50s diner car and a swanky supper club. Here’s looking at you kid!
As Colette herself said, “Be happy—it’s one way of being wise.”