Why Visiting Paris in 2023 May Be a Great Idea
THE ETHEL CIRCLE HAS LAUNCHED! IT'S A CLOSED FACEBOOK GROUP, OR SAFE SPACE, WHERE YOU CAN DISCUSS THE PROS AND CONS OF AGING.
Oh no!
It looks like you aren't logged in to the Ethel community. Log in to get the best user experience, save your favorite articles and quotes, and follow our authors.
Don't have an Online Account? Click Here
Subscribe

Why You Might Want to Visit Paris in 2023

Here are the best things about this remarkable city.

Paris Scene
Shutterstock

I’ve watched Sabrina numerous times — and even played the titular role in a summer stock production. And I still can’t believe that in the 1954 film Audrey Hepburn does not utter the mythic words, “Paris is always a good idea,” as was the popular belief. I made my first trip to Paris 60 years ago, soon after finishing drama school in New York. Even back then, Hepburn’s iconic image was everywhere in souvenir shops and bouquinistes, the traditional booksellers’ stalls along the Seine. I’m reminded of my youthful adoration of Hepburn now when I see young women in Paris clustering around location sites where Hepburn look-alike Lily Collins films Emily in Paris. Plus ça change

We can thank French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, who wrote in 1849, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” a pessimistic view that the more things change, the more they stay the same. True? Yes, in that day-to-day current events and fashionable trends don’t in reality alter human nature and the status quo.

When it comes to Paris itself, I take the positive view that despite some profound changes in the city I’ve known and loved for decades, there is a timelessness and an adherence to a way of life that I cherish. Think outdoor cafes; the Paris Metro, first built for the World’s Fair in 1900, with the whimsical Hector Guimard-designed Art Nouveau entrances; brasseries and bistros that serve classic dishes, rich in carbs and fats, in sensible portions; and last but not least, la baguette and le croissant.

Given their reputation for consuming fine cuisine, it’s remarkable that the populace manages to stay so fit and trim — and they do! I confirmed my thrall with Paris by moving there in 1970 with my husband, a Time/Life photographer. I tagged along when he photographed author James Jones (From Here to Eternity) and was rewarded with the writer’s personal tour of Hemingway’s Paris.

Jones, a Hemingway aficionado, walked us through the Luxembourg Garden where “Papa” claimed to have strangled a pigeon to bring home to wife Hadley to cook for dinner. Afterward, we had lunch at La Closerie des Lilas, Hemingway’s favorite watering hole in Montparnasse. The restaurant is still a favorite of mine, though I’ve noticed that over the years the commemorative “Hemingway” plaque has been moved around from various tables to a seat at the bar … plus ça change. I was also lucky enough to make two films in Paris, one a French comedy and the other, Providence, a 1977 English-language film directed by Alain Resnais, with Dirk Bogarde and John Gielgud. I shared a communal dressing room with the two lads, as well as communal lunches with red-checkered cloths, wine and a memorable tarte tatin.

Every morning I would awaken and look out my window at the glorious Parisian rooftops and have my coffee and pain au chocolat at a café on the corner, where I still drop in on every trip to Paris. Now, visiting Paris as a septuagenarian with my boyfriend, I find myself saying to him, “there used to be …” about places that are long gone. One such place was my favorite outdoor market on Rue de Seine in Saint-Germain-des-Près, where a gold horse’s head hung above a stall selling horse meat. Despite scandal and widespread approbation, horse meat is still sold in France.

Paris has changed as the world has changed, with contactless payments on credit cards, QR code icons instead of paper menus and, of course, constant cellphone photography. Does no one ever just LOOK at anything anymore?  On the whole, Paris is reliably the same — only greener, healthier and, yes, even friendlier.

English is more widely spoken, and — is it my imagination? — Parisians seem far more tolerant and encouraging of foreigners struggling to speak French. People smoke less. Nationwide, a smoking ban became law in France in early 2006. Although I don’t smoke, I harbor nostalgia for the distinctive yellow-and-blue packaging on Gauloises and Gitanes cigarettes. On my 75th birthday in Paris, I tracked down a pack of Gitanes and accompanied my “smoke” with an Armagnac, just for the sheer badness of it.

Paris has embraced recycling, along with green belt areas, pedestrian-only zones and cycling lanes. To cut down on carbon emissions, there were the introductions of the Vélib' bicycle-sharing system in 2007 and the Autolib' electric car-sharing system in 2011 (which hit the end of the road in 2018). Dog droppings are less present underfoot. Enough said.

One of the great joys of Paris is that so much remains the same — the Eiffel Tower still lights up the skies every night — or is magnificently resurrected. La Samaritaine, the beautiful department store built in 1870, which was closed for 15 years, is back as a glittering, fashion-forward gem that includes a luxury hotel.

As was the case in my student days, Paris can be enjoyed on a budget, particularly with the euro and dollar at parity. We stayed directly across from the Louvre Museum in a modestly priced Airbnb, where we could do laundry and prepare our own breakfasts.

And how fun to introduce my boyfriend to Vagenende, a Belle Époque brasserie on Boulevard Saint-Germain, that I first visited in 1968. It was there that I persuaded my two brothers into eating escargot … and they liked snails! On a visit this trip, a waiter teasingly pretended to recognize me from back then — though he wasn’t even born that long ago.

We’ll be back. As Audrey Hepburn surely meant to say, “Paris is always a good idea” — even though it was left to Julia Ormond to speak those iconic words 41 years later in the 1995 remake of Sabrina.

Have any of you visited Paris? What was your favorite part of the city? Let us know in the comments below.

Editor's Picks
Here's what you can do about it.
, January 16, 2023
The items that may truly benefit your health and even your longevity.
, January 16, 2023