Le Jardin des Tuileries, near la Place de la Concorde.

Le sacre du printemps

Paris, ah, Paris. The City of Light. The moveable feast, as Ernest Hemingway called it. This was a different story. After a difficult winter in New York, and the bleak cold of Moscow (whose weather, for the time we were there, was still better than New York’s), to land in Paris in the spring was like entering the gates of Heaven. Parisians were still bundled up in scarves and overcoats, but for us it was time for that spring wardrobe we’d been waiting to unveil. Up and down the streets of Montmartre we strode, and navigated the Metro like natives, doing our best to blend in and look like chic Europeans. (At least one of us; for my part, I’ve always considered myself to be a European trapped in an American’s body.) Dina lived in Paris some years ago, and I have visited the city many times. For us it was like a homecoming, and we both knew this was the place where we belonged.

In the evening we strolled through the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district, settling in for dinner at Les Deux Magots, where Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Pablo Picasso and Hemingway rubbed shoulders. After our late dinner it was still pleasant enough to sit outside the café for a cognac. Out of nowhere, in the dark, evening chill, a man marched by, accompanied by a woman in the shortest possible skirt, her bare white legs brilliantly reflecting the light from the café. Ah, Paris. Then a walk along the Seine, watching the lovers in the shadows by the docks.

Building in La Muette district.

The following afternoon we met Tania, Dina’s old school chum from Moscow, a statistician with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The organization’s headquarters are in the elegant La Muette neighborhood, in the 16th Arrondissement, where apartments sell for about $10,000 per square meter, or about $1 million for 1,000 square feet. After a passport security check, we were admitted as Tania’s guests for lunch. This was a Friday, perhaps a little more casual than other days, as evidenced by the informal dress of many employees, but still I expressed mild surprise that we were drinking a carafe of wine with lunch. I told Tania that a company cafeteria serving wine is practically unheard of in the U.S. “That’s not living, that’s just existing,” she said.

Paris in bloom, with Dina.

Before returning to work, she walked us over to the Musée Marmottan Monet, to look at some of the famed painter’s works, and we made a date for dinner. As Dina and I walked through the neighborhood I thought of Joni Mitchell’s song “Free Man in Paris,” which has often buoyed me in busy times, and occasionally in bad ones. It felt odd, and joyful, having been so long since we walked in a place that was relatively warm, without snow and ice, with flowers in bloom, and people sitting at outdoor cafes.

A great view.

And as we reached the end of the Rue de Passy shopping street, the magnificent Eiffel Tower swam magically into view from between buildings. At that point, the choice not to be a tourist was moot; it is impossible not to be awed by the sight. In the evening we met Tania and her husband, Dimitri, and colleague Sasha in front of Notre Dame, and dined a few blocks away at the Restaurant Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole, which resides in a building constructed in 1512. An elegant, wonderful evening, conducted in three languages. And that was just the waiter.

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