“Ben” There, Done That

Spring is here in Paris and apparently that means with less clothing, undergarments are optional. Or perhaps they were never present but everyone had their heavy coats and scarves to cover their bodies so passer-bys wouldn’t notice.  Anyway, there is much to look at with the sun out and weather nice!

I have never lived in central Africa or South America, so I can’t say for sure, but I imagine daffodils and crocuses are the universal sign that the earth is ready for beauty to sprout and give us hope that the weather will warm and the days will be longer.  For the longest time, this Arizona girl thought that springtime in Paris was chimerical rhetoric for poets and romantics, having become delirious from the cold and colorless days of winter.  Now I see it is truly just as vibrant, energetic and vivacious as described by authors and artistes.  The flowers are plenty and chromatic, the trees are flourishing and verdurous.
Taking advantage of the vitamin D and dancing with the sunshine as she called my name, we headed out, fully under-garmented, to explore. We decided to follow some of the steps of our good fellow American, Benjamin Franklin. After rounding the Arc de Triomphe, we headed down the Avenue des Champs Élysées toward the Seine, then walked along the Seine, literally, said hello to the Thomas Jefferson statue near the Point Neuf, then over to Rue Dauphine in the sixth Arrondissement.
Rue Dauphine turns into a street called Rue de l’Ancient Comédie, and on this street is a café called Café Procope.  Founded in 1686 and considered the oldest restaurant in Paris,  this brasserie quickly became a place where intellectuals and savants would meet in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Had we been around back then (and well, I mean Wade, because women weren’t allowed there AND I was being presumptuous thinking I would have the mind to mingle with these greats…) Wade would have kept company with the likes of Voltaire, Napoléon Bonaparte, Victor Hugo,  Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones, and Thomas Jefferson, just to (I’m sure) name a few.  There is a plaque commemorating the seat where Benjamin Franklin prepared the Franco American alliance between “King Louis XVI avec la nouveue République”, known to us as the United States of America.  Pretty. Darn. Cool.  And we were just getting started!
Meandering down a few more streets, we found ourselves in the oldest section of Paris, St. Germain des Prés.  It used to be walled and sitting out in the countryside, hence the name.  A Benedictine Abbey was built in the 6th century,  which at one time housed the stole of St. Vincent, as well as tombs of royalty.  It was used for worship, for protection, for governing.  Parts have been damaged, set on fire and fallen apart, and was rebuilt in the 12th century, before the OTHER beautiful big church was built across the river.  This church is really impressive, not only for its age, but because it was located in the center of the French Revolution in the 18th century and it sustained much damage~but still kept her beauty.  The students from the local École des Beaux Arts (THE art school of Europe) are repainting the inside of the church today.  There we saw the memorial wall of parishioners who gave their lives in the Great War, one having the same name as my father.
From the Abbey St. Germain des Prés, we went down Rue Jacob, stopping at (what was once) the Hotel York, where Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and John Adams signed the Treaty of Paris.  I am sure you remember from junior year US History, but indulge me as I write, that the Treaty of Paris was signed between the US and Britain, ending the American Revolution and granting the brand new United States of America her independence.
We peregrinated down a labyrinth of cobblestone byways and roads back to the main street, where we had a preprandial at one of the most famous cafés in Paris, Les Deux Magots. Don’t be deceived by the obvious quick English translation.  It doesn’t mean two  abominable grubs but means two Chinese figurines, a name taken from the novelty shop that used to occupy the premise.  The establishment as we know it was founded in 1885. There is no plaque to commemorate this tidbit of trivia, but I am blessed with a dear French friend (in the US) who is, in my humble opinion, more valuable and more generous than my trusty Google Translate app.
There are three cafés, including Les Deux Magots,  in a little triangle section of the street, which are significant as they were the haunts of Jean Paul Sartre (philosopher) and Simone de Beauvoir (writer) who were influential in the existentialism and non-conformism movements that captivated poets, artists and jazz musicians after World War II.  For us, it was significant because they carry our “family” wine, Chateau Guillot.
Now, our little refreshment stop had absolutely nothing to do with the great Benjamin Franklin, except for the fact he probably wandered those cobblestones at one time or another and that gave us conjecture to envision.   We went by the hotel where Oscar Wilde spent his last days, got an ice cream cone on the corner of the Pont Neuf and finished our walk by paying homage to the plaque on building across the street from our flat, 25 rue de Chazelles, the birthplace of the  Statue of Liberty.  It was constructed in 1886, right on our street.  That makes me want to put my hand over my heart and just sing!
While I do my best to fit in and not bring attention to myself or my nationality here, Paris lets me know she is proud to be part of our history, part of our present, and for us, will always be part of our future.

2 thoughts on ““Ben” There, Done That

  1. Thank you for bringing Paris and our American history alive! Just coming frm DC and the Williamsburg area thru the revolution it is great to hear the history from the Europe side. I loved the time we spent in France- we traveled thru the North following the WWI track.
    Have you seen the cemetery where Wilde is buried there in a Paris?

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    • Thank you, Colleen! No, we haven’t been to that cemetery yet…But will go soon! It is surreal walking in town, knowing the history that is on the same cobblestones. We will be visiting the north of France this summer~ I’d love to hear more about it from you! Best, mari

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