I understand there is a lot to see in Paris. I’m going to be there for a few days in the next week or so. I’ve looked at some guidebooks and listened to the enthusiasm of friends who have visited, some of them many times. No one talks about what I want most to do. I was to be in Paris.
Possibly a brief philosophical excursion will help. I make a distinction between “being” and “doing.” This isn’t the kind of distinction the philosophers who have written on this have in mind, I am sure, but it means a good deal to me and I use it carefully. In the “being” mode, I imagine that what I do proceeds from who I am. Being is first and doing proceeds from it. In the “doing” mode, the doing is really epiphenomenal. It provides the material from which my being is formed, over time, like so many layers of sediment. That’s what I mean by it, in any case. I’m a doing kind of person, normally. I employ what is sometimes called “the instrumental mode.”
But not in Paris. In the length of time we are going to be there—less than a week—the great temptation is going to be to “do” as much as we can. I want to do a little of that. But I really just want to “be” in Paris.
I want to look through the bookstores although I don’t read a lick of French.  I want to order dinner from a very tolerant Parisian waiter.  I want to go to the Left Bank where the American expatriates hung out. Maybe I can find the bookstore Sylvia Beach used to run in the 1920s. I want to walk in different kinds of neighborhoods, only the safe ones, but not only the rich ones. I want to go to a Starbucks coffee shop, just once, while I am there. The rest of the time, I want to try to get used to the way the French drink coffee.
I want to see the Louvre and, if possible, to go inside. I want to hear people speaking French without working hard at it. I want to see what kinds of things they laugh at. I want to ride the Metro trains and take taxis and not be hit by bicyclists. I hear les flics direct traffic in some intersections. Time magazine offers this little blurb:
To foreign tourists, the Paris cop seems a model of quiet courtesy. He directs them to American Express and Thomas Cook with a debonair salute; he guides gladiatorial traffic with a calm nonchalance. Frenchmen look on le flic quite differently.
I would like to see Frenchmen looking on them differently, but I would also like to see their “calm nonchalance” since I will be a tourist. I’d like to look around in a department store. Most of all, I want to spend some time sitting at a sidewalk café with Bette watching Parisians. I want Bette to be there because I am one of those, “Ooooh, did you see that?” kind of people-watchers. If I don’t have a chance to share it with someone—Bette would be my first choice—I hardly feel that I have seen it myself.
I want to find other English speakers and ask them how Paris seems to them. I want to hear people say arrondissment. I want to see Notre Dame—I mean actually see the inside of it. They say Paris is a friendly city for walking. I like that. I am friendly to walking too, especially if I get to sit down and rest every now and then. I know they sell the International Herald-Tribune in English in Paris.
I can’t imagine that I will be blogging in Paris, but you never know. Some posts, like this one, just happen and I watch them, paternal and bemused. We’ll be back on September 23 and by then, Bette will have successfully completed another year. Bon anniversaire, Bette.