Congratulations to Sandra Sommers for winning the 2022 Lake Forest Reads Writing Contest! Enjoy her entry on Paris, a theme from this year's book "Her Hidden Genius" by Marie Benedict.
“Madame Sommers, we will be waiting.”
by Sandra Sommers
I announced in 1999 I was visiting Paris and Provence in Spring. I asked one of my 5 daughters to join me. Of course, she said yes! And that began a 20-year tradition to bring each of our children to my favorite country-France!
My friends and family call me a “Franceophile”, and I do agree! Whether I am dining in the Eiffel Tower restaurant (designed by Gustav Eiffel for the 1889 exhibition) or visiting the beautiful square, Place des Vosges, I am surrounded by historic beauty.
In the 1600s, the Marais (the area around the Vosges) was considered the center of the fashionable Paris.
Today the “Marais” (pronounced marrӯe) is filled with galleries and boutiques-surrounded by old mansions.
A beautifully rebuilt mansion is now the Musée Picasso. An exquisite building is filled with the works of Pablo Picasso
Paris is a “walking” city. Each “arrondissements” (district) has its own charm, a noted bistro and corner café. Café de Flore Lex Deux Magots & Brasserie Lipp were frequented by Paris luminaries Picasso, Hemingway, and de Beauvoir!
A favorite quote from Marie Benedicts book “Her Hidden Genius”, I relate to – “Every other city pales in comparison to Paris”! Paris comes “alive” by the many men (& women) of literary fame. Even Victor Hugo has his name on a building.
I love the following words from the late Ernest Hemingway “when a man [or woman] feels at home outside of where he was born, that is where he must go”.
Those words are true for me. I feel “at home” strolling the banks of the Seine or meandering the beautiful Luxembourg Gardens.
Allow me to stop briefly & tell you the time my daughter stopped at the cart of roasted chestnuts. It was parked at the entry gate of the Gardens.
My lovely French speaking daughter asked “I’d like a fresh bag of warm chestnuts- oui oui!
I will never forget that day. A highlight strolling arm & arm, absorbing the sights and sounds of my favorite French park and sharing it with the one I love. Reminds me of a favorite line in a movie, “all this and Heaven too”! (1940 movie)
I am frequently asked “Why Paris? Why so often?”
Of course, the energy and vibrance of the people, culture, history, cuisine brings me joy.
A great cartoon in the New Yorker put in it very simply “a woman carrying her packed suitcase approaches her husband and says ‘I’m going to France, I’m a different person in France” by Victoria Roberts. The husband continued reading his newspaper.
That’s my answer. I am a different person!
Each one of my visits have been shared with each daughter (all 5). My son has not joined me in Paris, perhaps the next time. Visiting each museum sitting in the box seat at the Opera house watching a ballet. “GEMS” was another highlight. The ceiling of the beautifully appointed theatre had a mural painted by Picasso!
An enriching experience for each of us. Afterward we had a beautifully presented dinner by Chef Alain Ducasse in the Eiffel Tower looking out of the windows at the city of lights. “PARIS” was rather remarkable-another highlight!
The following day we went to the famous Shakespeare & Co bookstore and heard discussion from an author. Sitting in the storied lobby surrounded by volumes of books made for another special evening. Directly across the street stands the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral- such a joy to attend a service & be graciously welcomed. One year we observed Easter at Notre Dame, moved to tears.
A yearly tradition has become a visit or two to the famous Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company. It began with an American woman in 1919, Sylvia Beach.
The bookshop became so welcoming to literary authors that Ernest Hemingway, while writing “A Moveable Feast” dedicates a chapter to Sylvia Beach. Hemingway’s memoir is among the bestsellers at the bookshop. What I have enjoyed is how Shakespeare and Company hosts author and poet evenings. With limited space, you must arrive early to secure a chair. The evening is enriching as you listen to the story behind the story or listen to the poet speaking about his or her passion.
The shop even has a wishing well embedded in its floor. You are encouraged to toss coins. Across from the bookshop stands the Notre Dame Cathedral. I feel such privilege standing in an area surrounded by historic beauty.
George Whitman (no relation to Walt) and part owner of the shop said this about books: “No finer way of life is there in all the earth than this, to wander thru the palace of the world on foot to walk to dance, to sing and to read- to read the book of life”.
Sylvia Whitman, the daughter of George Whitman is the shop’s owner (2005).
A quote written above one of the shop’s doorways- it reads- “ Be not inhospitable to strangers-lest they be angels in disguise”. These are powerful words they echo my feelings as well!
Sylvia declared that the physical book is threatened by its “on-line” counterpart. Bookstores will always exist as a safe meeting place for people and literature.
Shakespeare and Company is always on my list of places to visit. Perhaps listening to an author or hearing a poet reading makes for a delightful evening. Upon opening the front door, I enter a world of exploration. Coming away with newfound knowledge. A coffee shop has opened next to the famous bookshop. Of course that is a place of comfort as I open the first page of my newly purchased book. I continue to feel enriched by the knowledge only a book gives to me. As I’ve reflected on my many visits to my “home away from home” I have great anticipation on what each visit will bring me.
This visit I will train from Paris to Provence- the South of France. Its first stop is Avignon, a medieval city. It’s surrounded by a thick wall. Such keen exploring with my daughter. Walking thru the flea market to dining at a renowned café made it a memorable visit. We boarded the train again past the fields of lavender to Nice. A few stops in between our ride to Nice was filled with friendly conversation with French passengers. We did enjoy a special stop in St. Tropez where we met the parents of our exchange students many years ago. Staying in their beautiful home was a unique experience. Sharing the French home for family dinners and the day drives to the sunflower-laden countryside. We were graciously welcomed and felt like a part of their family. The following few days was spent touring Normandy and the landing beaches. We watched a film on WWII and toured the quiet cemetery. Row after row of crosses as far as your eyes could see. A heartfelt day of great loss for all.
There is no better salon in Europe than Mariage Frères. It was founded by two brothers in the mid-1800s. The fresh tea leaves are in air-tight large tin containers. The tins line the shelves and are in order according to the strength of the leaf. An interesting fact about the tea sachets (or tea bags). When it was time to trade with China or England, the way the leaves were transported was in small cheese cloth-like bags tied by a thin twine. As time went on, the high quality was used in bonbons, cakes, and butter cookies. “Marco Polo” is the most popular choice. It has a lovely floral fragrance. A favorite choice for my gifts, they are elegantly wrapped in shiny black paper and gold ribbon. The small tins are a unique “keepsake”. In addition to tea, the salon serves a lovely lunch and Sunday brunch. One very special Easter I was joined by two daughters for an elegant brunch. Another memorable day in Paris, surrounded by my family on one of my visits with Heather, we decided to visit chocolate shops that sold my favorite dark chocolate orange peels. The shops greeted us with a friendly bonjour and offered a sample of their orange peels. One shop offered lemon peels and grapefruit peels as well as the traditional orange peel. We decided on two shops. Our boxes of chocolate were beautiful with decorative paper and lovely ribbon. Ready to present to family back home, waiting for a couple of hours. While strolling the right bank, we saw a store that sold the infamous beret. Of course, we tried on the right fit and color for our hair. Berets were made of finely woven wool. We could not find the right one. Even though the beret has become a national icon we left without buying one; perhaps the next time. La Maison Laulhère began making the beret in 1840. The berets are sold in many boutiques.
It was time for our afternoon break at the corner café for a un café et macaron. The small, round cookies are made with almonds, eggs, and sugar with your choice of several fillings. They are melt in your mouth sweet. Ladurée is the famous shop to enjoy macrons and then bring some back to our hotel.
The city that continues to delight me- to ignite my soul and continue to keep giving me reasons to return and return. Meeting Paul Bocuse (the late) in his mansion style restaurant was a highlight. Lyon is the location of his Michelin star restaurant. It was an honor speaking with him. The ultimate dining experience of our lives.
My eldest daughter standing in Luxembourg Gardens, surrounded by the beauty of flowers, trees, and majestic buildings said, “Mom, I see why you keep returning.” I’ll never forget her validation. On the last day of a visit, as I was finishing my espresso and croissant the hotel manager Monsieur Guipet came to my table and asked, “Madame Sommers what can I do for your last day at Hotel D’Abusson?” I smiled and said extend my visit! He replied with a smile and said, “when will you be returning?”
I replied, “very soon”.
“Madame Sommers, we will be waiting!”
As Dr. Rosalind Franklin said, “every city is pale compared to Paris.”
Dr. Franklin has left the world a brilliant legacy in her DNA and life dedication to science. Her brilliance lives on forever.
My dear friend Ann encouraged me to write about “my” Paris. Not only has France been an enriching experience, but sharing a part of my life with my daughters has indeed been a privilege. A part of me radiates with each visit and a lifetime of memories cherished.
“Oui, Monsier Giupet, ‘I am returning’”.
These words on “my” Paris
Are dedicated to my
6 amazing children,
To my 6 loving, caring
To my husband who is the same gentleman I married many years ago
He always gave me his blessing.
Favorite “Star” Paris Restaurants
Taillevent- #1 favorite-1st restaurant to use a fork
Guy Savoy- with views of the Siene
Le Grand Véfour-GRAND!
L’Arpège- Chef Alain Passard- near Musée Rodin
Le Jules Verne- Eiffel Tower Ultimate
Le Cong in Four Seasons Hotel
Le Meurice- chef Alain Ducasse. The dining room was inspired by 1 room in Palace of Versailles overlooking the Jardin des Tuileries
La Tour D’Argent- views of Notre Dame. The wine cellar has about 320,000 bottles.
Spend a day at the Louvre – largest art museum. I visit a new exhibit each year
Palace of Versailles- spend a complete day
Benedict – a must! Founded 1912
Little Breizh- Belgian Waffles
Le Comptoir – next to Le Relais Saint Germain.
Outdoor seating- stop for lunch on the stroll of Luxembourg Gardens
Talented chef/ great classic menu
Chef Yves Camdeborde- a MUST!