When I look back at the time I've spent in Paris, I can say quite proudly that I have used my time well. I have explored many neighborhoods, taken the bus and subway to the far corners of the city, and have a stack of museum tickets ready for the scrapbook. But I feel like a piker next to Roxana. Iranian by birth and Belgian by marriage, she's hit Paris by storm, vowing to walk every street and visit every museum in town before she and her husband pull up stakes and move on to their next post two years from now. It's an ambitious goal and one that has lately made her a little nervous given that she's only close to completing three arrondissements: the 17th, the 1st and the 4th.
I'd met Roxana sometime last year and then bumped into her again this fall. The first time I met her was with a bunch of English speakers. The next time and more frequently since, we've been surrounded by French speakers. But the die was cast. We speak French with the French goup but English when we're one on one.
Earlier this week Roxana let me tag along as she finished up bits of the 1st arrondissement around the edges of Les Halles. With a tattered photocopied map in hand, the streets she'd already explored highlighted in yellow, we zig zagged up and down the streets surrounding, stopping to look at historical markers, puzzle at street signs, and peek in alleyways and shop windows. She wanted to see the remnants of Catherine de Medici's palace alongside the Bourse de Commerce and that allowed me to suggest a peek inside at the domed ceiling and frescoes.
I asked Roxana if she had any tips for those intent on discovering Paris. She carries little with her -- a map, a small camera, bus tickets, and some pocket change -- preferring to consult her books at home, rather than carrying them around. That's not to say she doesn't like the guidebooks. In fact, she particularly recommends Paris Secret et Insolite by Rodolphe Trouilleux.
She's also a big fan of walking tours which, while perhaps not covering a lot of ground, have the benefit of getting you into places you might not see on your own, in particular, behind those closed wooden doors. She'd recently taken one of the free tours conducted by Eau de Paris and looks forward to doing more.
Roxana's mission got me to thinking. If I took out a map of Paris, how much ground could I say I've covered? Come to think of it, maybe I'll just pull out my own yellow highlighter and see where it leads me.