Welcome to my blog: Desperately Seeking Paris
Welcome to the first edition of Desperately Seeking Paris, a blog that traces its accidental origins to a case of dry eye syndrome. Specifically, to the day my brilliant ophthalmologist, looking at a pair of eyes as dry as toast and red as beefsteak tomatoes, said: "You’re spending too much time staring at the computer screen. Get out and get some air. Don’t forget your sunglasses."
Which is how I stumbled upon a new pastime—actually an old pastime—that of walking in the city. Writers have done it from time immemorial. Indeed, the French have made an art of it, celebrating the flâneur, a person of leisure who wanders the city, a connoisseur of the boulevards as well as the doings and foibles of others, in literature and painting. All I can say is being a flâneuse and a bloggeuse beats working out at the gym.
Grabbing a pair of sunglasses with dark lenses and a broad-brimmed hat guaranteed to keep the freckles off my face, I head south on Park Avenue, my destination the iCloud class at the Apple store at Fifth and Fifty-ninth. What I notice right away—certainly not anything worth blogging about—is that everyone’s talking on the phone. Walking and talking is not my style. I prefer sitting with my feet—no shoes!—on the desk, a freshly-made cup of coffee in hand. Oh, give it a try, I tell myself. Digging around in a handbag crammed with the necessities-- a few bucks, a Metro bus pass for times when I find myself too far from home and lip gloss--I latch onto a pair of ear-buds belonging to my new iPhone. So inexpert am I with this iPhone that it takes me a full block to simply get set up and call a friend, only to hear: No one’s home, leave your name and number... So much for that.
With or without a phone, with or without a friend, walking in the city is exhilarating. You never know when you’ll come face-to-to face with the unexpected, never know when something extraordinary will stop you in your tracks. It’s not something that you can predict, but it will happen if you just keep placing one foot in front of the other.
Rounding onto Madison Avenue, I come to a screeching halt in front of the new storefront of Baccarat, a French firm known for fine crystal. Drooling over the windows—the French call it slurping the windows—going from one to the other and back again, that documentary about Diana Vreeland, The Eye Has to Travel, comes to mind. I have no argument with that, but I suggest that the eye also needs time to linger, time in which to savor the moment.
And once again, catching a glimpse of Paris—the flair, the style, the panache—I get that old yearning. A lump in the throat, a tear in the eye, a heartfelt desire to be back in Paris. I can't explain it, not even to myself. If anything, it's like having a bad case of homesickness. As if I'm an 'expat' who has stayed too long abroad. How absurd, no? A girl from the Bronx homesick for Paris? It's that Paris is so beautiful—the streetscape, the monumental buildings, and everywhere the history of the nation, both bloody and glorious, written into every cobblestone. I swallow hard and move on.
But there's little time to dawdle, not today. And then there it is, one of my favorite hangouts, the Apple on Fifth. A simple glass cube, allegedly designed by the late Steve Jobs, himself, that leaves me slack-jawed every time I see it. With the General Motors building as the backdrop, the Apple sits on a plaza surrounded by spritzing fountains, shallow pools of water, and planters filled with flowers. Only a few years old, the Cube is already an icon.
During the hour-long iCloud class, my iPhone freezes. When I touch ‘settings,’ the screen refuses to scroll. I feel the panic rising, along with the inevitable question: What did I do wrong? Suspended animation, an employee says. It happens to everyone, not often, but it does.
With hundreds of customers milling around, I put my name on a list to talk to a ‘genius.’ He won’t be available for 40 minutes. Perfect. Time for a coffee break. I cross to Bottega del Vino, dimly lit, cool and quiet, with the lunch hour over and the dinner hour not yet begun.
Poring over a wine list written in an elegant hand on the blackboard behind the bar, I'm tempted by the selections, but end up ordering a cappuccino. The bartender puts before me a perfect cup of coffee, the aroma so heavenly and the foam so thick and creamy I can barely bring myself to take a sip. Whipping out my iPod, I sit there inhaling the coffee and listening to Armik—a cool guy who goes by one name—strumming 'Gypsy Flame' and 'Dancing Shadows'. All too soon, it’s time to go, time to meet my Apple genius. Will I have time to stop by Baccarat on Madison?
Going forward, I hope you will join me on Sundays...If you do, I'll have the coffee ready.