By Philippa Campsie

Paris, by Barbara Redmond

Barbara Redmond

On the last day of one’s stay in Paris, one tends to walk the streets with eyes wide open, greedily drinking in the look of the buildings, the people, the cafés, the boutiques, the flowers, trying to store up those impressions like someone eating a large meal in expectation of a food shortage.

Hemingway may have called Paris a “moveable feast” that you could take along with you, but was he right? Many women long to take Paris home with them, but then reality intervenes. The kids prefer pizza to sole meunière, and the neighbours or the people at work may regard attempts to inject a little French elegance into one’s attire with suspicion, if not hostility (what’s with the scarf?). Hemingway, one suspects, never had these problems.

Moving the moveable feast

Can you really take it with you? Can you store up the memory of the Seine at dawn, or the wide tree-lined boulevards at dusk in a way that will somehow inoculate you against the sights that await you at home—eight-lane highways, fast food drive-throughs, big box stores, neon billboards … and that’s just on the way home from the airport. (To be sure, France has these things too, many of them visible on the ride between central Paris and Charles de Gaulle airport, but you know what we mean.)

Can you capture and bottle the sensations of a stroll through Paris? Can you take home with you the glimpse of a peaceful green courtyard through an archway from a busy street, the sounds of someone practicing a piano heard through an open window, the fragrances that follow you as you pass a flower shop, the taste and texture of the end of the baguette that you munch on the way home from the boulangerie?

How can we carry a bit of Paris around with us wherever we go?

For the two of us, this blog is one way to remember and revisit Paris in our minds as we write the entries and paint the pictures. We read about Paris in books and magazines, and discuss what we are reading and thinking about.

For some women, a small, discreet luxury keeps them in touch with their Paris selves―a perfume they first discovered there, a special shade of lipstick, or matching lingerie in a colour unobtainable at home.

Others dig out the heavy cookware and the copy of Je Sais Cuisiner (the French equivalent of The Joy of Cooking, newly translated into English as I Know How to Cook), and rustle up a candlelit French dinner for friends or lovers.

Still others watch the DVD of Amélie for the eighth time, or put on a Jane Birkin CD, or redecorate the guest bedroom with French toile de Jouy. They take classes at the Alliance Française or join a French film discussion group. All of us are striving to create a little Paris-like space around ourselves in which the person we are when we are in Paris can emerge for a while.

A Parisian sense of time and space

But perhaps the two things that we most want to bring home with us are a Parisian sense of time and space.

By time, we mean the sense that there are some things in life which cannot and must not be rushed, ever. Frenchwomen may be busy multi-taskers much of the time, but a visit to Paris reveals that a few things are sacred―certain meals, certain conversations, certain rituals. Imagine taking the time every morning to greet every single one of your colleagues with a handshake or a couple of air kisses as the French do. Imagine taking two weeks off every spring. Imagine spending three or more hours over a meal on a regular basis.

As for space, we mean that since living quarters tend to be compact in Paris, life has to be edited down to the essentials. Private space cannot be wasted. Instead, people make good use of public space. Parisians use every inch of the city’s parks, boulevards, courtyards, and streets. What tourists admire as “street life” is to Parisians simply a normal part of the day’s routines … doing errands by walking not driving, meeting friends in sidewalk cafes, shopping in outdoor markets.

Perhaps the moveable feast is this: taking more time for what matters and taking up less space with what does not.

What do you do to keep Paris alive when you return home? Let us know and we’ll incorporate your ideas into a future blog.


A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition, by Ernest Hemingway, Sean Hemingway (Introduction) and Patrick Hemingway (Foreward).

I Know How to Cook, by Ginette Mathiot.

VOCABULARY: French to English translations

Boulangerie: French or French-style bakery.
Est un fête:A Moveable Feast” was translated into French as Paris est un fête. In the book, Ernest Hemingway wrote about his “ses premières années d’écrivain désargenté” (his early years as a penniless writer) when he and his wife “vivait d’amour et de vin frais” (lived on love and new wine).
Parisian: Native or resident of Paris.
Parisienne: Female native or resident of Paris.
Sole meunière: Classic French dish consisting of sole fish, whole or fillet, that is dredged in flour, sautéed in butter and served with the resulting brown butter sauce.

Philippa Campsie

Philippa Campsie teaches part-time in the urban planning program at the University of Toronto and runs her own writing and research business, Hammersmith Communications. Before starting her own business, she was editor-in-chief at Macmillan Canada. Philippa lived in Paris as a student and regularly travels to Paris and Normandy. She is interested in stories of famous Parisian women throughout the ages and how they influenced the Parisian style we have come to love and know.

You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, Paris, a particular shade of gray, by Mary Evans a former cooking school director and founder of The Write Cook. Mary recalls the cozy refuges in her long ago memories of Paris and shares her recipe for Chicken Bouillabaisse.

Paris Makeover: coming home blond, by Barbara Redmond who declares, “Never question a Frenchwoman,” and succumbed to the transformation of coming home blond. Barbara describes it all: the haute-coiffure, the pharamacie, and her new “French look!” Including Barbara’s favorite book on spas, salons and beauty boutiques in Paris, and her personal directory of hair and makeup salons in Paris. Not to miss is her vocabulary of French to English words so “nothing” gets lost in translation!

Paris in the Rain, by Parisian Abby Rodgers who writes about how Paris becomes a different place when it rains.  As Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” comments, walking through Paris in the rain can be a magical experience because you have the ability to discover the city from a whole new point of view.  Including Abby’s suggestions of favorite boutiques, museums, and shops to explore while walking around Paris.

The Child Madeline, by writer and educator Natalie Ehalt who shares her love of Madeline and brings a deserved respect for girls and children worldwide. Including excerpts from Mad About Madeline: The Complete Tales, by Ludwig Bemelmans.

I dream of Paris. Writer and educator Natalie Ehalt shares the quote from Napoléon, who wrote in 1795, “A woman, in order to know what is due her and what her power is, must live in Paris for six months.” To Natalie, Paris is the ultimate in elegance and style. It is old-fashioned, it is cobblestone, it is aprons, it is a chauffeur helping you step off the curb…

L’heure bleue: the moment I fell in love with Paris, by Barbara Redmond who shares her unexpected first experiences with Paris. She was met with noise and hot and humid air; it was not the beautiful Paris she had imagined. Barbara discusses how there was moment when she found the true Paris and fell in love.

Text copyright ©2010 Philippa Campsie. All rights reserved
Illustration copyright ©2012 Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.