Why French Women Don’t Get Fat
Mireille Guiliano had a runaway best seller with a book of this title. She gives all kinds of advice about how to live like a French woman, enjoy all the good things in life, and remain slim and beautiful. I decided that it’s really not all that complicated. If you walk and use the Metro to get around Paris, I’m convinced that’s all you need to do in order to stay perpetually slim and trim. You’re easily going to burn off anything you could possibly have the time to stop and eat. The fact of the matter is navigating a big city without a car whether New York or Paris involves endless walking.
This morning while I was getting ready, Norman walked to the boulangerie to buy a couple of baguettes for later in the day and two delicious apricot filled pastries for breakfast. He commented that the baker’s wife had a long face and when I asked him why, he said it’s because she’s stuck there. The ovens are in the basement of the building where her husband works from 10pm till 4am, the tiny store on street level is open seven days a week all day long, and they live in the apartment above. He’s probably right.
After breakfast, we walked to our local marché to buy some more groceries for our pantry. Then we set off to re-explore the area around the Louvre and Pont des Arts that was my first introduction to Paris six years ago. This involved a combination of walking and using the Metro which seemed like mostly walking. When you exit one Metro stop to transfer to another line, it often requires half a mile or so of walking through a maze of passageways to the connection. This generally includes flights of stairs both up and down — remember the trip with the luggage? It looks so direct and simple on the map, but it’s very misleading. It makes you think you should have just walked all the way to your destination in the first place. And if you’re not sure which exit to the street you should take (you usually pick the wrong one) you end up three blocks in the wrong direction before you realize you need to turn around. After a day of doing this, we figured even the Parisians must get confused from time to time.
I don’t envy the people with cars either. Unless you can drive like Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code, driving through the narrow streets is crazy and parking is impossible. We noticed that people park wherever they can even if it’s obviously illegal. The police are out in force giving parking tickets but they seem to just pile up on illegally parked cars. We observed some vehicles with huge collections that hadn’t been towed. In fact, we haven’t seen any tow trucks at all. For obvious reasons, there is a plethora of motorcycles and scooters all over the place and I do admire the women who are dressed to the nines with hose and heels riding them around the city.
Eventually our Paris hike came to a temporary stop on Pont des Arts which crosses the Seine between the Louvre (originally named the Palais des Arts — hence the name of the bridge) and the Institut de France and has the distinction of being the first metal bridge in Paris thanks to Napolen. Due to its unique point of view, it serves as a plein air studio for many painters and photographers who are often present there. On this day we encountered one lone painter and were serenaded by a colorfully dressed gypsy woman playing an accordion. Pont des Arts is also well-known as a bridge for lovers. The chain link fencing on either side sports an overwhelming array of love padlocks, a tradition that can be seen in various places throughout Europe. The story goes that a couple writes their names on the lock, locks it onto the bridge, and throws the key into the Seine as symbol of their undying love. Of course, if things don’t work out, you have to come back with bolt cutters. There are two bridges where this phenomenon occurs — Pont des Arts is said to be for committed love and Pont de l’Archevêché is for lovers. The latter is reportedly packed with locks compared to the former which still has plenty of room for more. Humph!
After all this exercise, I was getting hungry and in need of a bathroom. This meant we had to stop somewhere and eat anyway if we wanted to find a bathroom. We continued our walk over the bridge and into Saint Germain des Prés, a very upscale neighborhood and once the home of the existentialist movement — basically where the famous people that lived in our neighborhood of Montparnasse went to hang out for coffee and talk (think Sartre at Starbucks). It’s two most well-known cafes are Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore which you see in every travelogue and movie about Paris. We made a more obscure (and economical) choice, Le Petit St. Benoît, where we indulged in an appetizer of escargot. Someone pointed out that the only reason they taste so good is because of the rich sauces in which they are prepared which I think is probably true. We followed this with a fish cassoulet for Norman and a chanterelle risotto for me and, of course, some wine. No need to feel guilty about the carbs in my dish as I knew I still had the long walk back ahead of me.
When we finally arrived back at our apartment, we realized we had been gone for six hours! We rested, had a small meal while watching the season finale of Madmen on Norman’s iPad (yes, thanks to the Internet and wifi, you don’t have to worry about missing anything from home) and then… We went for an after-dinner walk!!