This is part two of a three-part essay featuring Parisian book activities by Christina Hamlett.
One of the things I noticed on our recent vacation in the City of Light is that the French are totally unapologetic about their reading habits. An example of this was the evening we officially celebrated my birthday at Le Paris, The Hotel Lutetia’s timelessly elegant Michelin Star restaurant. Shortly after we arrived, a solo gentleman was seated at a nearby table and proceeded to pull out a novel roughly the thickness of War and Peace. Over the next couple of hours – for meals such as this are never rushed in Paris – he enjoyed his dinner and engaged in small talk with the servers but never once set the book aside.
Interestingly, this became a fairly common occurrence in restaurants and bars – a testament to the love of literature and the unabashed enjoyment of a good story regardless of the setting in which the reader finds himself. If books are yourpleasure, you’ll find yourself in stellar company.
In the late 19th century, there were 45,000 cafes sprinkled throughout Paris. Although that statistic has shrunk by 90 percent and has been impacted by both the rise in fast-food venues and a ban on smoking, they are still popular hangouts for locals and tourists that want to grab a snack, catch up on news or bury their noses in books. Unlike the American tradition of turning tables as quickly as possible, French servers are in absolutely no hurry for you to be on your way. We noticed, for instance, two ladies reading paperbacks over their morning coffee at 9:30; when we passed back the same way at 1 p.m., they were still there.
PARKS AND RECREATION
When beautiful weather beckons, everyone heads outdoors to enjoy the sunshine, inhale the fragrance of flowers and hit the “pause” button on a park bench. Paris has a number of idyllic settings for that very purpose, the most famous of which include:
- Le Jardin du Luxembourg – This botanical haven traces its origins to the mid-17th century and the inspiration of the Medici family. Settle in beside a cool fountain, on an iron chair, spread a blanket on the grass or sit on the steps of the palace and lose yourself within the pages of imagination.
- The Tuileries – Another brainchild of the Medicis, this is the oldest and most artfully symmetrical garden in the city. Replete with statues and plenty of benches, this blissful reading spot is within easy walking distance of The Louvre.
- Bois de Vincennes – It’s hard to imagine a public commons that boasts more acreage and greenery than Central Park but Vincennes Wood is it. The botanical park, gazebos and lakes offer plenty of places to tuck into your latest read without any interruption.
Several of my Parisian associates who have to commute to work on a daily basis swear by the Metro as a cozy bubble for guilt-free reading. Not only do they maintain that it’s something they can do just as easily standing up as sitting down but that it takes much less time to stuff a book in your pocket when you reach your stop than it is to power-down a laptop. A book, they add, is also a great deterrent if you’re not inclined to socialize with strangers on public transportation. Thinking of taking a cruise down the Seine? There’s plenty of breathtaking scenery along the 482-mile route but there’s also ample opportunity to put your feet up, enjoy the river breezes and amuse yourself with some light reading.
Yes, yes, you probably read paperbacks in the bathtub all the time at home but there’s something decidedly different about doing it in your Paris hotel room. It all starts with buying the right soap by Roger & Gallet. In the 1870’s, these were the same purveyors who invented that cute round bath soap wrapped in pleated paper. This brand and squillions of others can be purchased at Paris’ premier department store, Le Bon Marche. You’ll also want a nearby plate of chocolate. Chocolate shops abound in Paris but my personal fave is La Maison du Chocolate located next door to The Lutetia. Lastly, indulge in a split of champagne from room service, turn on the tap and hang a “Do Not Disturb. I’m Reading” sign on the bathroom door. You deserve it.
Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author whose credits to date include 28 books, 145 stage plays, 5 optioned feature films and squillions of articles and interviews. She is also a professional ghostwriter and script consultant for stage and screen. Visit her website at www.authorhamlett.com.