Our Day of the Dead in the City of Light

Whoever said you can’t walk everywhere in Paris hasn’t met Michael and I. Last October we proved all naysayers wrong by the power of our own four feet. One of our best days of our week was the one we named our DAY OF THE DEAD.

No, we didn’t die that day. Trust me, it was a thematic name choice.

In Paris, we stayed in the 9th at an unassuming little hotel called Hôtel de Paris Saint Georges. We don’t go big on hotels, because they’re only for sleeping in when your goal is to take in every inch of every city you visit. The hotel is not important, as long as it’s clean.

Our first goal on the Day of the Dead was to make our way to Père Lachaise Cemetery all the way over in the 20th arrondissement. Google Maps told us it was a mere 5.2km away. A walk in the park that would take us 1 hour and 8 minutes, according to Google. Google also doesn’t know us. We knew we could cut that number down to an hour.

My first time in Paris was action packed with Left Bank Writers Retreat stuff, so I didn’t get to see Père Lachaise. The days were too fully planned out to sneak away, and the cemetery was closed at night. Who closes a cemetery at night?! The nerve!

I had several graves on my visiting wish-list, and we booked a walking tour at the cemetery to make things easy for us. It’s a huge cemetery!

Unfortunately, our Day of the Dead was going to begin with a fail. Not surprising, since we were still dead in the middle of the pandemic. The tour didn’t sell enough tickets, so it was cancelled. The worst part was that the tour company didn’t tell us it was cancelled. Michael and I stood by the designated Metro stop waiting for the guide to appear for far too long. After doing several somersaults and finally contacting the tour guide people, we discovered we had been waiting in vain. We were on our own.

Even though we didn’t see everyone on the list, we did manage to see a few of the famous people I wanted to visit. Having waited decades to see this historic cemetery, I was not disappointed. Sure, it would have been a hundred percent better with the accompaniment of a guide, but it was still an amazing morning!

Oscar Wilde

We saw Wilde, Piaf, Proust, Moliere, Balzac, Chopin, and Morrison, among others. Then we accepted our defeat and put Père Lachaise onto the bingo card for our next visit to Paris. Next time, hopefully, we will have a guide. There’s still quite a few people on my wish-list that we missed. Take my word for it, if you’re going to visit Père Lachaise, get a guided tour. You may think you can do it alone, but it is really overwhelming once you’re there. Even with a paper map or Google Maps. I was just too overwhelmed to remember half the names I wanted to visit. And we did some crisscrossing we could have avoided. GET. A. GUIDE.

Marcel Proust

With our mad dash throughout the cemetery over, we were off to our next stop! Did somebody say Panthéon?! And how does the Panthéon work into our Day of the Dead, you might ask if you’re not familiar with the building in the heart of the Latin Quarter. Off to the 5th arrondissement we go!

Panthéon, temple to all the gods. Sitting atop Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, the Panthéon (Built from 1758-1790), once a church, is now a mausoleum for the remains of France’s most distinguished citizens. This incarnation of a mausoleum could very well be the building’s last and eternal purpose.

Once we made the brisk 4.1km walk from Père Lachaise, with a quick stop at a yummy Indian restaurant we stumbled upon along the way, we were ready to meet more of history’s illustrious dead. 

We visited almost everyone resting there. From Voltaire to Zola.

Voltaire!

A highlight of the visit, for me as a writer and reader, was Emile Zola, Alexandre Dumas, and Victor Hugo.

Emile Zola
Alexandre Dumas
Victor Hugo

Since we were in the neighbourhood (the Latin Quarter in the 5th arrondissement), we also visited Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, which is just behind the Panthéon. This church was made newly famous after appearing in the movie Midnight in Paris. I had visited the church back in 2014 when the Panthéon was closed for some restorative work. We took an iconic (to us) photo of ourselves on the church steps where Gil sat in Midnight in Paris, right before he was whisked away into the Paris of the 1920s.

The 2014 Left-Bank Writers Retreat. Look it up, it’s an amazing retreat for writers. Takes place in Paris every year.

And here’s the facade of the church. The steps made famous in the movie are on the left hand side of the photo below.

Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, October, 2021.

After visiting the greatest of France’s late citizens, we were off to visit the bones of some of Paris’s late great cemeteries. Say that ten times fast. Anyway, Catacombes de Paris in the 14th arrondissement were the next stop on our Day of the Dead.

If you can, always get your tickets online in advance. You will avoid a headache, or even the possibility of being turned away at the door.

The Catacombes were another place I missed on my last visit to Paris, and, therefore, a must see during this visit. We made the 2.7km walk in no time, even with the quick detour through the Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6th arrondissement! We couldn’t walk by this treasure when we could almost as easily walk through it!

The very modern entrance to a very gothic dungeon-like attraction.

Getting down to the dark underbelly was a feat in itself. The spiral staircase brought back memories of climbing the never-ending staircase to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, or the just-as-deadly staircase to the top of the Basilica of Sacré Coeur de Montmartre. Paris sure does love the spiral staircase!

Climb down into the underbelly of Paris, via the endless spiral staircase…

The Catacombes were everything we hoped they would be. Death made creepy by darkness and dirt, with a little dripping wetness thrown in for good measure. We were under Paris, surrounded by the bones of millions of long-dead displaced Parisiennes.

Watch your head!

After the staircase comes a very narrow passageway with a low ceiling and damp darkness…

The Catacombes holds the remains of over 6 million people. It is something to see. If you’re visiting Paris and have no problems with mobility issues or claustrophobia, I highly recommend it. I will say, however, that it is probably a one and done. There are many places in Paris I will visit again and again. The Catacombes, incredible as it was to experience, probably isn’t one of them.

You really do become overwhelmed with the sheer volume of bones you see. And what is open to the public is merely the tip of the iceberg.

The crazy wide-eyed expression?!

The parts of the Catacombes open to public are roughly 1km in length. You’ll never guess where one arrives after climbing the almost identical spiral staircase up out of the dungeons of Paris. That’s right! A gift shop! All of the world’s attractions and rides now deposits its adventurers off into the coveted gift shop. A sure sign of Commerce Above All Else!

After our tour of dead things, we capped off our day at my restaurant of choice in the hopes of having a chance encounter with a ghost from Paris’s glorious literary past. Between the Catacombes and the Jardin du Luxembourg, you will come to one of Paris’s most famous literary restaurants. That’s saying a lot, as quite a few of Paris’s restaurants were made famous by the patronage of many of its literary elite from the time of the Lost Generation.

The one I chose was La Closerie des Lilas, which was a mere 850m from the Catacombes.

We had a lovely (if overpriced) meal outside on the patio while I imagined Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald tucked away in a corner making literary chatter and writing away in their battered journals while drinking light aperitifs.

And just like my son Jacob used to do whenever we visited a new restaurant when he was a little boy, I made the excuse to use the facilities so I could snoop around some.

At the bar, if you look closely enough, you will see a tiny brass nameplate screwed into the bar top at one of the available chairs. It says ERNEST HEMINGWAY. This is where Ernest sat at times.

With dinner over, so too was our day at its end. Almost. In Paris, the day is always only almost over…

La Closerie des Lilas, near the end of the daylight…

Now, we only had to walk home! And you bet we made some stops along the way. The dead things may have been behind us, but there was still a lot to see!

The Pantheon at sunset is quite stunning. So majestic.

After stopping to visit the Seine, we decided to make a little side-trip to Rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Île on the island, where I stayed during my first visit to Paris. Here’s to another 2.5km!

Can one even walk across the famous bridges of Paris without stopping to pay homage to the river that runs through it. Her majesty…

We had our meal at Closerie, but it was time for dessert! Where else but Amorino Saint Louis?! What else, but gelato?!

Amorino Saint Louis

Rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Île will always be one of my favourite places in Paris. When I stayed there in 2014, I loved to wake up early and get out into the tiny street and watch it come to life! Such simple magic!

Next! 750m to The Lady. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. I mean, it was right there! We couldn’t NOT visit. I know it’s closed, but just to walk by it…

Our Lady of Paris…

This concluded our Day of the Dead. After another 3.8km of walking through the nighttime streets of Paris, we were back at our hotel. It was time to sleep, to recoup and prepare for our next day of concurring the streets of Paris one footstep at a time!

My step counter for this day showed 35,173 steps, or 27.6km. Just a stroll in the big scheme of things. How often do you get to wander around the streets of Paris seeking out dead things?!

Our Triangle of Death on the Day of the Dead. (And, yes, all the hearts are places we visited during our week in Paris. All the best places! And not a single taxi, metro, bicycle or uber!)

Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart – Shakespeare & Company, Paris

I have now been home from Paris about one and a half weeks. Paris never lasts long enough, does it?!

I thought that by bringing a great nugget of Paris home with me, I would somehow prolong my visit…if only in my head and in my heart. But like being given your favourite treats and attempting to make them last, I have now devoured the last of that great nugget I carried back across the pond with me.

The nugget of which I speak? A book. A tome I thought would last a little longer. A tome I devoured all too quickly!

Shakespeare & Company Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart. This is going down as THE most magical book I ever read. Read isn’t even right…it doesn’t cover what I did. I fell into this book. I immersed myself in this book. So divine, it was!

To think, Michael practically had to twist my arm to get me to buy it during my first visit to the iconically beautiful madhouse of books of love, Shakespeare & Company Bookstore at 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, Paris. I hemmed and I hawed. The price would put it somewhere in the vicinity of extravagant as a self-purchase and I really rung my hands over it. Should I? Shouldn’t I? In the end, Michael prevailed. He talked me into purchasing the thing I MOST wanted to purchase in all the store.

I HAVE NO REGRETS. Such a beautiful rambling read through the history of my favourite international bookstore, which also, itself, has a tendency to ramble through space and time.

George Whitman was a formidable presence in the universe. I believed that before opening the book, and I know it now. He was a magician with a gravitational pull that rivaled the universe itself. He was the moon, orchestrating the tides of ‘Tumbleweeds’ in and out of his magical bookstore for decades.

I’ve loved Shakespeare & Company since I first learned about its first incarnation, created by Sylvia Beach and found at 12 rue de l’Odéon. George Whitman was the perfect successor of the name (Whitman changed the name of the current day Shakespeare & Company from Le Mistral in 1964). He carried with him the same kind of generosity of heart and spirit as his predecessor.

Here’s the description of the book from Amazon:

A copiously illustrated account of the famed Paris bookstore on its 65th anniversary

This first-ever history of the legendary bohemian bookstore in Paris interweaves essays and poetry from dozens of writers associated with the shop–Allen Ginsberg, Anaïs Nin, Ethan Hawke, Robert Stone and Jeanette Winterson, among others–with hundreds of never-before-seen archival pieces, including photographs of James Baldwin, William Burroughs and Langston Hughes, plus a foreword by the celebrated British novelist Jeanette Winterson and an epilogue by Sylvia Whitman, the daughter of the store’s founder, George Whitman. The book has been edited by Krista Halverson, director of the newly founded Shakespeare and Company publishing house.

George Whitman opened his bookstore in a tumbledown 16th-century building just across the Seine from Notre-Dame in 1951, a decade after the original Shakespeare and Company had closed. Run by Sylvia Beach, it had been the meeting place for the Lost Generation and the first publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses. (This book includes an illustrated adaptation of Beach’s memoir.) Since Whitman picked up the mantle, Shakespeare and Company has served as a home-away-from-home for many celebrated writers, from Jorge Luis Borges to Ray Bradbury, A.M. Homes to Dave Eggers, as well as for young authors and poets. Visitors are invited not only to read the books in the library and to share a pot of tea, but sometimes also to live in the bookstore itself–all for free.

More than 30,000 people have stayed at Shakespeare and Company, fulfilling Whitman’s vision of a “socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore.” Through the prism of the shop’s history, the book traces the lives of literary expats in Paris from 1951 to the present, touching on the Beat Generation, civil rights, May ’68 and the feminist movement–all while pondering that perennial literary question, “What is it about writers and Paris?”

If you want to read an extraordinary moving history of one of the world’s most astonishing bookstores, you need to have this book in your life. It would also make a fantastic present for the literary lover in your life. I know I’m going to cherish my copy forever. Now that I’ve read it, I know with certainty that is a book that will give me much joy in future re-readings. I could not put it down. Wandering through its pages felt much the same as wandering through the crooked little rooms and alcoves and mystery spaces splattered with books and things inside Shakespeare & Company itself.

You can purchase this wild ride through history directly through the Shakespeare & Co Online Bookstore!!

Hemingway’s Paris – Immersive Writing Retreat on the Left Bank!

The Left Bank Writers Retreat – Writing At Hemingway’s Favorite Spots in Paris!

The 2014 Left Bank Writers Retreat faculty and students, of which I was a student. From their website header, this photo was taken by Sarah Suzor. We’re posing in front of Les Deux Magots.

(Full Disclosure: I have no affiliation with Left Bank Writers Retreat. I am merely a past participant who thoroughly enjoyed and cherished the experience given to me by the retreat.)

It appears that the 2022 Left Bank Writers Retreat is a go!

If you or someone in your family would love nothing more than to tour Hemingway’s Paris while going deeper with your writing craft in the midst of the city of love and light, look no further than the Left Bank Writers Retreat!

The knowledgeable faculty are not only experts in the craft of writing, but they’ll immerse you fully into the Paris that Hemingway knew as an expat writer back in the day when he lived and wrote in Paris. And they’re all lovely people you will immediately feel comfortable with as they guide you through your Paris experience.

For me, being a first time visitor to Paris, I was immediately at ease in the presence of the LBWR faculty! You really get a sense that they’re taking care of all the details. Even those evenings when the students are left to their own devices, the faculty is at the ready to answer any questions you may have prior to your individual adventuring.

Visit Hemingway’s haunts, lunch together, explore museums, be guided through neighborhoods that come to life with your LBWR guides! I really can’t say enough about how wonderful my experiences were with this retreat. I think of it fondly and often…these seven years on since participating.

Visit their site for all the details:

LEFT BANK WRITERS RETREAT

Next retreat is June 11-17, 2022!

There is still time to register, either for yourself or for a family member (should you be looking for the perfect Christmas Gift!).

From the front page of the website, a little rundown:

Eight writers will spend a week immersed in new experiences in the magical setting of Paris’s Left Bank. Part writers workshop, part tour of Paris, The Left Bank Writers Retreat is for anyone who would like to break out of a writing rut and build momentum in their work. Will you be one of the 2022 Left Bank Writers?

Cost: $1,999 includes morning workshops, breakfast, lunch each day at a fabulous restaurant, snacks,
museum passes, literary tours, Seine boat ride, Metro tickets and a farewell dinner celebration.

This retreat will enrich your writing life and give you a lifetime of memories. I cannot recommend it enough!

LBWR on FACEBOOK

Retreat Schedule

About Page – Introducing the Faculty

Head on over to the Left Bank Writers Retreat website now, so you can head on over to the Left Bank come June 2022!

Paris in Autumn – Ooh, to Live Deeper in the City of Love and Light!

Shakespeare & Company, my favourite international “local” bookstore. 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, Paris, France. Me, sitting on a bench in one of my sacred places.

We just returned from Paris after a week in the city of light. I always feel changed after Paris, as though the light has somehow found a way to get inside. Paris is food for the soul.

The last time I visited Paris was with the Left Bank Writers Retreat. It was just as magical this time around. I wonder if one sees Paris for the first time every time one visits. I intend to find out! I hope to go back again one day…

A poem I wrote after my first trip to Paris, with the Left Bank Writers Retreat. Nina and I became fast friends and went out to explore Paris together in our free time! A moveable feast it was! This poem was included in the beautiful yearbook created by LBWR faculty member Travis Cebula.

I was recently asked by one of my fave YouTubers (LivDeeper10x–check out their channel here!) what was ONE thing I was going to do this month to LIVE DEEPER. My first response was VISIT PARIS. But visiting a place isn’t enough, is it? That doesn’t bring us deeper. Not in and of itself. It is not going to a place that brings one deeper. It is what we bring back of the place that causes us to live deeper, is it not? And I don’t mean the trinkets and bits and bobs.

I carry with me now such memories!

Michael and I decided early on that we would rely only on our feet to take us to all the places we wanted to see in Paris, to immerse ourselves into the Paris streets and see all the things along the way to those places.

After clocking close to 180km on foot, I think it’s safe to say we accomplished what we set out to do. We did not see it all, we did not do it all. But we found magic in the things we did see and do.

On our first evening there, we visited Sacré-Cœur Basilica…the sacred heart of Paris, up on the hill in Montmartre. After climbing it’s impossible spiral staircase to the top, we took in the city from its lofty heights. It spread before us like a treasure waiting to be explored!

I cannot decide my favourite neighborhood of Paris. They all clamor for attention and adoration. But I do know Montmartre holds a special place in my Bohemian writer/painter/artist heart!

We wandered slowly up to the city’s sacred heart, in order to take in some of the beauty along the way…

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Such a unique neighborhood! But then again, they are all unique.

Our first full day in Paris, we booked the Tower and the Louvre. We hadn’t seen the tower yet, so we made our way there by foot.

This shot taken shortly after Michael’s first glimpse of the Tower on his first trip to Paris!
Trocadéro, in the shadow of the Tower, from the top of the Tower.
Atop the Tower together for the first time!

It is not the going to a place that causes one to live deeper. It’s what you get out of the going. It’s the memories you create and cherish. I will probably be talking about Paris for a while here on the blog. We covered a lot of ground! We carried back a lot of memories with us. We went deep! From the Tower to the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe to the Catacombes to Père Lachaise Cemetery to Les Deux Magots to La Closerie des Lilas to Jules Verne Restaurant to Musée d’Orsay to Musée de l’Orangerie to Versailles to Giverny and Monet’s house and gardens to the Moulin Rouge to Sacré-Cœur to Notre Dame to Shakespeare & Company to Luxembourg Gardens and beyond! We walked the walk. We stood breathless in front of Monets and Picassos and Manets and Renoirs and Van Goghs. We held our breath in front of Rodins and lost our breath on spiral staircases going down below the city and up above it!

Paris will always be a city that inspires all to LIVE DEEPLY. You cannot take it in without being changed by the experience. My one thing that I did in October to live deeper? I carried an entire city across a vast ocean and continue to carry it close to me now.

We each contain multitudes of universes. They are there inside us, waiting always to be pondered and re-experienced. This is why we carry those universes with us. For those quiet moments we need amidst the hectic ones. If we stop the noise and the chaos of our everyday workaday lives for just a moment–just long enough to breathe a little deeper–to sigh alongside a memory of walking the banks of the Seine with the one you love…then you have an oasis inside of you from which to draw your strength. We live deeply in the moments so that we may always revisit them when we need to refill the well.

Going places is the easy part. Bringing places back with you? As long as you remember to do so, you’ll have them with you always. This is the living deeper part…stopping to capture those moments for future ponderance, epiphanies and joy.

Until our next adventures, we’ll always have Paris!

Don’t know what we were looking at here, but this is Paris! Accidental Photography, happy moment…
Monet’s Garden in October…still breathless to see in Autumn.

Visit Youtubers LivDeeper10x to discover their living deeper vlogs as they travel the world!

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Categorized as Paris, Travel

When Paris is Possible – A Journal of Paris…

When I want to manifest something, I first bring it to life on my blog. For those paying attention, I always do this. I’ve become predictable, even.

Sometimes these notions I have first appear in my Twitter feed. And then I feel the need to solidify them by writing about them on my blog. It’s called accountability and it’s a way to hold myself to task. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Dollarama has such cute journals!

This is how my last novel, The Camino Club came about. At first, I dreamed it. Then I tweeted about my idea. And then, while I was preparing to walk my first Camino in 2014, I blogged about it. It was a kernel of an idea. So in order to hold myself accountable, I put out into the world that I would write a YA novel set on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage path.

That novel was published by Duet Books, the YA imprint of Interlude Press, in 2020. Ask me about launching a book during a pandemic. You know what, on second thought…don’t ask me. Nobody should have to do that!

Anyway, I’m also famous for digressing. Today I want to hold myself accountable for a new idea.

My dream this time is to release a journal of our upcoming short trip to Paris. It will only be a week in Paris…but a week is enough if you’re fast of your toes. Paris is a moveable feast. But it’s also a well constructed easily traversed city that’s perfectly laid out for the hiker and consummate walker. That happens to be what Michael and I are. We will take that city by storm, one footstep at a time…and we will cover it all!

And I will keep a daily journal. And if all goes according to plan, I will publish it. The only other thing I ever self-published was my short story set on the Camino called Light Near the End of the World. So this will be my 2nd journey into that world.

My short story set on the Camino.

I don’t have a plan, but I will write about the places we visit in Paris and how we got to those places. And I will write about food and restaurants and cafes and macarons and baguettes. I will cover everything that strikes my fancy. We’ll see how this goes.

I will probably start writing in the journal before I even get to Paris. This will be a personal account of ONE JOURNEY. We’re traveling during a pandemic and we’re getting to Paris via Iceland. I mean, anything can happen, right? We’ll see if we get there…and if and when we do, I’m sure I’ll have lots to write about.

I’m ready. With my Dollarama journal and the lovely bookmark I picked up somewhere along the way as its traveling companion, I will take notes on our Parisienne travels.

I hope this goes well! I’m so passionate about Paris. It appears in many of my short stories, and I am also currently writing a YA novel that takes place there. Wrapped somewhere in the reasoning for returning to Paris–one of my favourite cities in the world–is the excuse of doing some extra research for my novel in progress. But honestly, I just love it there so much. I want Michael to see it…and I want to see it again for the first time, through his eyes.

My Paris journal, with a Camino bookmark I received with an Etsy purchase.

Just over 40 days before our departure. Let’s hope the Delta Variant doesn’t keep us from our already postponed (we originally planned Paris for September, 2020) trip to the beautiful city of light!

Paris on Foot, by Hook or by Crook

100 Days.

That is the amount of days between US and our Paris arrival.

If the universe allows it, that is.

Michael and I are booked.

In today’s pandemic times, of course, ANYTHING can happen between now and then. Especially with this new special fuckery known as the Delta variant.

As of this writing, borders are open to double-vaxxed travelers and re-entry is allowed. Is it wise? That is the question I keep asking myself. Over and over and over again.

But by hook or by crook, we are destined for Paris.

And this excursion will include miles and miles and miles of…WALKING. Our hotel is about halfway between the Arc de Triomphe and Sacré-Cœur. This gives us hikers immediate walking access to all of the Paris must-see locations. We have one week to visit everything! Our feet got this! WE got this!

Paris is one of those cities–planned or accidental–that are absolutely PERFECT for walking. There’s so much to see in such a tight little circle of interest. We plan to cover every masked-and-socially-distanced inch of it.

The Eiffel viewed from atop the Arc de Triomphe.

I can’t wait to be back there! Since my first trip in 2014, I just feel like Paris is one of those magical places that resonate with me so completely. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I could live in that city and call it home. I’m sure a lot of its visitors say this very same thing. But that’s because it’s true. It’s just one of those cities.

Luxembourg Palace

I intend to take copious notes this time around. Who am I kidding? I ALWAYS intend on taking copious notes…I just never do! This time will be different. I need this information. Both for a novel in progress I’ve been working on…and for another (non-fiction) project I’m tossing about. So this TOTALLY 100% SIGHTSEEING PLEASURE TRIP is going to have a dash of incidental research on the side.

Shakespeare & Company Independent Bookstore

And you can bet your sweet bippy I will be visiting Shakespeare & Company and spending some cash in their store! We all must do our part to keep the Shakey Pear & Co afloat! I want it to be there after the pandemic. You know, you can actually do your part from afar. They did put out a call during the pandemic that they could use support. Here’s a link to their ONLINE STORE. You can even become a member. I will definitely be spending time there, and bringing home a few Shakespearean things with me!

100 Days & Counting. Fingers are crossed for receding numbers in cases and advancing numbers in fully vaccinated people. I can almost smell those cafe au lait and pain au chocolat mornings!

The countdown is on!

Clipped Wings – When Wanderlust & Disappointment Collide

Just as I have this deep desire to write a travel memoir, or something along those lines, my ability to travel has been hampered. I was so looking forward to traipsing around Paris this September. I fully planned on journaling everything with the intention to write something of a little memoir of our experiences, too. Just as I had every intention of writing a memoir of our upcoming Caminho Português.

I suppose both are still possible, with the passage of time and good fortune. It would depend both on the pandemic being over and my surviving it. For now, I am just standing here on the corner of Wanderlust and Disappointment–Nowhere to go and a deep unsettling urge to get there.

But I’m not a patient person. I was gung ho to finally dabble in the world of travel memoir that I have fallen so deeply in love with. I planned to cover all my tracks in Paris this year. And to fully record every step of our Camino experience in the less traveled Portugues Way next year. And now it’s gone…for now. Lost to this coronavirus that will not go away.

I know these are first world problems, that we should be happy enough just to avoid infection, but as the day of our intended departure nears it is a pain made more raw. We were to fly to Paris on Friday September 4th. We were to be in the beautiful City of Light for my 54th birthday on the 13th. I was to scrawl our experiences with intention, possibly while sitting in the shadow of Notre Dame…or in the company of Shakespeare and Co. No matter the frivolity of the loss, it is nonetheless a loss.

Shakespeare And Company – Antiquarian Books. Paris, France.

Now, what happens? Do we push Paris forward a year and hope the pandemic ends? Do we walk the Camino next year and bump Paris? Do we plan something altogether different? Do we make no plans and hope only to survive?

Au Marché de la Butte – Paris (France) as featured in the movie Amélie.

There will be no travel memoir writing, at any rate. Not while our wings are clipped and we are stuck on the ground. This is my whiny post of negativity. It’s been a long time coming. People are dying and I’m complaining about not being able to write about the sunset in Paris, or how the books in the poetry section of Shakespeare and Co smell. Or how a macaroon always tastes better in Paris—when it carries with it that extra O, and the meringue is made in France. I’m bitter about my inability to partake in travel-writing while others deal with heartache and despair.

A chandelier I found in Napoleon’s Apartments inside the Louvre. Paris, France.

Is it just me, or is everyone getting tired of this pandemic? I’m glad to be healthy, and to have avoided it thus far. And I’m glad that nobody I know has gotten sick. If we all do our part and practice social distancing and mask wearing…who knows? Maybe it WILL pass. Maybe there will be travel inside the World of After. It seems so bleak right now, our future. Sometimes I feel like I was just getting started. And now that I have the desire to talk about it, to write it down…I am unable to move.

Sacré-Cœur, Paris, France…in the heart and the summit of Montmartre.

I know Paris will be there. And so will the coast of Portugal. With any luck, so too will I. And if and when the time comes that we once again board a plane and disappear into adventure…a journal will come with me. And I will tell it every little thought I have while I’m away.

Standing at the top of Arc de Triomphe. Paris, France. 2014.

In the meantime, I suppose it’s time to cozy up with a book that has already been there among the wanderlust and roaming. There are plenty of books on travel out there, just waiting to be explored. No tickets or packing needed.

“When the wind is blowing and the sleet or rain is driving against the dark windows, I love to sit by the fire, thinking of what I have read in books of voyage and travel.”— Charles Dickens

Paris – ‘Research’ in the Wandering City of Light

Someone asked me recently if I did research, and if so…how much and in what way. Like a lying liar I said, “Nah…I just make shit up.”

It was only after I gave that off the cuff reply that I realized I do research every single time I go away. I research places…I find new settings. Travel is my research.

I first met Paris in the Springtime. Oh, what a beautiful time of the year to see such a gorgeous city come alive.

There’s something about beginning a slow wander from the courtyard of the Louvre, taking the Tuileries through to the base of Champs-Élysées, and wandering all the way up the boulevard to the Arc de Triomphe.
And climbing that spiral staircase and stepping outside at the top of the Arc. (YES…the last time I climbed this staircase, it was a mere couple weeks after my first Camino pilgrimage and I did see a seashell formation when I looked down the staircase from above! It all relates…)

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Oh, to see the streets breaking away in an almost wheel from the spoke of the Arc. The lush spring greenery! The buzz of the traffic and the crowds below marching up and down the Champs. It’s just…it’s a place in my heart, that wander.


And it’s such a small portion of the city, really. A couple kilometres at most. And so lovely that one can see the Eiffel Tower in the near distance, like a gift ready to be opened, like a sentinel watching over the city…and the trees crowding the thoroughfares, nesting it all in a quaint little aura of hushed tones.

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The Eiffel Tower, as seen from the top of the Arc de Triomphe (May 2014)

We’re returning to the city of lights and love. Paris in September, I am sure, will have such a different but equally magical vibe. I tend to think of it as a city of wandering. What city is better to walk in, explore, get lost in? It’s like it was made for lazy afternoon strolls and meanderings.

There is the slightly crippled cathedral, and the pretty walkabouts of the Seine. Shakespeare and Company in the shadow of Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris…just waiting to be explored…the smell of old books and older legends wafting through the air like a literary elixir summoning all those wanderers who love the written word.

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And I can’t forget Montmartre, the village in the heart of the city. A day trip for sure! For the views of the city from Sacré-Cœur alone, it is worth the trip!

Also, I have such fond memories of writing with my fellow LEFT BANK WRITERS RETREAT participants in Luxembourg Gardens in the shadow of the Luxembourg Palace! I will have to revisit!

We’ll be heading to some of the sights I didn’t quite make it to on my first visit. Like Père Lachaise Cemetery and the Catacombes de Paris. And hopefully Monet’s Garden and even Palace of Versailles for a day trip. We shall see.
This will be a walking holiday…a wandering meandering outdoor adventure. THIS WILL ALSO VERY MUCH BE A RESEARCH TRIP. I plan on keeping a journal. I have set so many short stories in Paris, but never a novel. It is something I wish to do…though I don’t feel quite familiar enough with the landscape to tackle it as of yet. After this trip, I hope to attempt it. I already feel like Paris is MY city. I imagine most who visit Paris have that feeling of belonging that I experienced the moment I first set foot in Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île. I knew right away it had my heart.

Do I research? Nah. I just make shit up. But in the near future, I hope to have a novel where all the made up shit takes place in Paris.

See you in September my dear city…

Sling Some Ink in Paris this Fall with Inkslingers!

Right off the top, I want to let you know I am NOT affiliated with Inkslingers in any way (nor am I being incentivized to mention them). I JUST BELIEVE IN THEM AND IN WHAT THEY DO! I wanted to give them a quick shout-out today because Sue Reynolds and James Dewar are incredible writing instructors and you would do well to spend some time with them if you’re looking to ignite your writing life.

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Picture is mine, but I checked the itinerary – Montmartre is on the itinerary…and it’s where this lovely and iconic pink restaurant is located.

Click the ink bottle below to go directly to the INKSLINGER website:

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Sue Reynolds was one of my first contacts with the WCDR. In my early days in the organization, I attended a writing group led by Sue at the Uxbridge Library. It really served to kick-start the writing life I was bursting to slip into. She and James Dewar (another writing mentor who did a lot to boost my love of poetry) are leading a writing retreat in beautiful PARIS this fall. Although, sadly, I will be missing it…it REALLY is something you should consider doing for your writing life. Both Sue and James are wonderful nurturing writing coaches…and did I mention PARIS?!

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Across the way from Notre Dame, Shakespeare & Company is a MUST SEE bookstore in the very heart of Paris. Inkslingers will take you there!

FROM INKSLINGERS:

Visit Paris as more than just a tourist. Engage with this important city as a literary traveler experiencing it through the words of the great writers who have called it home; and then reflect on your own reactions and experience daily in our inspiring workshops.

Travel in the safety and community of other writers and artists on our exclusive tour bus. Stay at a four-star hotel with easy access to The Metro for setting out on personal or small group excursions.

Sue and James will be joined in Paris by Kate Marshall Flaherty. You can learn about KATE HERE.

INKSLINGERS IN PARIS takes place Oct. 26th to Nov. 3rd

The itinerary looks exquisite. You will visit Père Lachaise Cemetery, House of Victor Hugo, Place de Vosages, Bibliotheque Mazarine, The Musee d’Orsay, The Rodin Museum, Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur Basilica, Shakespeare and Company Bookstore, the Catacombs… and SO MUCH MORE.

HERE’S THE FULL ITINERARY.

Check out the details at the INKSLINGERS website now! Don’t wait, because they are offering an EARLYBIRD DISCOUNT until June 15th. ALSO, for my American readers…pricing is in CDN dollars so you will be further discounted by the exchange.

Honestly, you couldn’t be in more capable hands. Inkslingers are passionate about what they do and they do it tremendously well.

CLICK HERE TO VISIT INKSLINGERS AND LEARN ALL ABOUT THEIR PARIS RETREAT

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Beauty’s Religion and it Christens Me with Wonder

“There are places I’ll remember all my life…” ~ In My Life, The Beatles (Rubber Soul)

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When I consider the lyrics of And If Venice Is Sinking by the Spirit of the West, I inevitably think of places like Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. “‘Cause beauty’s religion and it’s christened me with wonder.” Not only is Notre Dame the very heart of one of the world’s most beloved cities, but it is also smack dab at the Point Zero mark of that city. There is an octagonal brass plate embedded in the ground just outside the front doors of Notre Dame. It’s marked, “POINT ZERO – DES ROUTES DE FRANCE”. The point from which all places are measured. If the heart is at the centre, then this would be the literal heart of Paris.

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When I was in Paris in 2014 for the Left Bank Writers Retreat, I stayed just down the street from the iconic Catholic cathedral… on Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île. I made it a point to walk by–to touch–the cathedral every single day I was in Paris. I discovered that if you go just after sunrise, you can beat the throngs that appear and line up outside its front doors for the remainder of the day. You could have the entire inside of the cathedral virtually to yourself. This is what I did. And it was lovely. I was able to walk through the history housed in the massive cathedral at my own pace and marvel at the myriad of relics found under it impressive roof. And instead of feeling ill at ease by all the watching eyes of the gargoyles looking down from above, I felt protected. They were patrolling the heart of Paris, keeping everything in their arrondissement safe. And who was I to question that? They had been looking down on Paris for 750 years, give or take. Those gargoyles? They are my saints. They are enough religion for me.

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Our Lady of Paris suffered another setback yesterday, but she will rise again. She always does. She has, after all, survived even the French Revolution.

 

 

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Notre-Dame in the spring of 2014.

Inside Notre-Dame, I found a model of Notre-Dame. I hope they removed it before the most recent restoration project began.

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In 1831 Victor Hugo featured Our Lady in his famous literary masterpiece The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. This is how I fell in love with the cathedral. I found her in a book.

The preface of Hugo’s book explains how graffiti was its catalyst…one word–ANArKH–engraved by hand into the wall in Notre Dame. That always shook me. It stayed with me…the spark that created a masterpiece. I could visualize that becoming, that blossoming, that eruption of creativity. It’s how ideas come to writers. It’s remarkable that we get a glimpse into this secret insight in the preface of Hugo’s book. It, in itself, is a gift. Anyway, the end of the preface is as follows:

“The man who wrote that word upon the wall disappeared from the midst of the generations of man many centuries ago; the word, in its turn, has been effaced from the wall of the church; the church will, perhaps, itself soon disappear from the face of the earth. It is upon this word that this book is founded. March, 1831.”

Being a character in a novel has its perks. For Notre-Dame, the biggest perk became renewed interest and, ultimately, a restoration—which saw the addition of the iconic spire that toppled yesterday in a fire. That spire took many hearts with it when it fell into the flames. But don’t lose hope. Vive la France, Vive Paris, Vive Notre Dame. She will rise again. It may take some time, but she will do it. She sits inside the literal heart of a great nation and she is that great nation’s heart. They won’t let her die.