A creature of habit, I stayed in the same hotel in the Left Bank every time I visited Paris. I grew very attached to the quartier, and to the hotel staff who greeted me like the prodigal each time I returned, always putting me in one of my favorite rooms with a view of the Eiffel Tower. Suh-weet.
Saint-Germain-des-Près, as the area is called, feels a lot like my New York neighborhood and I transitioned into it effortlessly, claiming it as my own. For the past ten years, this has been my Paris. I’ve come to know every paving stone on Rue de Beaune and every wrought-iron balcony of the elegant Haussmann buildings lining Boulevard Saint-Germain. Countless times, I’ve jostled past the students milling outside Sciences Po; I ritually overpaid for a glass of rose at Café de Flore. And during the years I laid out hundreds of euros at a pharmacy on the corner of Rue de Grenelle and Rue du Bac, stocking up on my usual beauty potions. It was sort of like I lived there, and I liked that.
But when I wanted to buy an apartment in Paris, I quickly learned I couldn’t afford my adopted neighborhood for real, and I wasn’t crazy about the surrounding arrondissements, so this devout Left Bank gal reluctantly crossed the Seine.
My search in the Right Bank began in the 18th—Montmartre, my second favorite neighborhood—but apartment prices there were starting to climb, and affordable places were being snatched up almost overnight. So, a friend led me to Nation—a district I had heretofore sworn off as No Man’s Land—where apartments could be had on the cheap and, well, that’s where I ended up. I wasn’t terribly impressed at first; it’s a stark contrast to my old Left Bank ‘hood, not something you’d see on a postcard by any means. Many of the weary facades are scrawled with graffiti and there are more bleak 1970s apartment buildings than the classic Haussmann style. Alexander Lobrano in France Today described the area as “a slightly drab but rapidly gentrifying corner of the 11th arrondissement.” I suppose that sums it up pretty well, but what it doesn’t say, and what I didn’t know until I moved in, is how “drab” neighborhoods like mine are where the real Parisians live, the workaday people. It’s friendlier, more affordable, with every possible convenience for everyday living—not so true in the 6th and 7th arrondissements where designer boutiques outnumber food markets 3 to 1. My local cafe owners wave to me as I walk by; the caviste on my street knows what wine I like. I definitely can’t say that about the pharmacy in near my hotel, where even after ten years, I was still met with polite aloofness. I was seen as a tourist there, but in my new neighborhood in the 11th, where tourists are scarce, I’m a local. Yeah, suh-weet.
As a vacation destination, the pristine beauty of my Left Bank world was ideal. But as a place to live, even part-time, my new quartier is starting to feel more like home.