Welcome to a special edition of Stroll-with-Me Sunday. While Nice is a-buzz with the Tour de France, Paris is still very quiet in the last days of the annual summer vacations. It’s been deliciously quiet these last few weeks, like during confinement only with stores and restaurants. Not only is Paris devoid of locals off to beach-ier locations, but because of Covid-19, we’re also shockingly low on tourists. That made for some never-before-seen summer weekends in the city center.
I wanted to take advantage of this rare occurrence, and last weekend I set out to experience (and document) the sleepy city before returning Parisians woke it up again for La Rentrée—the reentry or return—what we call “Back-to-School.”
I donned my mask and headed out (masks were deemed mandatory in the area I was headed; they are now mandatory in all of Paris). The weather was warm—not sunny at first but the sun would break through toward the end of my stroll. I walked from my own neighborhood, opting for quiet lanes, though even the avenues had very little traffic, and worked my way toward the Marais and the Seine.
Never on a beautiful summer weekend have I ever seen streets so empty in the Marais. A few locals and some intrepid travelers walked about enjoying the day, but I was able to go long stretches without seeing a soul. I had a sense of what Paris might have been like 300 years ago before travel was cheap and planes brought people from far away in a matter of hours. A time before 37 million tourists imposed themselves on the local neighborhoods Parisians call home. Without the visual reminders of the 21 century, I could lose myself in these ancient streets and imagine I was a time traveler back in the time when these buildings were new.
It’s only when I came to the Seine that I realized just how empty the city was. The embankments along the river, normally teeming with sunbathers and picnickers, were barren. Even the Paris Plages were tranquil.
Ile Saint-Louis, normally bustling with tourists, was a ghost town—paradise for a dreamer like me who is prone to dallying over details. The smallest of Paris’s two islands in the middle of the Seine, it boasts some of the most beautiful houses, where craftsman and courtiers of the King lived, houses with plaques like “The house of Philippe de Champaigne, painter and chamber valet of the queen mother. 1643.”
Rue Saint-Louis en l’Ile, empty of the chaos of tourists, was completely new to me. The buildings came alive, the light. The air was still but suddenly I heard a voice rise up, like a mirage. A woman’s voice singing American Gospel music. Where was it coming from? Was I imagining this?
We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome, some day
Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day
Her voice, rich and clear, filled the street, the message of her words hitting home. The few of us followed the source of the voice to the church, Eglise Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile. It wasn’t a mirage; a small group of singers was rehearsing for a gospel concert that day. I recorded a bit of the rehearsal, as if to prove it was real. The song, When the Saint Go Marching In, hit me squarely in the chest. When I graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York’s Town Hall, they had a Dixieland band playing this song as we entered the hall. After that, I began to sing it in my early stage act, a cappella. It felt as if I was conjuring this into being, creating this moment, which was exactly what I needed. The Quakers say the truth comes in stillness, that God speaks out of silence. This quiet city, these still streets, delivered a message to me, one of hope and peace.
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all in all….quite thrilling ..No ?? New York is also deserted…..
I just finished reading your book – beautifully written and thoroughly enjoyable. I got it so I could learn about Paris from an expat’s standpoint, but it is so much more. I will enjoy living the Paris life vicariously through your blog. Do you plan to write more books? Perhaps your next one could be called “My Full-Time Paris Life”? Just a thought! 🙂
Thank you so much for the praise. Hope you’ll jot a review on Amazon. It helps authors so much. Yes new projects in the works!
Thank you so much for keeping us posted… for being in our eyes and ears… and especially for your insightful commentary.
Avec plaisir ! 😉
Thanks for your very interesting walk around Paris, it probably looks like most places, bare bones – but beautiful; like a tree in Autumn !
Chris (The ‘wake up’ person)
Sent from my iPad
Lisa, thank you so much for the little snippet of the concert in Église Saint-Louis-en- l’Île. This is the first year in many that we won’t be spending a couple of months in Paris. We usually stay on the island, and that is our church for mass. We have been to many, many concerts in that beautiful venue. Oh, how we miss it.
I really enjoyed this. Everything seems to jump out in the stillness. Thank you.
I’m glad I documented it. Everything is back to normal this week.
thanks for the update! some photos of corona-art from SF https://www.harveymilkphotocenter.org/virtual-gallery/beauty-of-impermanence/
Thank you for this lovely stroll a bit daunting to see quiet empty streets !!!!
I guess it will change soon, glad you are well and making the most of the unusual times.
I have fond memorries of walking through the Marais 🇫🇷
Lisa, this was a beautiful post. I now officially have Paris Envy!