Tucked into a winding cobblestone rue somewhere between the river Seine and Luxembourg Gardens, at the top of a centuries-old building, is a tiny apartment in which I spent my first year in Paris.
With French windows as high as the ceiling and almost as low as the floor, I could lean out to see the ancient church of Saint Sulpice to the right, and the towers of the abbey of Saint Germain to my left.
I was the luckiest girl in the world!
No matter that it was located on the fifth storey of a building sans ascenseur (no elevator, so I had to climb many stiletto-clad steps in freezing winters and sweltering summers).
And no matter that there wasn’t a bedroom, just a fold-out sofa on which to sleep. It was a dinky 20 square metres in total, located in Saint-Germain-des-Prés and I was in heaven!
WHERE IS SAINT-GERMAIN-DES-PRÉS ?
Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements (neighbourhoods) that swirl clockwise around and across the river Seine. On the left bank in the 6th arrondissement lies the charming village of St-Germain-des-Prés. Known for the multitudes of writers, artists and thinkers that flocked there in the 19th and 20th centuries, it’s full of historic cafés and restaurants where these characters gathered.
FROM BYRON BAY TO THE CITY OF LIGHT
- No more lawns to mow, which in summertime was every single week.
- No big house to maintain and clean anymore.
- No more car expenses (I had sold my little French convertible Peugot).
- No need to drive to a grocery store to do the shopping.
I had only to swish a mop over the floorboards, give the bathroom five minutes of my time and walk 50 metres to the rather posh Marks + Spencer supermarché for baguette, camembert and wine whenever I felt like it.
The rest of my time was then free to be spent …
- enjoying an early morning run through nearby Luxembourg Gardens.
- attending French classes at Alliance Française, just around the corner in my arrondissement.
- meeting new friends for wine and cheese in nearby bistros.
- meeting an occasional Parisian gentleman for a date …
- and exploring and eating my way through beautiful Paris!
My sweet little apartment had been redecorated in a very simple, minimal style by the owners – an English woman and her French husband. There was just enough room in the tiny wardrobe to stuff my very limited clothing. On the back of the front door I taped a huge map of Paris, so that every time I left the apartment I could get my bearings.
Every morning I had to fold up my “bed” (the fold-out sofa) and put the linen in nearby drawers. I was lucky to have an oven (which is not all that common in Parisian apartments) in which to bake clafoutis - my favourite French dessert. There was a dinky little wobbly table large enough on which to do my French homework, but too unstable for a glass of wine.
In my tiny fridge in I stored :
- my favourite French fromages – Cantal entre deux, bleu d’Auvergne and Compté.
- French rosé wine – Minuty M in particular.
- fruit - like cherries for my clafoutis, and pêches plates (a donut-shaped peach more delectable than common peaches).
- Belle Maman confiture (French jam) to eat with fromage frais.
- blinis (tiny pancakes) - ready to be topped with crème fraîche, smoked salmon and dill. The perfect dinner.
RUE FÉROU : LIVING ART
Between my little apartment and Luxembourg Gardens is rue Férou, the ancient walls of which are adorned with hand painted lines of poetry by the renown French poet, Arthur Rimbaud. Every single day that I ran past this incredibly beautiful wall, I would feel joy at being able to witness such history.
My apartment was within easy walking distance of some of the most beautiful and famous eateries, gathering points and gardens of Paris :
- the exquisite Luxembourg Gardens, where I enjoyed photographing some of the most beautiful flowers of Paris.
- Shakespeare + Co English bookstore, where I bought books and sat to read them in the adjacent café overlooking Notre Dame cathedral.
- Les Deux Magots (I called it Two Maggots, but don’t do that) and Café de Flore, two of the most iconic cafés in Paris for their rich cultural history as well as their wicked hot chocolate.
- the famous Boulevard Saint Germain - more than 3 kilometres of colourful boutiques, luxury stores and cafés in which to sip wine and gawk at passersby.
- Le Bon Marché - an exquisite department store with fine food and wine, high end fashion and homewares.
HAUTE COUTURE IN PARIS
I discovered very quickly after moving into my little corner of Saint-Germain-des-Prés that it is the posh part of the 6th arrondissement. On the corner of my rue is the Saint Laurent boutique which I loved visiting. Other high end French boutiques like Louis Vuitton dotted the landscape, and in the square in front of Saint Sulpice church, fashion models would be photographed all year round - even in freezing winter.
I also discovered that my apartment was smack bang in the middle of a part of St-Germain-des-Prés known for it’s notorious nightlife – being at the intersection of Rue Guisarde and Rue des Canettes.
One night on my way home from dinner with a friend, I stumbled across a rowdy mob in the street. One was a heavily tattooed giant of a man of who looked like a character from ‘Vikings’ - and I gamely told him so in my rubbish French. With a roar of laughter and a cigarette in one hand, he scooped me up with the other and told me he was indeed an extra on the Vikings series.
I was very relieved when he put me back down again.
I cannot believe all that was three years ago !
My time in Paris has been put on hold, but not forgotten. Though I’m far away, on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, I wait patiently for our planet to resume some kind of normality. Then I’ll be back, ready for new adventures in the city that stole my heart with one sweet little 20 square metre apartment.
See you soon | À bientôt