|On rue Saint Honoré looking at Nicolas de Staël's La Seine à Paris in a gallery window|
In January, Paris can test our patience. The days are so short that by 3.30pm-4pm the cars begin to turn on their headlights. This winter has also been wet. Even on the days when it is not raining properly, a mist and a drizzle has filled the air, as if Paris had decided to be and look like London. There has been so much water that the Seine is now overflowing and I cannot run down through the sculpture garden in front of the Institut du Monde Arabe. And the Seine even looks more like the Thames than usual – it is churned up, dirty, as it flows west towards the channel it tows with it refuse, natural and man made alike.
|Nativity window at Ste Elisabeth's on rue du Temple|
|the creatures on display at the gallery downstairs|
I was feeling gloomy about Paris until the other night when I walked my friend Irina home through my neighborhood and into hers. This is why I love having visitors to Paris. Because they remind me that I live in not just the most beautiful city in Europe, but one where the importance of aesthetic presentation filters through into every aspect of life. I showed Irina the shops and storefronts in my street: the hairdresser, Cizor's, that might be mistaken for a museum, it is so elegantly decorated; the gallery with ornaments and design objects that are the fantasy of adults and children alike; the florist whose windows are displayed with the arrangement of the day also sent out to companies and offices; one of Paris’ best loved restaurants that used to be a Pharmacy and has kept the original façade and some of the accoutrements of the early 20th century pharmacy it once was. A little further along, there is the man who makes shoes – he doesn’t just sell them, he makes them; and the nativity scene in lights at Ste Elisabeth's Church which embraces all of the subtlety and taste of Christmas lights all over the city. And the list goes on.
I walk past these shops and storefronts every day. And some days I look in them and wish I could afford what they sell, or at least, justify spending the money to buy what is on offer. But usually, I know, most things look better in a Parisian shop window than they do anywhere else, including my home. It takes a visitor to show me how elegant and beautiful even the street that I live on can be. And it takes a visitor to reflect back to me a view of Paris that reminds me, inspite of the wintry weather, the tourists, the long lines and the gruff Parisians, it’s still the most beautiful city in Europe.