Serendipitous things always seem to happen in Paris, a city full to the brim with beauty, romance, history, and character.
Imagine walking along a cobblestone street, suddenly turning a corner, and finding yourself dazzled by the sight of the Eiffel Tower glittering and shimmering during its spectacular light show. Perhaps you take a boat cruise along the Seine and find yourself in the middle of a fairy tale as you glide past the gorgeous and ornate buildings of Paris. Maybe you take a walk and find yourself accidentally at the door of Camille Claudel, or Victor Hugo, or Ernest Hemingway, and you almost can’t believe that those great artists actually lived and worked right there.
In Paris, I have experienced serendipity on many occasions, ranging from the coincidental happenstance to the breathtaking intervention of fate.
I remember while studying abroad I was walking along the trottoir that lines the Seine on quai de Bourbon on the Île Saint-Louis, when I happened to stop and look up to my left at a beautiful building. Suddenly, at 19, quai de Bourbon, there was the studio where sculptor Camille Claudel had actually lived and worked.
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I had studied art history at Boston College and had been fascinated by the story of Camille Claudel, the extremely talented sculptor and student and muse of Rodin whose brilliance for a long time remained hidden, overshadowed by Rodin’s.I hadn’t gone out in search of this place, but rather it found me as I was simply going for a walk. This moment really brought history and art alive for me.
You can read more about how the intense working and personal relationship between sculptors Rodin and Camille Claudel here. There’s also a wonderful film starring Isabelle Adjani and Gérard Depardieu that brings this famous drama to life, available through Amazon Instant Video when you click on the image below.
There was yet another serendipitous occasion that I experienced while studying abroad in Paris, when I went out for a walk and did what I call “getting lost on purpose” in the Marais. This is especially fun to do in Paris, when you’re in an area that you are generally familiar with, so you can feel safe exploring. On this walk, I let my eyes and my instincts guide me through the Marais until I came upon a beautiful building that turned out to be the Musée Picasso! I wandered through the gorgeous museum by myself, thinking, admiring, and writing and sketching in my journal.
I remember the first night I saw the Eiffel Tower light show. I was coming out of a boîte de nuit with my girlfriends, where we had sipped on champagne and danced to songs like Lady Gaga’s Just Dance, and Estelle’s American Boy, which were huge in Paris at the time. There we were walking along the cobblestones in our heels, when we turned a corner and saw the most spectacular sight! The Tour Eiffel wasn’t just lit up, but it was literally sparkling! In all my years of dreaming about Paris, I just never knew that it did that. It was nothing less than stunningly beautiful Parisian magic.
Little did I know then that I would one day be experiencing far more profound, life-altering moments in Paris with my future husband!
Dan’s proposal on the Pont Saint-Louis, which I wrote about in my last blog post, A Paris Engagement, was the most magical, profound experience I had ever had. Dan asked me to marry him on the bridge that links the two islands in the middle of the Seine River, in the very heart of Paris, my favorite city in the whole world and a place that has become so special to us. Some things are too magical to be expressed properly in words. Below is a quick photo I took at Brasserie de l’Île Saint-Louis, where we had our first celebratory verre de vin blanc as an engaged couple.
On our engagement trip, Dan and I walked all over the city. We spent time in the Marais at the Place des Vosges, a former royal square, where we sat at a café appropriately named La Place Royale.
While walking around the square afterwards, we accidentally stumbled upon La Maison de Victor Hugo, where the literary hero of the French people and prolific author of Les Misérables and Notre-Dame de Paris lived and worked.
We then found our way into a gorgeous hidden courtyard and garden off of the square, Le jardin de l’Hôtel de Sully. It was such a fortuitous find, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t found it before.
Parisians love to hang out and recline in the grass and perhaps have a pique-nique in the various parks throughout the city. My husband and I especially love the Jardin du Luxembourg, where we have spent much time walking and resting in the iconic green metal chairs. On this trip, we took a stroll, sat back and put our feet up on those green chairs, and strolled some more.
We stopped to watch a couple of Parisian men playing chess. A group had gathered around them to watch the slow drama of two battling minds unfold. They seemed so grounded in their routine, so wonderfully comfortable in their tradition.
It seemed as though they must have lived just around the corner, in classic Parisian apartments, and that they had calmly sauntered down for their usual afternoon game of chess, during which no one would count the minutes or the hours spent in the cool shade of the afternoon. This was just a pure, classic, Parisian pastime, and we found the simplicity of the whole scene fantastic.
Another incredible instance of serendipity in Paris happened to Dan and me as we were walking through the Quartier latin, or the Latin Quarter. We were walking along when suddenly, we were at Ernest Hemingway’s door. We had arrived at the apartment that Hemingway shared with his wife Hadley when he was a starving writer. He thoroughly describes this time in their life in his memoir, A Moveable Feast, or Paris est une fête.
The plaque that hangs by the entrance to 74, rue du Cardinal Lemoine features the famous quotation from Hemingway’s memoir about his time spent living in Paris:
“Such was the Paris of our youth,
the days when we were very poor and very happy.”
Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
This was another one of those magical Parisian moments for Dan and me. Have you experienced incredible moments of serendipity this in Paris? Share in a comment below!
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