Our 12-day riverboat trip from Macon to Arles, France, including three days in Paris, topped the chart for excellence. Grand Circle Travel, thank you. Even our tour group, 42 congenial people, were a joy. No whiners, no complainers, no trouble-makers, everyone prompt and attentive. Astounding, when you think about it.

Opting out of the trips to Versailles and Giverny, my husband Rog and I mastered the Paris Metro for a run out to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery

and then to the Rive Gauche. I passed on the famous sewer tour, which reeks of mystery and spy thrillers, because, frankly, I thought it would reek.

However, Pere Lachaise Cemetery met all my requirements for a gothic cemetery. Tombs, statuary, shrines crowded together on a hillside shaded by sycamores and other trees and shrubs. Among the 70,000 buried here are Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Moliere, Colette, Delacroix, Georges Seurat, Modigliani, Marcel Proust, Sarah Bernhardt, Gertrude Stein, Jim Morrison, Yves Montand and Simone Signoret. A peaceful place of paved paths and meandering dirt trails weaving among the graves and statuary.

Contrast that with the Rive Gauche, a quaint but busy area of cafes and shops near La Sorbonne and not, as I had thought, a promenade along the Seine. We sat outside a cafe, watching the passersby and eating ice cream on that hot afternoon before wandering down the street and coming across Les Deux Magots and Le Cafe de Flore. That’s when I opened my Rick Steves’ guide to Paris and read his description of these two “cafes of ideas.”

Oscar Wilde, Picasso, Hemingway, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus and Jim Morrison were just a few of the luminaries who sat around tables in these cafes for conversation, discussion, and cross-fertilization of ideas. Their genius spawned worldwide movements in art, literature, and philosophy.

At the Brasserie Lipp, across the street, Hemingway wrote much of A Farewell to Arms. Also in the neighborhood is the Cafe Le Procope, founded in 1686, a favorite haunt of writers, intellectuals and revolutionaries, including Dante, Robespierre and Marat. This cafe was one of the first in Europe to offer coffee and it’s said that Voltaire was known to consume 30 cups a day there.

Would that I could find such a cafe in my suburban city of Columbia, MD, but of course it has to offer tea and I insist on good conversation without the distasteful distraction of junk music.

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