My favorite city on this planet is Paris. You can do all the things the guidebooks tell you to do. Or you can do what I do, which makes Paris one's own village. To wit:
Book a room in advance on the internet in the unfashionable 11th arrondissement. Fly into Charles de Gaulle Airport, known locally as CDG, “say-day-zhay.” Take the train directly to the Gare du Nord, the north train station. And haul your wheelie on foot to your lodging.
You'll find the 11th to be a culturally rich Armenian district in the northeast of the city, with pleasant cafés and restaurants and welcoming shopkeepers. And it's walking distance to Notre Dame and all else in the city center.
A stroll farther northeast will take you to the Cité de la Musique, which has a comprehensive musical instrument museum, and the Conservatoire de Paris, perhaps the most famous music school in the world. In May and June of every year, the conservatory's seniors give their recitals, which count heavily toward their final grades. The public may attend at no charge, but must honor the tradition of not applauding until the end of each performer's last piece. The air becomes electric. Stop in at the Conservatoire, 209 avenue Jean-Jaur`es, for a schedule.
Another music venue worth going to is La Chope des Puces, “the tankard of fleas.” It's a small bar down the rue des Rosiers from Paris's largest fleamarket, Clignancourt. On Saturdays from 2 to 7, the Garcias, father and son guitarists, play jazz manouche, or gypsy jazz, in the style of Django Reinhardt. Other guitarists, fiddlers and singers stop in to jam along, and after a while the dozen or so visitors who can fit into the bar get to know one another. Back in the '30s, Reinhardt lived in his caravan a couple blocks away.
A third music venue is the Louvre. Not inside, but outside. Between the Louvre's outer and inner courtyards is an arcade, where Nicolas LeMaire plays solo cello from 7 to 9 most Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Reason is his neighbors back at his flat don't appreciate his practicing Bach's Suites and Satie's Gymnopedies. You will.
Of course, you'll visit one of the world's most famous and beautiful art museums, the Musée d'Orsay, a former train station [pictured]. You'll see a huge collection of impressionistic art, reconstructions of art-nouveau rooms, and François Pompon's Ours Blanc, his art-deco sculpture of a polar bear.
But don't miss some lesser-known museums, particularly the Musée des Années 30, the museum of the 1930s, at 28 avenue Andre-Morizet, and two grand townhouses now open to the public, the Musée Nissim-de-Camondo, at 63 rue Monceau, and the Musée Jacquemart Andre, at 158 boulevard Haussmann. Both of these houses are filled with artwork by renowned painters and sculptors.
Every Sunday evening, Jim Haynes, an American who lives in the 14th arrondissement, south of the city's center, throws a party open to all. All who call in advance, that is, and toss 20 euros or so into a hat. Food and beer and wine are served, and Jim makes sure that everyone is introduced to everyone else. Americans are there to practice their French, French are there to practice their English, and conversations ricochet from one language to the other. To book yourself in, email [email protected].
If you'd like to have been a member of the Lost Generation, log onto Amazon for a small book titled The Walkable Feast by David Nuffer. It offers five walking tours of all places Hemingway – the places he and his friends lived and loved during the '20s. And they all look the same today.
One last suggestion: the cemetery. I mean Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, where many famous people now reside, including Edith Giovanna Gassion. You'll find her in the Gassion family plot in section 97, RW 3. Miss Gassion was as tiny as a sparrow – in French, a piaf.