How do you sum up a city that has been discovered, explored, & elevated in so many ways throughout the years? That is exactly how I am feeling about Paris.
STILL. I MUST.
With fears of reiterating what has already been said so many times- I really can attest to the glory that is the city of Paris. Taking the urban planning route, I hope to give readers a taste of what it feels to travel through the city of Lights while exploring what's happening on the ground.
PARIS LABOR STRIKES
I visited Paris this past May where nationwide street protests were blocking rail lines, and making national headlines. During my visit, about half of all national and regional rail services were halted for two days of the week, which limited our travel to the famous Versailles. Alas, the strikes and protests seem to be an almost daily occurrence in Paris, a city renowned for its cultural revolutions + rebellious attitude.
Curious as I am, I decided to dig deeper to learn more about the labor strikes + what was happening on the ground that led 1,000s+ of workers to exit their jobs. Current French President Macron was elected on a moderate platform that aimed to focus efforts on France's lagging economy. Labor unions were in opposition to Macron since his campaign focused on weakening union laws to enforce a significant move towards a more free-market agenda.
Indeed, the proposed changes to the rail labor unions would include limits to wage increases, and make it easier to hire and fire while removing long-standing French customs of "jobs-for life-protections".
Macron's proposed plans come as yet another blow to the labor unions who have seen a decline in membership and are struggling to hold the public's attention during this crucial time in their industry.
At the time of this post, Macron has moved forward with his plan to make the suggested changes signifying a major defeat to the labor unions in the country.
What are banlieues, and how does President Macron's plan help or harm these immigrant suburbs?
banlieues — a code word for the high-crime suburbs that surround Paris.
Just one hour from Paris, immigrant clusters have formed in various suburbs that are now plagued with crime and disinvestment. Looking for cheaper housing options outside of one of the most expensive cities in the world, banlieues have become a refuge for new French migrants. However, increasingly high unemployment and the constant threats of radical Islamic groups- the banlieues are finally receiving major media attention and have reached Macron's adminstration as the President aims to roll out his economic plan.
President Macron faces a daunting task of addressing massive inequalities touching unemployment, housing, health care, and transportation. "It's true that Macron's natural inclination is towards the innovators and entrepreneurs as a real source of economic dynamism, but it will be very important for him to show he also cares about tough neighborhoods, and to acknowledge innovation is also possible there."
French banlieues have not always been equated with despair and violence. In the 1970s, renowned architects crafted idealistic urban planning projects to house the country's working class — which morphed into Portuguese and then North- and sub-Saharan African immigrants. Thinking of banlieus, I couldn't help but draw a parallel to many of Massachusetts' Gateway Cities like Lawrence and Brockton which have seem similar disinvestment and are now thriving with new Americans.
Much of Macron's legacy lays in the success of his economic plan, but as we see with his move to weaken labor unions, it is unclear how much attention his administration will pay to these immigrant clusters striving for a better future.
I had heard varying reviews about the food scene in Paris so I was truly overwhelmed by the time I arrived. Truthfully, I regarded Paris as a stuffy upscale-type of dining and was surprised when I saw the many open-patio casual cafes that lined every corner of the city. Millennial Parisians are overwhelmingly choosing more neighborhood-friendly, open-space cafes vs. the upscale environment of most 3-course meal eateries. As a tourist in the city, the options are plenty and I was overall very happy with our food choices!
We arrived in Paris just before the start of the summer season, so this meant al fresco dining was appropriate, and made for a great way to view the city.
Proud to say I tried escargot, and LOVED IT! Roasted snails while in Paris? Yes, please!! & before you make a judgment- think of oysters but with a shell!
Another favorite while visiting the many Paris cafes was the Croque Madame- a breakfast/brunch option widely available everywhere. The meal includes a grilled cheese sandwich- but a much better Parisian version, usually served with a sunny side-up egg accompanied wih fries + salad. Of course- don't forget the rosé! Due to the high quality + great prices of the outdoor cafes, I am thrilled to say we were able to enjoy 1 or 2 bottles of wine with EVERY MEAL. Yes- Every meal. So, best believe we was living our best life!!
The desserts were always to die for so make sure to leave room for them in your meals!
The best part of many of these outdoor eats is the casual atmosphere. Many of these spots did not require a reservation,which can be rare in a metropolis like Paris. Compared to NYC & LA, Paris had just as many food options at reasonable price ranges ($20 euros including wine!).
Tipping in Paris is highly optional. As in the U.S, large groups sometimes get the tip included in all meals.
If you're in for the Michelin-starred treats, check out the area around Champs-Élysées. Also remember, many Michelin-starred restaurants offer great lunch rates!
Here are a few food recommendations:
- Le GQ
Known for its top luxe brands + 3-star dining, Paris felt like a walking mural. Every corner caught my glance as I spotted a cultural scene unlike many others.
During one of my strolls around the city, I encountered the opening of a photography showcase in one of the city's many fashion boutiques.
I stopped by, met the artist, and before you know it we were sipping beers and trying our best to communicate through our limited language capacity. I got some recommendations on what to do that night in Paris, and got to see more behind-the scenes takes of the photography exhibit on display.
You can check out her photography work here:
I have to say I was impressed by the hospitality of many Parisians. I figured I'd be met with snarls and stares because of my appalling take at French but I was met mostly with the same curiosity. The experience really allowed me to have an open mind + to continue feeding my desire for knowledge about the world.
Still, a bit of French goes a long way- so if you can get the basics down it will help your time in Paris, and win you a few points with the locals!
Now, you can't come to Paris and skip out on the museums. Indeed, it was quite a feat figuring out which museums we wanted to prioritize. The Louvre was a given, and we spent a few hours getting lost in its maze.
Next up was Musee Picasso. This one was truly impactful!
The genius that was Picasso is laid bare as you go from theme to theme, watching the artistry that manifested over the course of his groundbreaking career.
The quiet atmosphere of the museum allows you to take in the art while not feeling rushed (ahem- no shade to the Louvre, but it DEFF doesn't have this luxury). This may change depending on the season you visit so do keep this in mind.
Known for inspiring art's Cubism theory, the museum portrays the many styles and techniques that led to Picasso's transformation of the art world.
The many interpretations he created opens an opportunity for each individual to draw their own conclusions. It has been said one of his portraits can be viewed & examined in more than 100 different ways.
“When I paint a bowl, I want to show you that it is round, of course. But the general rhythm of the picture, its composition framework, may compel me to show the round shape as a square. When you come to think of it, I am probably a painter without style. ‘Style’ is often something that ties the artist down and makes him look at things in one particular way, the same technique, the same formulas, year after year, sometimes for a whole lifetime. You recognize him immediately, for he is always in the same suit, or a suit of the same cut. There are, of course, great painters who have a certain style. However, I always thrash about rather wildly. I am a bit of a tramp. You can see me at this moment, but I have already changed, I am already somewhere else. I can never be tied down, and that is why I have no style.”
- PABLO PICASSO, on his style and legacy
A word!! A lesson to us all to continue to push + challenge what we can become.
Traveling through Paris reminded me of my personal life journey + how much growth has occurred in the past year mentally and spiritually.
I recall a period in my life where I let fear drown my voice. Learning to not let life just happen to me was a lesson in pushing my fear out. Pushing what I had learned through hard lessons, discarding what no longer worked, and feeling unbounded.
Let's continue to find inspiration wherever we go. Whether its moving outside of our comfort zone, trying a new skill, or visiting a gem like the city of Paris.
Still reeling from the amazing experience, the friends I shared it all with, and the new memories I made. Au revoir, Paris!
Photo Credits: Jason Casanova
thank you for capturing so many beautiful photos from our trip. You a real one!
Beya J. is an urban enthusiast. Through her travels, she ensures to engage in local culture, customs + food while exploring concepts that build community and highlight themes around urban living. She is Dominican-born, raised in Lawrence, MA. IG/TWITTER: plump_lips