The Last Time I Saw Paris

The author, Renee Johnson, from her balcony at the Hotel Bedford in Paris.

This is a difficult post to contemplate in the aftermath of the attacks on Paris.  Yet, it is all I can think about since I was there only two weeks ago.

Clearly the attackers were already in place and armed with whatever weapons they were assigned to use on the innocent.  I may have shared some space or other with one of them–elbow to elbow in a café, passing on the street, sitting together on a train.

Preposterous to consider.

Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  It is laid out with wide tree-lined boulevards, many offering biking and walking trails right alongside.

Its ease of moving about, public transportation, and the aforementioned paths, make it an ideal city for tourism.

I was in Paris at the end of October with Lena Lonigro, friend and fellow writer.  This post is from my photographic journal, and I share it with you as a love letter to this most beloved city.

It was overcast, misty, when we headed out for breakfast near the Church of St. Augustine.

Eglise Saint-Augustin de Paris boulevard Malesherbes
Eglise de la Madeleine de Paris Place de la Madeleine

Afterwards, we walked back to the Church of St. Madeleine, taking time to catch a glimpse of the Place de la Concorde before entering to light candles and center our minds.       IMG_3496

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Paris was still shrouded in mist when we left, the top of the Eiffel Tower often completely lost as if in clouds.IMG_3544    There was immense beauty in the softening of edges, which encouraged wistfulness.  It even dulled the normally-golden sheen of Les Invalides.

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The golden tip of the obelisk from the Temple of Ramses II–sometimes called Cleopatra’s Needle–could be seen even in the fog.  We were in Place de la Madeleine looking back toward Place de la Concorde.

View of street leading to Place de la Concorde from Place de la Madeleine

From Place de la Concorde, the Arc de Triomphe was visible, and we took turns with other tourists waiting for traffic breaks to step into the median to snap pictures.

View of Arc de Triomphe


IMG_3547Slowly, the sun began to burn away the fog, and we continued our stroll along the Seine.

IMG_3633     Notre Dame stood out in the distance from our position on Pont d’Alexandre, which we decided was our favorite bridge due to its lovely lamp lights, architecture, and sculpture.

Couples ‘lock’ their affections onto the bridge, then throw the key into the river below.

However, there was a certain charm to Pont des Arts, the bridge covered in locks engraved with names and dates of lovers locking their sentiments into posterity even if the weight of the heavy love locks threatens the bridge itself.

And in the park beside the river, a trio of brides posed for photographers, whether real or models, we had no idea.

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The leaves were so amazing as a backdrop though.

IMG_3592      IMG_3614Onward, into the Tuileries Garden, we drank in the beauty of the Louvre as a focal point beyond the many leaf-littered paths and glistening ponds, as well as some hot mulled wine–known as vin chaud.

IMG_3577     IMG_3578  And yes, that is a chandelier dangling from the bubble floating in the water.  Amazing, and the Arc du Carrousel is visible just behind it with the chariot atop.  (The four gilded bronze horses are replicas of the originals taken by Napoleon from St. Mark’s in Venice.  The originals were returned to Venice after Napoleon’s defeat.)

IMG_3624    IMG_3620

While I was posing beneath the arch, facing the pyramid in front of the Louvre, a young man handed his cell phone to a passerby and asked if she’d video something for him.  Then, quietly, he obviously proposed to the woman who started crying and nodding, kissing him as she grabbed him to her in an embrace.

Another lovely young woman approached Lena and me.  She, too, had just gotten engaged but was now alone in Paris as her fiancé was a footballer in Australia.  I snapped her picture beneath the arch as well so she could send it to him to show what she was experiencing in his absence.

IMG_3603      IMG_3604  This is another of the glories of Paris.  Personal space isn’t a broad swath, but a narrow sliver.  And people connect, talk, play in the park whether seven or seventy.  I was so intrigued by the game of Petanque being played by the gentlemen above.  And they were not bothered by my obvious attempts at capturing them in action.

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Aren’t they terrific?

Moving on, we found a street vendor selling roasted chestnuts, another of the city’s treats.  Served to us in a rolled paper cone, we nibbled their sweetness as we strolled toward the Eiffel Tower.

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The sun was now brilliant on the golden dome of Les Invalides, the place of Napoleon’s entombment, vastly different from the shot of it in the fog.  Gleaming, it reflected the rays beginning to color the sky as sunset approached.  IMG_3632  We found a bench and watched the mighty symbol of France as she peeked at us from behind colored leaves.IMG_3641    As dusk neared, we ventured into the fray beneath, passing the kiosks offering souvenirs and refreshments.  IMG_3643

It was a bit crowded there, so we retreated to the bench around the corner and watched her slowly shine for us.

IMG_3656   Marvelous!  The first five minutes of every hour is spectacular with the lights flickering and pulsating.  It was joyous.

But Paris wasn’t finished with her show.  Lit by a full moon, the Seine sparkled and gleamed.  It looked as if the moon had breathed a ripple of golden honey into the river.

IMG_3658    IMG_3660  The Eiffel Tower popped a searchlight from her apex, appearing to be looking for Lena and me.  Where had we gone?  Could we come back?

I snapped another picture, the lights from the Pont d’Alexandre now popping with orbs of light like that of the moon.  But we were hungry and growing tired.

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Kir, wine, olives, duck, roasted potatoes, tarts, desserts….oh my!

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I am not ashamed to be the person photographing the food, especially when it is presented with such flair, pride, and colorfulness, as only the French can.  And let me tell you, it was a feast for the taste buds and olfactory system.

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Walking off dinner, we strolled by storefronts of Laduree and later, Fauchon, where we did more than window shop, buying treats for ourselves.IMG_3662   IMG_3666      IMG_3667

Then it was back to Hotel Bedford to pack and rest before our early morning flight the next day.

This was just one day, my last day in Paris, the last time I saw Paris.

Emblazoned on my memory, it feeds me as I ache from the terror attacks.  Please join me in keeping good thoughts and prayers for the people of Paris, of France, and all the world as we reel from this heinous act of violence.

Renee Johnson is the author of Acquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray.  She is currently working on a Young Adult novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food.  She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and one very spoiled German shepherd named Gretel.   

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  1. Beautiful photos, Renee. You are right in that Paris is a lovely city full of vibrant people. It is good to remember the hope and pride of Paris in the wake of the violence that rocked the city. France has known such horror before and it will likely again due to its location in the world, but the french people will live on as they always have.

    1. Thank you Wendy. Yes, the French, and all of Europe really, have a strong will for endurance. My uncle was there during WWII, and I have a picture of him at the Arc de Triomphe with his troop. Thank you stopping by and sharing in this memory of Paris.

  2. Again, Paris has seen violence, as it has many time in its history. And, as it has before, its damaged heart will heal. I am not a fan of city living, but if I ever lived in a city, I would pick Paris. This is a view of Paris in all its beauty, Renee. Thank you, and I’m glad you have this joyful memory.

    1. Thank you, Lee. Yes, you will always be planted firmly in my memory of this trip to France. To think we were there just a few days ago, having such a wonderful time, feeling safe and secure, while this evil lurked, is chilling. We will be there together again, and soon, I hope.

  3. Beautiful tribute, Renee. Yesterday, when I first heard of the savage attacks, I immediately thought of you and your recent visit. Praying for the victim’s families and for the city of Paris.

    1. Thank you Jill. It has been difficult to conjoin the two worlds of beauty and evil, coexisting in a city devoted to the very freedom which allows it to be possible. I too, am praying for the victims and for France. You are so kind to think of me.

  4. I too, am reminded of my trip to Paris, though it was 10 years ago. How beautiful is that city and how absolutely incomprehensible what happened. How are we going to fight terrorism when clearly, they don’t play by the rules, the Geneva rules or any rules of decency and humanity. Sigh. I haven’t felt this bad since September 11th. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful photos.

    1. Hi Monica. It does have a similar feeling to 9/11 doesn’t it? Knowing the attacks were planned to occur simultaneously in order to cause the most damage and chaos, and to kill innocent civilians, children, tourists. And they had to have been there when I was, which makes me wonder how they could be in such a wonderfully free and open society, and still carry out such violence against those with no control over state affairs. On a good note, glad you enjoyed the pictures. It was lovely to be in Paris again.

  5. Renee, I am so thankful for your beautiful recounting of that last day in Paris, a day I feared would be obliterated by the news images of this past weekend. We saw the real Paris in all her splendor, and I love her even more today. The shock and disbelief of the events there this past weekend took away, briefly, those beautiful images. Thank you for bringing them to the forefront again.

    1. Lena, this time in our lives is solidified even more, I think, by the unfolding tragedy. Like you say, I almost want to wrap my arms around Paris and hug her tightly to my chest, soothing, comforting. I’m so thankful we decided to spend our last day there just soaking up the city in her glory. And I’m thankful to have shared it with you.

  6. Only now got around to delve into your “photo reportage”! You and Lena certainly did some heavy duty sightseeing ! I must say! It’ s soo enchanting to enjoy Paris through your fresh eyes! What with Paris being my second home-Thanks to my “better Half” a true Frenchman and Parisien no less! But with time one’s eyes get a bit “accustomed’ to all that beauty ,and many little delights slip by unnoticed! But what with this city seemingly an energy vortex for great changes in human evolution, it is an immense privilege -just to BE there!Lucky us!

    1. Karin, it was so lovely sharing your Paris with you, and of course, that goes back to the day we spent enjoying all your favorite places–mine too–back in 2010. I wish you could have been with us on this journey too. It is even more priceless now. Love to you and giant hugs. Must get together soon!

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