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Gray Paris is Paris

In his 50’s classic “I love Paris,” songwriter Cole Porter endorses Paris in almost every season and weather:

I love Paris in the springtime,
I love Paris in the fall,
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles,
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles…

Like Porter, I am a fan of the place in high season or low, rain or shine. And let’s be frank, there are a lot of days when there just is no shine. London has its fog, and Paris has its gris (gray).

La SeineOr, should I say its many grays? When you start to look closely, overcast Paris—both the city and the sky above it—is a kaleidoscope of grays…from cool blue, lavender and charcoal tints to warmer beige and tan shades. The color scheme changes with the light, the amount of cloud cover and the time of day. Paris landmarks such as la Seine (the river running through the city), Haussmann era apartment buildings, and stray seagulls from Normandy naturally lend themselves to the gray parade.

The Impressionist Claude Monet captured an entire palette of blue-grays in his many renderings of the Gare St. Lazare (St. Lazare train station) in the 1870’s. Puffs of steam billowing through the station plus the moody Paris skies gave the artist a tonal field day. Fellow painter Gustave Caillebotte tried his hand at the same game in his work Place de l’Europe: Temps de Pluie (Paris Street: Rainy Day).*

Place de la ConcordParisians also comply to match this somber panorama. Tante Marguerite,* a noteworthy restaurant on a quiet street in the seventh arrondissement, displays a chic, gray façade. Clothing shops carefully lay out a gray-toned rainbow of cashmere sweaters when the first frost hits. Even the Vélib (the free bikes residents use to ride around the city) are a nice, solid gray.

If you’re a sun lover as I am, it’s easy to write off the gloomy couleur (color) and consider booking a TGV ticket down to sunny Provence.* But over time, I realized that ‘gray Paris is Paris.’ C’est comme ça (it’s just like that). I also found that Paris gray is the perfect backdrop when real color shows up. Splashes of hot pink cyclamen fill window boxes in winter on the street le Faubourg St. Honoré. Roses explode with reds, oranges and yellows in the gardens of the Musée Rodin (Rodin Museum) in summer.* Red banners adorn the entrance of the Musée Jacquemart-André (Jacquemart-André Museum) year round.* And when a man or woman walks down the street wearing a gorgeously colored scarf, it makes you want to run up and hug them.

Now, I don’t get disappointed when la météo (the weather report) predicts a day that is nuageux (cloudy) or couvert (overcast). Instead, I throw an umbrella in my sac (handbag), set off for a stroll and savor the rich, gray tapestry that is Paris.

* Caillebotte’s Paris Street: Rainy Day is part of the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago. Versions of Monet’s St. Lazare train station can be found at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and at the National Gallery in London.
* Tante Marguerite, rue de Bourgogne, 75007 Paris.
* TGV stands for train à grande vitesse (high speed train). The TGV to Avignon and Aix-en-Provence leaves from the Gare de Lyon several times each day. Avignon is just two hours and 45 minutes from Paris via this technological marvel.
* Musée Rodin, 77 rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris.
* Musée Jacquemart-André,158 Boulevard Haussmann, 75008 Paris

May 21, 2008

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