The sky at home is (yet again) drippy and dark, so I’m turning to my archives for some sunshine.

Esteban and I spent a few days in Arles last year. Because we’re both history buffs, we were keen to see the Roman ruins and the well-preserved medieval city.

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But mostly we came for the Provençal sun — and the bright colors it inspires. Those were on display at the huge Saturday market , which fills the length of the Boulevard des Lices every week.

The market has two sections: The first, on the eastern end of the boulevard, features durable goods from purses to pots and pants. We didn’t need upholstery fabric by the yard, however, so we kept our visit short.

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The other half of the market, on the western end of town, is all about flowers and food.

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I loved watching the locals interact with the vendors. Many knew each other, and shopping seemed to be as much a social occasion as a weekly errand.

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I especially loved the friendly butcher who pressed me into service as a (terrible) translator for some German tourists — although I found it a bit unnerving that he punctuated his conversation with a large knife.

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Still, his gourmet sausages were delicious. He told me the cattle were raised locally and gave me precise directions to the farm — you know, in case I wanted to visit the herd.

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There were dozens of other specialty booths, from pottery to spices and greens.

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My favorite booths featured the local specialties — such as these regional cheeses spiced with basil and pimento. When the shopkeeper asked for my order, I almost said “One of everything, please.”

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But sun-kissed Provence is most famous for its produce — and on that score, the market did not disappoint.

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I’m slowly sifting through the rest of my photos from Arles, so I’ll be back with more soon. (Especially if this dreary weather continues. Sigh.)

From its doorknobs to its house numbers, Paris is rich in architectural details. But it was the city’s iconic pavers that led me on my most recent historical adventure.

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In some streets the pavers are still arranged in beautiful fan-like patterns.

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The rue de l’Abreuvoir offers a nice view of the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, above — if you can ignore the pavers.

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I was at one of my favorite spots along the Seine, on the Quai de Bourbon …

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… when I noticed a missing paver.

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I began poking at the hole with my foot to dislodge the cigarette butts, when a man approached. “You must not disturb the pavés,” he said, looking both stern and concerned.

My French is wobbly — and I’ve not yet been able to confirm the penalty — but I’m pretty sure he said “five years in jail” for removing a paver. I’d intended no such act, but still the encounter rattled me.

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Serious crimes in Paris get you a complimentary tour of the Palais de Justice (in the background). But I skipped it because none of my guidebooks recommended it.

But you know what they say about forbidden fruit: Soon I was obsessed with the idea of obtaining a paver. Legally, of course!

The city has been tearing out the pavers and replacing them with asphalt since the May 1968 riots, in which students turned the granite blocks into missiles aimed at the police. Surely City Hall might have saved a few?

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The Fontaine St. Michel, to the right in the frame above, is a favorite meeting spot for Parisians — and a traditional site for protests, too.

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Some of the 1968 riots took place near the Place St. Michel, so officials paved over this nearby crosswalk to prevent subsequent paver-hurlings.

That’s how I found this article — “Paris offrez-vous un pavé du Trocadéro.”  Translation: for €50 (plus €40 shipping to the U.S.) you can legally obtain a paver from the Place du Trocadéro, near the Eiffel Tower.

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The Place du Trocadéro — a great spot for spotting the Eiffel Tower.

Pavé de Paris also throws in a small wooden crate and a bilingual booklet of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, said their website.

This made me curious: Why was Pavé de Paris enclosing a copy of the resolution France’s National Assembly drafted? Seeking the connection, I pondered some of the people and places from the 1789 revolution.

Was the paver somehow related to the cheering crowds that gathered at the Place de la Révolution to watch madame la guillotine claim her victims’ heads?

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The site of the guillotine was renamed Place de la Concorde in 1795.

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Or was it related to the Conciergerie, where so many doomed prisoners awaited their executions? I thought especially of Marie Antoinette, writing one last entry in her prayer book before two white horses carried her to her death:

This 16th of Oct. at 4:30 in the morning
My God, have mercy on me!
My eyes have no more tears
to weep for you my poor
children; farewell, farewell!

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Conciergerie 1080542 CLHL BW BLOGThe oldest portions of the Conciergerie go back to the 12th century. It was also in 1186 that Philippe-Auguste ordered the first paved Parisian streets.

Then my mind turned to Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the physician and politician who opposed the death penalty, but who ironically gave the guillotine its name.

Outraged by the messy and often inhumane executions he was witnessing in Paris, Guillotin had hoped a more humane method of execution would at least be one step closer to ending the practice.

Supposedly the “instant decapitation machine” he proposed was tested on sheep at his office on the Cour du Commerce Saint-André. I wonder how the owners of Le Procope — the coffee shop next door — felt about all the bleating and bleeding.

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On the right side of the frame above, look for Le Procope’s overhead sign. The façade of the white building to the right of it has a plaque mentioning Dr. Guillotin. Also, notice the pavers!

Only in hindsight, as I sought a connection to the pavers, did I realize I’d visited all of these sites.

But my question remained unanswered: What did any of this have to do with the more modern Place du Trocadéro where Pavé de Paris obtained its pavers?

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A more careful read of both the Parisien article and the Pavé de Paris website cleared up my confusion: The booklet didn’t contain the 1789 revolution Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, but rather the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that the United Nations ratified at the Trocadéro in 1948.

Aaaah, I seeee …

Although I took a wrong turn in one sense, in another my mission was a success: I’d discovered the pavers’ omnipresence through centuries of history, and their starring role in many pivotal moments.

Anyway. Back to Pavé de Paris. My (totally legally obtained, nothing at all to see here, officer) paver arrived last week!

But I’ve decided not to keep it, because it’s the perfect gift for a certain young man named Noah, a fellow lover of Paris who will soon graduate from law school. I think he’ll enjoy using it as a bookend for his law books — but he’ll also have his first paver for storming the Bastille … just in case.

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Thank you for tagging along the past few days, and for all of your creative guesses. I will be back soon with more stories from the City of Light.

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The Cour du Commerce Saint-André in Paris’ sixth arrondissement is little more than a cobbled alley. Open only to pedestrians, it connects the tony and traffic-choked Boulevard Saint-Germain with the bustling little rue de Buci. But when you step onto its uneven paving stones, you’re stepping onto a spot where centuries of history converge. (Full disclosure: The Cour du Commerce was torn up for renovation during Esteban’s and my last visit, so these photos date from 2009 and 2010, respectively.)

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This is my fifth and penultimate clue in a series about how everything in Paris is connected. See the past four days’ posts for other hints — and please check back on Sunday for the full story.

This is my fourth post in series about the unexpected historical connections that abound in Paris. See the past three days’ posts for other clues — or tune in on Sunday for the full story.

The Place de la Concorde is not only Paris’ largest public square, but arguably its most historic. Its name changes alone — Place Louis XV, Place de la Révolution, and finally Place de la Concorde — hint at its role in France’s transition from a monarchy to a republic.

From its two fountains representing the rivers and seas to its Egyptian obelisk and its views of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel tower, it’s also among Paris’ more photogenic spots. But do I have any decent photos of what I’ve just described? Not really. So in this post I’ll attempt to make up for lack of quality with volume.

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Pro tip: The Pont de la Concorde is a great spot for enjoying sunsets.

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Thanks, as always, for stopping by. More tomorrow!

Although I missed the supermoon in Paris, seeing the moon set behind the Conciergerie was a lovely consolation. How many men and women have gazed at la lune from their prison cells over the centuries?

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This is my third post about the unexpected ties that bind Paris’ historical sites. See the past two days’ posts for other clues — or tune in on Sunday for the full story.

One of my favorite things about Paris is that everything is somehow connected. Here’s the second clue. What does it have to do with yesterday’s photo? I will reveal all on Sunday.

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Paris’ pavers come in a variety of sizes. You’ll find large ones like these mostly along the quays that line the Seine river.

One of my favorite things about Paris is that everything is somehow connected. Over the next week I’ll show you seven photos that at first glance may seem unrelated — and next Sunday I’ll reveal what they share in common.

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The Place du Trocadéro offers a great view of the Eiffel Tower, but it had never before occurred to me to include these gilded statues in my shots.

Street photography is my Parisian passion. But when I’m traveling with other people, it’s unreasonable to ask them to wait a half hour until the right person walks into the frame. That’s why on this last trip I concentrated instead on small architectural details I could snap on the run, almost without missing a stride.

Among Paris’ many architectural treasures, old doorknockers are my favorite. I like to imagine how many hands have touched them over the centuries — in anticipation, perhaps, of seeing a favorite mistress or meeting a new patron. How many times have they been rapped in urgency by a doctor, summoned in the middle of the night? Or with jubilation, to announce the end of a war?

I will leave you and your imagination to conjure these doorknockers’ stories.

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When it comes to travel, Esteban and I are planners: Before every trip we peruse a stack of guide books from the library, study some history, and map out our logistics.

Trip plan spreadsheet BLOGEight cities and three countries in one trip. WHAT WERE WE THINKING?!

Although we still leave plenty of time for serendipity, planning helps us make sure we don’t miss an interesting event — or accidentally land in the middle of one.

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Marathon 1130419 BLOG“May I cross the marathon route?” I asked the cop. “How fast can you run?” he replied.

But in spite of our best planning efforts, Esteban’s and my years of traveling together have taught us an inescapable truth: At some point the trip you planned will become the trip you’re on.

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You’ll wake up covered in bedbugs. You’ll get off the train at the Basel Bad Bf station instead of Basel SBB (big difference). Or maybe you’ll be stranded for 14 hours at Rome’s Fiumicino airport as Vueling concocts ever-more-creative excuses for your delayed flight.

The point is that things won’t go according to plan — and there won’t be a damned thing you can do about it. And at that point you’ll have a choice: Will you fume in anger at your ruined trip? Or will you roll with it, and see where this new adventure leads?

Esteban’s and my last trip tested this philosophy. Five days before our flight home, I noted that the stairs to our 17th century apartment were slippery from the night’s condensation, and thus paid the most meticulous attention to each of the 89 steps.

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Finally — on the 90th and last step — I relaxed. “I made it!” I thought. That’s when my leg slipped out from under me and I fell backward onto the stone staircase.

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I heard the “whump” before I felt the searing pain in my back or realized I couldn’t breathe. Instinctively, I crawled around on all fours for a couple of minutes. Then I climbed back up to the apartment to alert Esteban. “I’m seriously injured,” I told him.

Luckily, the scans didn’t spot any broken bones or damaged discs. “Nevertheless, these soft-tissue things can be surprisingly painful,” said the doctor, “but it’s important to keep moving as much as possible.” I nodded while I mentally hollered obscenities.

Back at the apartment I cried a bit as I iced my back and listened to the activity outside. “Those people have no idea how lucky they are to be ambulatory,” I thought. To pass the time I read several books and snapped iPhotos of my newly shrunken universe.

IMG_5774The view from our apartment’s window. At least it was sunny!

Every morning Esteban would help me shower and get dressed (because underwear and shirts become deathtraps when you can’t move your torso). Then we’d set off slowly, down the stairs, and out onto the street.

He’d open doors for me and help me negotiate curbs and prop me up like a mannequin in cafés. He also blocked cars whose drivers were impatient with my snail’s-pace progress, and kept people from jostling me in the markets.

I felt like a burden and apologized continuously … but through it all, he reminded me that “this is the trip we’re on.”

We’re home now, and I’m slowly on the mend. (Last week’s highlight: I put on my own socks. Yay!) But I’m still disappointed about the five “lost” days — mostly because Esteban lost those days, too.

Still, I’m trying to learn from his example. “Stop worrying about it,” he said yesterday. “We made the best of it.” He’s right that it could have been worse (I could have hit my head, or broken a vertebra). Or I could have been alone (crawling around on all fours, tangled in my bra and wearing no socks).

And anyway … now we have a great excuse to go back, and to try one more time to have the perfect trip in which everything goes exactly as planned.

Photography often makes me adopt some strange positions. Such was the case when I slithered on my belly along Paris’ Seine river to frame this shot.

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So engrossed was I in my task that I barely registered the sound of the street-sweeping vehicle approaching from behind, nor did I notice it stopping.

“Is everything alright, madame?” I saw the man’s boots first, then his uniform, and finally his masked faced. I felt a bit stupid as I stood up and explained that I was suffering for my art taking a photo.

He sometimes took photos too, he said, pulling out his phone. He flipped through shots he had taken while running an 850-kilometer (528-mile) race last year to raise funds for displaced children. “I came in third in my age group,” he beamed. “Wait. Let me show you …” There he was, standing on the winners’ podium. “And this is me, in my new suit, meeting President [François] Hollande!”

He told me he hadn’t always been a runner. He removed his mask and pointed to his right cheek. “See this scar? I used to be a firefighter. When I was in my 20s I responded to a commercial fire on the rue de Rivoli. We didn’t know there were gas canisters in the basement. They exploded, and I was severely burned.” He pulled back his cap to show me his scarred scalp. “I started running as part of my therapy,” he said.

“But even so, you used it to benefit others,” I said. “You’re quite a humanitarian — a real hero!” He simply shrugged and asked whether I would take his photo in front of Notre Dame.

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It wasn’t until after Roger and I parted ways that two thoughts struck me: First, the fact that a seemingly humble job often belies the richness of a man’s life. And second, that even as a street-sweeper Roger was still serving his fellow citizens.

The next day I got up even earlier and glimpsed how the quays along the Seine would look, if not for Roger and his colleagues.

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It enraged me that the partiers could not be bothered to use the empty garbage bin that was literally two feet away.

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Seeing the sweepers swerve to clear the piles of trash at least solved a mystery that had long haunted me, though: “What are those strange trails of water on the quays?” Until now I’d imagined roving packs of giant drunken snails.

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Although it’s too late to personally thank Roger for his work, here is my ode of gratitude to the multitude of women and men who get up long before dawn …

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… to give the rest of us a pristine view of Paris.

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And here’s one final pro tip for you: If you hear street-sweepers in Paris, follow them! They are wonderful people, and the water-slicked sidewalks they leave behind offer some equally wonderful reflections.

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