The first time I saw Paris

I went kicking and screaming, the first time I saw Paris.

Paris 1997 Arc de Triomphe panorama BLOG

“Oh, come on,” said my husband. “You’ll love it!” But I was unconvinced. I’d heard the stereotypes — the French hate Americans; Parisians are fashion snobs; Paris is a filthy, stinky place — and I was intimidated by the language barrier. But Esteban ignored my howls of protest and booked the flights.

He had a plan to ease the culture shock and jet lag. We’d:
(1) board the Disneyland Paris bus straight away at the airport,
(2) adjust our circadian clocks among the familiar Disney theme rides, and
(3) then take a train into town and conquer Paris.

Paris 1997 Arc de Triomphe BLOG

In hindsight, I’m charmed by our naïveté. Instead of feeling comforted by Disney’s cultural homogeneity, we found ourselves in an alternate universe where everything looked vaguely familiar — yet somehow not quite right.

It was actually a huge relief to finally land in Paris and see that Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower looked exactly as I’d expected.

Paris 1997 Notre Dame and sq viviani BLOG

Paris 1997 Seine scene BLOG

That was in 1997. In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago: I was young and fat, and still shooting with film. But in other ways, it feels like just yesterday. The memories are still vivid, as clear and bright as the Fuji Velvia emulsion that captured them.

Paris 1997 Amphicar BLOG

Paris 1997 Apartment sunset BLOG

Paris 1997 Chartres cathedral BLOG

Paris 1997 Fountain of the rivers BLOG

Paris 1997 Hotel de Ville BLOG

Paris 1997 Sunset at Rodin BLOG

Paris 1997 Tuileries and Louvre BLOG

Paris 1997 Woofie in store entrance BLOG

But what I remember most about that first trip to Paris is the sense of discovery and wonder that accompanied every new experience.

Fifteen years have passed since then, and I’ve been back nine times. Paris feels familiar to me now. From the endless maze-like corridors of the Charles de Gaulle airport to the little maze-like streets of the Marais, Paris feels like home. I’ve made some dear friends there. I’ve felt loved there — and lonely, too. But no matter how many times I may go back, there’s always that same sense of discovery and wonder.

Today I leave for my tenth trip to Paris. Here’s to new memories, and to new adventures.


  1. We were there in September. It was my first time going since the age of 16 and the first time for my husband and son. We were all ready to move there! Friendly people, rows of coffee shops. The perfect city to stroll about in. Please take more wonderful pics so I can live vicariously through you! Safe travels 🙂

    • How wonderful that you were able to return with your family! And I will gladly (inevitably!) take more photos. Anything in particular you’d like to see? 🙂

      • I know this sounds odd…apart from the landmarks, how about the window of a patisserie? I thought those desserts were like pieces of art. Thanks for asking 🙂

  2. Oooh I’m almost jealous, been there 3 times now and I so long to go back. And yes one is never ever dissapointed. My first time was with the love of my life in 1998 and we shot in film too. Have a fantastic trip. 🙂

  3. Bon Voyage! On my first trip to Paris (almost 40 years ago now), I was thin and had hair, shot film (mostly B&W because I couldn’t afford colour), lived on USD$10/day all in and couldn’t have been happier. There was no Disneyland in Paris then. It never even occurred to me that there needed to be one.

  4. As if the guilt wasn’t palpable enough, I’m about to see you in person in an hour and a half, so jeez it’s about time I commented on this post!! I hope you can forgive me in light of the craziness going on in my neck of the blogosphere. (but still — bad friend Corey, bad friend!)

    I think it’s totally awesome and hilarious that you thought a direct trip to Euro-Disney was the best entry strategy. Frankly I’ve never heard of anyone doing that, and though I can’t say the idea looks bad on paper, when I hear about the awkwardness you felt in that world of half cozy childhood familiarity and half bizzarro-world foreign weirdness, that almost sounds like the recipe for a good nightmare, haha. Sorry…laughing at your discomfort…but the statute of limitations has run out on this one, right?

    But anyway, the morale is that you fell in love with Paris despite the French-speaking C-3PO on the Star Wars ride, and now you’re head over heels in love with the city, embracing with joy the same cultural differences that once scared you — who could’ve planned it? Here’s to stepping out of comfort zones, right?

    Ok if I don’t get moving right away you’ll have an un-showered lunch partner, so I’m off. Can’t wait to hear about how visit #10 is going so far!

    • What??! There’s nothing to apologize for! (GOOD friend, Corey, good friend!) I totally understand that now I have to share you with hundreds of adoring fans. But at least I have the privilege of saying that I knew you before your were *super*-famous. Grin.

      It was such a treat and such a pleasure to see you today. I love how, every time I see you, we seem to just naturally pick up where we left off. So thank you for the wonderful company and conversation. If I was impressed before with your knowledge of Paris, now I’m IN AWE. If you ever need a testimonial for your tour-guiding skills, I’ll be happy to sing your praises!

      I’m off to shoot you an email about tomorrow. I was planning on spending the day alone, roaming and photographing … but maybe there’s a destination we might both enjoy? 🙂

      In any case, thank you again for a wonderful day. I feel very privileged to get to see Paris through your French Frye eyes.

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