10 Lost in Translation Moments in Paris
Lost in Translation is the perfect movie about travel. It encapsulates everything I love about being in a foreign country: the alternating moments of solitude and human connection, the confusion and discovery.
As we travel, we’re constantly trying to calibrate our inner worlds to our new surroundings, to find some meaning in the madness. At the end of our journey, we come away with a few special moments that change us in ways that are hard to explain to our friends and family back home.
This post will be your guide to finding your own Lost in Translation moments in Paris, knowing full well that the best ones can’t be planned for. But if you open your heart, the right moment might just tap you on the shoulder, and whisper gently into your ear...
1. On a morning run along the Seine
I try to go on morning runs in every city I travel to. It’s an easy way to beat the jetlag and explore a new city at the same time. It’s 6 AM, barely light out. The air outside is cool and most of Paris is still asleep. With Air and Phoenix playing in my earphones, I map out a five mile route along the Seine, from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower. There’s something surreal about keeping to a daily ritual in a new city that leaves you both energized and at peace.
When you reach the Eiffel Tower, stop by the first cafe or bakery that catches your eye. Take your time, sip your morning coffee and look out the window. Watch Paris wake up. Oh, and the Eiffel Tower opens at 9 AM. If you wanted, you could be the first in line.
2. Browsing the bookshelves of the Abbey
I may have found the perfect bookstore in the Abbey Bookshop, and it’s a magical and otherworldly place. The entrance is tucked away off the well trodden tourist path, its windows stacked to the brim with new and vintage paperbacks. Inside, bookshelves run from floor to ceiling. The aisles are so cramped their very existence feels like a reluctant compromise.
The shop is run by its owner Brian, a mild-mannered Canadian expat and his sweet and helpful Parisien assistent. It’s truly a marvel that places like this can still exist in 2016, but Brian’s been here all along, ever since the late 80s. Stumbling upon a place that still feels real and true in the digital age is nothing short of a miracle.
3. Sitting on a basement bench in the Musee Marmotten Monet
I go out of my way to avoid crowds. My theory is that they tend to dilute the intensity and significance of every moment. If reading the same books everyone else is reading means you’re confined to thinking the same thoughts, why shouldn’t this be true of places as well?
The basement level of Musee Marmotten Monet houses the world’s most extensive collection of Monet’s paintings. What’s truly special about this exhibit is that visitors are taken on a journey of the painter’s life through his works. Walking through the exhibit, you can experience Monet’s progression from a young ambitious painter to an old man near the end of his life. Simply put, it’s a moving testament to an artist’s life. Here was a man who devoted his life to a craft, and struggling through hardship and poverty, created his own meaning in the world.
4. Dazed and confused at the Palais de Tokyo
At the bizarre end of the spectrum, there’s the dubiously named Palais de Tokyo. Its connection to Japan and Tokyo remains one of life’s great mysteries. Inside, you’ll find yourself strolling through a maze of loudly post-modern art and a cafe festooned by stretched-out panty hoses.
I sat speechless through a video installation of what I can only assume to be a woman’s battle with chronic constipation and her quest for the sweet salvation of Activia’s probiotic yogurt. It’s true what they say: all life becomes art.
5. Wandering the exotic greenhouses of Jardin des Serres D’Auteuil
The greenhouses in the Jardin des Serres D’Auteuil makes for the perfect hideaway on a rainy afternoon. It’s one of those places you imagine could only exist in a city like Paris. This vast garden produces 100,000 exotic plants from all around the world, separated into greenhouses by region and climate. Walk through aisles of desert cacti, then lounge away in a tropical climate in the middle of a Parisian winter, to the calls of birds imported from the Amazon -- and tell me this won’t change your life.
6. Munching on burgers and fries at De Clercq
While I enjoyed my share of French cuisine during the trip, the sheer quantity and richness of meats, cheeses and wine taxed my untrained and decidedly East Asian palate. De Clercq provides some cheap comfort food, with a local twist. It’s a small standing-room-only shop catering primarily to take-out orders. If you happen to make the poor life decision of ordering a maxi cornet of Belgium fries, keep in mind that instead of gorging yourself, there’s enough warm food to feed one of the many people living on the streets of Paris.
7. Strolling through the Pere Lachaise Cemetery
As a general rule, walks through cemeteries and shrines are best done during the early hours of the morning, before the hordes of tourism arrive with megaphones loud enough to reanimate the dead.
A literary circuit involves a visit to the graves of Balzac, Proust, Moliere, Gertrude Stein, and Oscar Wilde among others. When I arrived at Wilde’s tombstone, I was disappointed to find that they had erected a makeshift barrier to prevent further acts of love in the form of lipstick marks. Given the writer’s mistreatment at the hands of the State, you would think that separating him from his readers was the last thing he would’ve wanted.
8. Waiting for the sunset on the steps of the Sacre Coeur
The best place to see the sunset is sitting on the steps of the Sacre Coeur Basilica. Watch as the blue rooftops and clay chimneys of Paris are bathed in the temporary light of a golden sunset. Take your time and wait for the night to descend and the lights to flicker on. A hundred lighted windows to a hundred Parisian lives.
9. Watching a midnight showing of Reservoir Dogs at the Filmatheque du Latin Quartier
Paris is a city that remembers when going to the movies was an event, when the magical whirl of a projector casting images at 24 frames per second was an experience worth sharing with an audience.
At Parisian revival houses, nothing gets butts into seats quicker than a midnight showing of a Tarantino feature. There are only two screening rooms at the Filmatheque du Latin Quartier: the red room is Marlyn Monroe, the blue room is Audrey Hepburn.
Watching Reservoir Dogs is like hanging out with your buddies every weekend, where you crack the same jokes and laugh at them anyway. Sitting at a midnight showing with lonely old men, young French couples and bored, chain-smoking students (male and female), you feel like you’ve been transported to another time.
There are "the little differences" with a Parisian audience. Like Americans, they can’t wait to know what Madonna's Like a Virgin is really about, or Steve Buscemi’s stance on tipping. But they laugh at slightly different points. Certain pop culture references escape them. Yet when Stealer’s Wheel comes on with Stuck in the Middle with You, the anticipation and excitement in the room is universal. Like a quarter-pounder is to a royale with cheese, you’re in a moment that feels familiar and foreign at the same time.
10. Strangers in Paris
It’s not conventional opinion, but the people my Jennie and I met in Paris were some of the friendliest we’ve encountered in all our travels. Perhaps it was a function of us visiting during the winter off-season, but I think it also has something to do with our expectations.
I don’t enjoy attentive service or small talk. I much prefer a polite exchange of greetings and being left alone to have my conversation or to read my book. No complications. No rush. And this side of Japan, no country does leave-you-alone service better than the French.
But then there are other moments, where Parisians have gone out of their way to be helpful. On our first walk outside our studio in the 10th arrondissement, an elderly man came up to Jennie and I, shook our hands, and asked us where we were from. At a restaurant, a young waitress translated an entire menu from French to English before we could stop her. Or the bartender who insisted we stay past their closing hours while we waited for a midnight movie.
These are the stranger than fiction moments that I can’t explain, and they’re moments that we'll carry with us for the rest of our lives.