moments of illumination in the city of light

017 : Anne Schwartz On a park bench, facing east, in the Square Trousseau, 12th arrondissement
Born in 1961 in Washington, DC, USA , Anne Schwartz currently works as blogger Why Paris? My husband got a job; I’m along for the ride. She digs the following Paris bits: 1. Its walkability 2. The excellent system of public transportation 3. Art; it’s available everywhere and always changing 4. The bread 5. The beautiful parks and gardens She is, however, a bit miffed by the litter, the lack of customer service, the high cost of living, the fact that there's not enough sunlight, and it takes forever to get anything accomplished. For more info on Anne Schwartz you should send an email or visit Just Another American in Paris.

image: Meg Zimbeck

“I opened the hip high gate and found a green wooden bench in the shade”

It was a Paris summer morning like many others, hot when I woke up, the air in my apartment stuffy with sleep.  Outdoors, it was cooler but gray.  Not a promising start.  But there was marketing to be done.  A métro ride across town to the Marché d’Aligre and a couple of transactions later, the sun had come out, my canvas bag had been filled with Middle Eastern specialties, fresh fruit, and poulet rôti[1], but my mood had only somewhat improved.

I stopped in at a boulangerie[2] on Square Trousseau for a pain au chocolat[3], my reward to myself for making myself understood in French, counting out the right change.  Tucked in off the busy rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine, the park across the street beckoned.  I crossed over, opened the hip high gate and found a green wooden bench in the shade. 

Sitting there, I tried to put my finger on what was bugging me. Complaining about living in Paris is something akin to high treason.[4]  So lucky to be living in Paris, how dare I have even one negative thought about living in the City of Lights?  The cafes, the boulevards, the fashion, the wine, the pastries, the art, the light as it filters through the chestnut trees—this is the stuff of legend, of dreams, I told myself, you ungrateful boor.

But for me, the joy and wonder of those first months had been fizzling away.  Alone for much of the time over the last few weeks, my new friends scattered to the four winds for the summer, I was learning that Paris is also the city of trash and worse on the sidewalks, the stench of urine in the metro, the homeless men sprawled in the doorways in even the most upscale parts of town.  Nary a smile on the street and people standing so close behind you in line that you feel the stickiness of their skin against yours and the stale smell of cigarette smoke on your neck. 

From my seat on the bench, though, life looked calm, quiet, and cool.  The traffic from the avenue seemed distant.  The air felt crisp.  The sidewalks around the square were freshly washed. The stores were just beginning to open, the grafitti disappearing as metal grates went up. In the park, a man sat at a table, tapping on his laptop.  The mothers at the playground were freeing children from their strollers who then rushed headlong for the sandbox and slides.  Empty ping pong tables gleamed silver in the filtered sunlight.  I took a deep bite into the buttery pastry, the warm chocolate, and felt a wave of renewal.

referenced works

  1. Roast chicken

  2. Bakery

  3. Chocolate croissant

  4. High treason is defined as an act of criminality against one’s native country.  To complain, then, about living in Paris, is to be somehow disloyal to all the Americans back home who have the unfortunate distinction of not living in France, but must make do anyway, because were they to have such a chance they would, theoretically, never complain. That is, until they smelled the piss in the metro and stepped in dogshit while stopping to take a picture of Notre Dame.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_treason

location information

  • Name: in the Square Trousseau, 12th arrondissement
  • Address: Square Trousseau 75012
  • Time of story: Morning
  • Latitude: 48.850498
  • Longitude: 2.376523
  • Map: Google Maps


  1. cara [1] in usa thinks: thanks for writing about Square Trousseau, it’s little known. I love the oysters at the Baron Rouge


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