April in Paris: Debunking the Myth
by Stephanie Gold
April in Paris. Dorothy Parker spoke longingly of it, Vernon Duke composed a song about it, and Ella Fitzgerald crooned the lyrics as I plunked down the airfare for a Parisian spring break. Quelle mistake. I wasted a vacation and a lot of money, but gained ... the scoop on the City of Light: its myths and the honest truth--as experienced by objective, unbiased me.
Myth #1 - The sun will shine on you in Paris.
If I'd been checking guidebooks instead of watching Maurice Chevalier movies I'd have known that Paris in April is a wet blanket, and cold to boot. One guide's weather chart predicts 16°-60°F for April. Another reports gray skies, chill, and lots of rain. In other words, there will be no sunny frolicking among the daffodils and no bright paté-and-chèvre picnics in April.
Myth #2 - The essential attractions in Paris are the monuments and museums.
False. When you travel in dreary weather, your destination had better be worth the wretched trip. I go on record that huddling with the tourist flock in a driving rain at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, peeping past the rim of my umbrella, does not do it for me. And much as I love fine art, wandering damply through the labyrinthine halls of the Louvre, queuing up with the soggy hordes for a peek at the Venus de Milo doesn't rock me, either. The palace is beautiful, but it does not seem to be a quintessential French moment. Once I'm off the Parisian streets and ensconced inside a museum, I could just as well be home.
Abandoning the tourist stampede and making like a Parisian was more rewarding. This meant finding a café and spending the day caffeinating up and/or boozing down, watching the raw Parisian streets from the dry side of a window, and rubbing umbrellas with the French. Why fly to Paris if all the people I see are the ones I flew with on the plane? I came to Paris to immerse myself in the most civilized of cities, and cafés are undeniably the epitome of civilization. Parisians in café mode are the true gems of Paris--fair weather or foul.
Myth #3 - Parisian are odious and obnoxious; the less time spent among them, the better.
Myth #4 - Parisians won't deign to speak to you unless your Parisian accent is exquisite.
Hanging out in the café will get tiresome if no one talks to you. But with a good phrasebook and an endless willingness to humiliate myself, I did not lack for café conversation. A favorite icebreaker was why I was not, at that moment, soaking up culture in the Louvre.
Myth #5 - Paris in springtime is romance itself.
Not. Nothing is less romantic than a bone-chilling drizzle. I expected magic in the air; I got rain and ratty tempers. It's a little-known fact that when T. S. Eliot said "April is the cruelest month," he was speaking of Paris. On the other hand, when the café windows begin to steam, who's to say what might happen over an idle café crème or cognac?