What is it about Paris?

Share Button

It’s the booksellers along the river. It’s the young women dressing themselves in vitality, the most authentic make up. It’s the dogs sitting next to their masters in the cafés. It’s the two-year-old children with their mothers gently shaking hands upon meeting in the park, saying “Bonjour.”

It’s the open air dinner parties along the banks of the Seine on summer evenings, wine bottles open, glasses filled, and candles blown by gentle breezes. It’s the accordion player on the little bridge that connects the two islands of Ile de la Cité and Ile Saint-Louis, providing a sound track for your imagination. It’s the incredible disinterest shown to you by clerks in post offices, occasionally interrupted by a real look of recognition and helpfulness.

It’s turning the corner and seeing someone you had dinner with the night before in a neighborhood across town. It’s buying vegetables every few days from the grocer on the sloping Rue Mouffetard, who suddenly smiles and gives you a “cadeau” of extra parsley or strawberries.

It’s the moment that a French acquaintance becomes a friend by inviting you home to meet the family, or better yet to join them at their country cottage just a short train ride out of town.

paris2It’s being stopped by an African in full dress who speaks better French than you do, and needs directions. It’s having your French corrected gently and respectfully by a five year-old who comes over to talk with you in the park and the happy smile his au pair tosses at you across the sun-drenched sandbox between the fountains at the Place des Vosges.

It’s the Thursday evening parties on the Pont des Arts, where young and old gather in different spots to celebrate the springtime moon or just to show off a little. “Who brought that great pâté?” It’s the ivy on our courtyard walls blowing in the breeze, forming a vast, vertical wave like a green ocean.

It’s the street names, all dedications to great poets, artists, inventors (Rue Daguerre), saints, fallen heroes, historic places – never “125th street.” They range from the Rue des Artistes to Avenue des Entrepreneurs.

It’s visiting the squats of young artists in abandoned buildings where they live and work rent-free, and then, a few hours later, finding yourself at a banquet at Versailles, dining in l’Orangerie, the hall where King Louis XIV reveled.

It’s the poetry readings on the sidewalk in front of Shakespeare and Company where only the most avid ear can make out the words being read from James Joyce’s Ulysses — passionate sex passages from the novel first published here and long banned in America— because of the ironic voices of the bells of Notre Dame just across the river, as if God were trying to drown out the words of an Irish blasphemer. The young girls love it, as do the older ones enjoying the celebration of the body – yes yes yes! It’s also knowing that this is one city where no one will come pounding on your door if the sex you are having gets a little loud!

paris3It’s the fun of going up to the top of the Eiffel Tower after avoiding it for years since the first time, because “That’s for tourists,” and rediscovering the joy of sweeping your gaze over a 360o panorama of this ancient and recent city.

It’s waiting in line at the Post Office and as the people around you are beginning to roll their eyes and grumble impatiently, saying cheerfully to one and all, “C’est comme la Poste!” breaking the tension, because sure enough, it’s just like the Post Office!

It’s the young women and girls who walk by my atelier on Rue Lepic up in Montmartre, who look admiringly in the window. My heart leaps up, thinking they are smiling at me and at my photography on display—until I notice that they are often using the window as a mirror to check their hair, and possibly to practice an expression they just might need for an anticipated encounter a few minutes down the street!

It’s seeing a youngster, at a book fair in Place Maubert petting a bushel full of leather-bound books as though caressing puppies. Her face shining with, “I want to read! I want to read! ”

It’s life a decade after the January 1st, 2006 nationwide law forbidding smoking indoors at restaurants, cafés, bars, department stores and all other public places. The sidewalks in front of these establishments are lined with smokers taking legal breaks, morning, noon and night. So now, all over France, if you want fresh air, you must go indoors!


Download PDF (low res) here
Order a print copy - here
Expatriates in Paris Live Streams - every day at 9pm - see the schedule here

Download your winner badge (Right click and save as .png)

About Jeff Berner 3 Articles
Jeff Berner has been an active fine art, portrait, editorial and multimedia photographer since 1968. His work includes hot-air ballooning, portrait assignments, ocean-going yacht racing, open-heart surgery, book and magazine illustration, and travel photography. He has received a number of awards, including two consecutive portrait prizes from Life magazine. His other photography ranges from nature studies to surrealistic "Dreamspaces". He has been a member of the international conceptual/performance art group, Fluxus, since 1965. His photography is found in private and several museum collections, including The Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), and Musée Pompidou (Paris), and has appeared in magazines, such as Omni, Life, and Psychology Today. Berner has also photographed extensively in Europe and Beijing, and has just completed his most recent book, Creative Loitering in Paris, a photo-illustrated book about the people of what he calls, "the biggest small town in the world." His Paris exhibitions have included his uniquely surrealistic "Dreamspaces," in October-November 2003, at Aux Fous de l'Isle; and his reflections of Paris, "Flânerie Créatrice à Paris," at Paris Historique (The Paris Historical Society), in April-May, 2004. In 2006, his “Dreamspaces” were exhibited at Barclays Bank, boulevard Saint Germain; and in 2007, they were exhibited at Cinema “Studio 28” in Montmartre; and his "Flânerie Créatrice à Paris" photographs were shown at La Commanderie du Clos Montmartre, where he has been a chevalier since 2005. In December 2009, his impressions of Paris and his “Dreamspaces” were shown at Café le Select, in Paris. Berner is the author of numerous books, including The Photographic Experience (Doubleday/Anchor); The Nikon Touch Photography Guide (Bantam Books); The Holography Book (Avon Books); and The Innerspace Project (World Publishing). His books have has also been published in Chinese and Swedish editions. His photo-illustrated articles have appeared in each issue of Montmartre a la une magazine, in Paris, for the past several years. Some of his titles can be purchased through Amazon.com. Berner's photomontage "Dreamspaces" were used in his photo illustration and design for Uncarved Block, Unbleached Silk: The Mystery of Life (1978, A&W Visual Library, NY), a study of Zen and the sense of beauty, by Jeff's late friend, Alan Watts. Berner has taught at the historic Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design, San Francisco; at the Volcano Art Center on Hawaii's Big Island, and annually at Esalen Institute, Big Sur California, from 1990 through 2000. During that same decade he was an active high-tech and branding brainstorming consultant to Silicon Valley companies including Apple Computer, Sun Microsytems, Atari and others. He also spoke annually at Macworld Expo, San Francisco and New York. From 1965-70, he also created and conducted avant-garde art history courses, "Astronauts of Inner Space" (A Survey of the European Avant-Garde, 1880 to the present) at the University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco Extension Centers (as Extension Instructor in French Culture); and at San Francisco State University's Experimental College, and in 1967 at the San Francisco Art Institute. In his spare time he created “The Lazy JB Ranch,” a miniature diorama that was exhibited for two years in the early 1990s at The Museum of Miniatures in Los Angeles, and at Paris’ only folk-art museum, Halle Saint Pierre, at the foot of Sacre Coeur, during November, 2011. His continuing avant-garde art collecting efforts include “Aktual Art International,” shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1967, as well as at The Stanford University Art Gallery that same year; and as a major part of the permanent Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota collection, “In the Spirit of Fluxus,” in 1993; and elsewhere in the USA. He lives full-time at Atelier Berner, on rue Lepic in Montmartre (Paris), with his painter wife, Azar, making occasional forays to their home in Marin County, California.