La Première Fois: A Paris Memory (& a Watercolor) by Mary Ellen...

La Première Fois: A Paris Memory (& a Watercolor) by Mary Ellen Segraves

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A watercolor by Mary Ellen Segraves depicting a street scene in Paris

The Bonjour Paris editorial team requested reader submissions with memories from first trips to Paris. We were overwhelmed with wonderful responses, which we are publishing in a special series. (Read other installments here.) Below, Mary Ellen Segraves shares an art-filled reverie…

My first trip to Paris was in 1972. I was 22 years old and had just finished my first year of teaching high school English. On our first night in Paris, my two girlfriends and I went up in the Eiffel Tower at sunset. The image of that enormous orange sun setting over Paris is still clear in my mind. At the tower, we met a couple of artists who invited us back to their studio. It was a small cramped space that was everything I imagined a Paris studio might be. We spent the evening drinking wine and trying to communicate in our limited French. They were real gentlemen, and we never felt threatened.

Going to the Louvre was mind boggling. I had spent my teenage years wandering around at the Art Institute in Chicago, so I felt pretty “art aware,” but the Louvre was overwhelming.

My favorite activity was really just walking – everywhere —  Montmartre, Montparnasse, Bois du Bologne, the Seine, the flea markets, etc.

A funny thing occurred one night when we were out to dinner on the Left Bank. We sat next to a “typical” Parisian man, smoking and wearing a scarf and beret. When we got up to leave, he said, loudly enough for us to hear, “Capitalist Pigs!”  Of course, we were shocked and felt unfairly judged, but it’s pretty funny in retrospect.

That first trip in ‘72 satisfied all of my fantasies about Paris, so much so that when I came home to Chicago I decided that I wanted to go to school at the Sorbonne. Unfortunately, life got in the way, and I never got there, but I did get a job waitressing in a café that had an espresso machine and served French pastries.

A sketch of Mary Ellen Segraves done by a street artist in Montparnasse in 1972

It took me 40 years to get back to Paris, and I have been there three times in the past three years, staying in an AirBnB apartment in the 15th arrondissement.

What has stayed the same in Paris is the food, of course, and the special ambiance of the city. When I’m there, I always feel like I am in some kind of altered reality. Everything seems a bit more electric. I was happy to see the booksellers along the Seine, but not so happy to see all those locks on the bridges!

There are also more museums and cultural events, all wonderful places – Picasso, Rodin, d’Orsay, Orangerie, Marmottan, etc. Some were probably open when I was there in the 70s, but I was not a savvy of a traveler back then, so I missed them.

The other thing that has stayed the same is the Parisians. I have often heard people say that Parisians are cold and unfriendly, but I have found just the opposite. The Parisians I’ve met on my last three trips have been friendly, helpful, and open. Love them!

Mary Ellen Segraves is a recently retired Organizational Consultant living in the Chicago area. During her career years, she designed and facilitated leadership training programs for corporations. Her work kept her on the road a lot, but unfortunately, not to Paris! She currently lives outside of Chicago with her husband of 18 years and their Jack Russell Terrier. When her workload began easing up a few years ago, she started painting in watercolor (another reason why she is drawn to Paris — all of the wonderful museums!). Her other passion is food. One of her favorite things to do in Paris is to shop in all of the kitchen supply stores (like Dehillerin and G. Detou). She’s also taken a couple of classes at La Cuisine, one which took them on a wonderful tour of the Potager du Roi at Versailles.

Mary Ellen Segraves at a lovely cafe near the Picasso Museum in 2015.

2 COMMENTS

    • Coco, Thanks for the kind words. Yes, it is for sale: $275 framed and $175 unframed. Plus shipping. The size is 22″H x28″W.
      -Mary Ellen

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