The subtle style of you answers the Eternal Question of…What do we do today?
What Parisians do better than any other culture ever is nothing. Nobody does nothing better than Parisians do nothing. Any one culture can do something with style—music, dance, traditional garb—but only Parisians can do nothing with style.
I’m sure you’ve binged on Netflix’s Call My Agent, an emphatically Parisian show about Parisian agents and their real-life stars. It’s written well. I’d die to work with anybody who had anything to do with that show. One line in particular has stayed with me.
Camille Valentini (played by Parisian-born actress Fanny Sidney) was discussing with her Southern French mama, from the Cote d’ Azure to be precise, about what to wear to a film-industry awards show, mainly rejecting her mother’s over-the-top suggestions. “Paris girls are more subtle,” Camille explained. Take note here. Even to the non-Parisian French, Paris is a place of subtlety.
The Parisians are always trying to tell the world how to do nothing with meaning. If you want to go full Parisian, you need to get your style down to effortless, subtle, and most importantly, looking effortless at being effortless. That’s the Parisian something behind the nothing.
Though it’s not very Parisian to label love, look at these two starting their nothing where so many great Parisian-nothings start—in a garden. Look at this dude here with his red pant, his slip on casual shoes, his grey sleeves unevenly rolled up, strolling alongside his lady friend, in her high black skirt, and tube-topish whatever.
It seems like nothing, except for the small something that this is the front yard of a fortress turned French king castle turned world’s most famous museum turned glass pyramid that secretly marks the spot of the Holy Grail.
The shirtless one is me after I discover a time machine in a few years and come back after finding the zen to no longer give a f*&k about nothing and sunbathe at the Louvre.
Only Parisians dress for their nothings with a style that the rest of us can’t pull off with our biggest somethings. If on the Oscar’s red carpet, a Parisian girl wiggled her way past the stars, it would somehow look as though she woke up that morning, threw on, without looking, the clothes nearest to her, hair messy but defined because that’s how she woke up, and at lunch during casual conversation at a cafe with her childhood friend, said, “Oh, sh*t. It’s the Oscars today. I’ll swing by if I have time.”
Here’s one trick. You have to make it look like, whatever it is you‘re doing that day, happens to you so often, because you’re that cool, that you didn’t even bother to think about your style for this something, that is really a nothing, because it also happened yesterday. Why would you be bothered to try harder than reaching into your dryer, halfway through the permanent-press cycle, and snatching whatever because, yeah, you’re going to the Oscars tonight, but you also went last night, and the night before that.
Observe how the casual Parisian lives for the weather. If it’s warm, it’s a park. Stay a while. Would you rather fit in everything and not really experience any of it? That would be like scrolling through everybody on a dating site in one hour, instead of having a wonderful long evening with just one.
Parisians sit and stroll gardens with more style than an Oscar nominee walks a red carpet.
Even pouring hot chocolate on the roof of the Louvre, with the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in the background, is as casual as if you also did it yesterday. No big deal.
One way to do paris with style is with this attitude: “With every single thing you do in Paris, just pretend you did it yesterday.” It’s my take on Rick Steves who gives this travel advice: “Travel like you’re going back.” If you show up to the coolest, backstreet cafes, or the most expensive, most glamorous, most romantic Michelin restaurants, and you play it cool, like you were just there yesterday, you’ll enjoy it more and remember it forever.
When you’re at ease, with the attitude that yeah I was here yesterday, it puts others at ease and you end up with chats and evenings you can’t get if you’re focused on checking places off of a list.
Subtlety in paris is soaking it up. But not if you just rush on by this magnificent place.
The art of subtle style in Paris is living with Parisians and not looking for Paris. I aways stop by by Les Quatre Saisons on Rue Cler for Eiffel Tower lawn supplies. It’s only about ten minutes walking distance. I just ask what’s in season. If it’s not your favorite, come back tomorrow. That’s what I tell myself in order to just go with the Parisian flow. Always works out better.
The subtlety of Paris, the underneath, is akin to what Hemingway called the Iceberg Effect. The power in what you show is really the weight of what’s floating beneath the surface.
Everything about Paris is subtle, from Balzac to Proust to the impressionists to the cafes to the parks. If it’s warm park weather, then do a park for three hours, and and dress appropriately for sitting and reading in a park for three hours. T-shirts. Sure. Shorts. Sure. Flip-flops. Oh yes.
In Paris, the weather is your tour guide. Dress for it. Plan for it. Live by it.
When in doubt, just ask the weather. For instance, should you leave Palais Royal gardens and go stand in line somewhere else? The answer is always obvious if you just ask and if you just listen.
Should we leave Luxembourg Garden and not finish this chapter of this book from Shakespeare and Co.?
“Is it raining?” the weather asks.
“It is not,” you say.
“Then no. Don’t go to a museum just to look at impressionist paintings of people reading in Paris. Be a person reading in Paris.”
If you want to do a museum, and it’s warm. Lovely. Do Rodin. Have a glass of icy rose at the outdoor cafe. Sit on the lawn if you like. Read a book about Rodin from the museum shop, which offers the literary taste of a museum curator.
Rodin is always a good idea. Plus, it was in Midnight in Paris. So.
I haven’t been back since they remodeled the Rodin Musuem, but there used to be these lounge chairs in the back of the lawn.
If the lounge chairs are gone, I doubt these stone seats were replaced. Sit. Don’t go anywhere if the weather says so. Have a listen to a podcast. I suggest mine but what do I know. Whatever you listen to, or read, it will be while sitting beneath the world‘s greatest sculpture.
“Should we take a cab?” You ask the weather. No. Walk if you can. And stop in a cafe for an espresso at the zinc bar. If you stop at a cafe, and placemats on tables indicate that this is more of a restaurant, where you’re expected to do a sit-down order for food, then sit yourself at the zinc bar, which is the drive-through part of the cafe, and order a quick espresso, before getting back on your merry way.
Sit in the back by the kitchen, because you sat at the best spot by the street yesterday. Ask the dude cleaning out mugs about his favorite local places, and then you get even more hints of traveling with style. It follows.
And if you want to see Paris filmed beautifully, professionally, and, speaking of, with a subtle style that I hope is the envy of all future Netflix shows, then watch Call My Agent, and get some real advice on style
1. Only in Paris can this shot be the test my camera settings practice shot. We met this girl Regan in Paris when she was pressing through one evening while studying abroad. We took her shopping down Rue Cler market street, picked up some things for the Champ de Mars, which is the lawn for the Eiffel Tower, and like only, cash magic just happen there. The harder you don’t try in Paris the cooler it is.
2. Was walking along the Seine river when we happened upon this shot of these kids taking in Paris. If a photo is worth a thousand words, then write: This is what I want for you in Paris over and over until you reach 1000 word count.
3. That’s the Louvre’s pyramid in the background. In the foreground is Paris being Paris. An apt metaphor. Apt.
4. Two more random people hanging out along the Seine. I don‘t think I even slowed down to fire off this shot from the hip. Street photographers are some of my favorite artists. This is my one and only attempt at drive-by photographer. So edgy.
5. These two were sitting next to us on the lawns of the Luxembourg Garden when we took a reading break after hitting up Shakespeare and Co. and we’re on our way to St. Sulpice, I think. I always forget to write down were we were going when I get these random shots but oh well.
6. Why don’t I live in Paris is my question.
7. Tuileries Garden. It’s the Louvre’s front yard. Go into the museum, too, if you want.
8. Rooftop terrace of Angelina Cafe inside the Louvre. It’s one of the best views of Paris, but as for that, so too is the view from any table inside Angelina, in case there are no available rooftop terrace seats available.
9. My favorite restaurant in the world is Lou Pescadou. Sain’t-Sulpice church is down the street. Luxembourg Garden is, too. I think that‘s Balzac I’m reading.
10. Leg-of-lamb braising advice from the chef and the waiter at Lou Pescadou. Usually only one waiter takes care of the whole dining room, which makes you slow down and enjoy it in the best possible way.
11. A typical hot summer day for the Johnny Book travel team starts at 6 AM and usually doesn’t end until roughly 2 AM, but that’s what it takes for me to fail as much as possible so that my readers fail as little as possible. One of my favorite cool-downs is my feet in the fountain water in front of the sixteenth century church of Saint-Sulpice.
11B. Au Bon Jardinier Cler. I always call it Les Quatre Saisons because that’s what’s on the awning and that’s what I tell people to look for on Rue Cler market street. This fresh produce market is next to my favorite café in Paris, L’Eclair. I like to stop for a ginger beer at L’Eclair, and then do this fruit stand on my merry little way out to continue my eighteen hour days. It’s also about a 10 minute walk to the Eiffel tower. Also, when numbering photos, it’s best to make sure you don’t use the number 11 twice. Just some helpful advice.
12. A photographer I was working with on this trip snapped this photo to get her flash right as we were preparing for photos of all of the goodies we had picked up at Rue Cler. It’s one of my favorites. Bob Ross calls these “Happy Accidents”, and they’re always the best photos I take.
13. I conjured this photo in my head of the Eiffel Tower reflected in the rosé wine. It’s supposed to be metaphorical. But getting the wine and the wine advice from a wine store called Nicolas on Rue Cler was so much more fun than actually getting the perfect shots. That’s Paris.
14. Snapped this of the photographer while taking a break after we had gotten everything we wanted from the rooftop of the Louvre. Of the hundreds of photos we took of the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, and the Pyramid, etc. etc., this was my favorite shot of the day. Never fails.
15. The funny thing about the gardens of the Palais-Royal is that it’s a hidden gym that has not been hidden for few hundred of years. It’s uncrowded and lined with anything from uncrowded cafés to Michelin restaurants.
16. Snapped this photo on my way out of Luxembourg Gardens. The shoes off is as Johnny Book as it gets.
17. Before Covid, and before Rodin Museum did a recent remodel, which I’ve heard is sensationally done, they offered these Goldilocks perfect half-sized bottles of rosé. Just the right size. I don’t know if they will still offer such things after Covid, but the point is that Rodin offers travelers a way to be with Paris while still inside the museum. A rare gift. That’s why Rodin is always at the top of my list for museum recommendations in Paris.
18. The outdoor café at Rodin. Usually when entering a museum you have to leave Paris outside, but inside Rodin, Paris is already waiting for you, saving you a seat.
19. Just another reason why Rodin museum is at the top of my recommendations list for the world.
20. There are places where you can listen to a podcast, and then there are places, like Rodin, where are you can listen to a podcast while sitting next to some of the greatest sculpture to have ever existed.
21. The café bars are the drive-throughs of Paris. It is always very acceptable to sit down without a reservation, order a quick espresso, have your caffeine pick me up, pay, and then leave. You’re not expected to order anything else.
22. The tables of this café had placemats on the tables, which indicated it was more of a restaurant/waiter situation. Accordingly, I just sat at the bar and had a quick espresso, which is what’s expected at the bar. These little espresso bars are God-sends to travel writers putting in 18 hour days walking Paris. Poor us.
23. A quick shot of espresso and then it’s back to the streets of Paris you go.