A Pirate in Paris

It’s well-known that Jimmy Buffett loves the Caribbean, the tropical island paradise. But he also recommends changing latitudes as a way of changing attitudes. And when it comes to latitude adjustment, a traveler can’t do better than Paris.

Paris is romantic. It’s intellectual. The light is different, and so is the food. Even for the uninitiated, the city can be as welcoming as it is challenging. Certainly Jimmy is hooked: despite his love of the tropics, his lyrics mention Paris more than any other city.

Like many who have spent time in the City of Light, Jimmy can sound wistful when he refers to it: “I think about Paris when I’m high on red wine; I wish I could jump on a plane,” he sings.. Even a single visit to Paris can give a traveler a proprietary feeling, the sense that here is a place where I can feel in touch with history, beauty and my own emotions, all suddenly more vivid. The memory of time spent in Paris can inspire physical longing for a return to that heightened awareness.

Jimmy’s most detailed portrait of Paris comes in the song “Quietly Making Noise” (on the album “Fruitcakes”). Traveling alone, he takes in the sights and sounds of the subway and night spots:

Down in the Metro I feel the world start to multiply.
Bastille, rubber wheels, spiked heels, subterranean lullaby.


Following the beat, I found myself in this patois spot.
Outside a blizzard was blowing, but inside the joint was hot.
Zouk songs, rubber thongs, sing-a-longs.

At the end of the song he sums up what draws him back repeatedly:

Singers and writers and poets
Have flocked here for centuries.
The City of Light is built upon mountains of memories:
Baritone saxophone, monotones.

Then there’s Paris when you’re not alone and the city brings out the lover in you. In “I Wish Lunch Could Last Forever” (on the album “Off to See the Lizard”), Jimmy describes a “covert rendezvous” that begins with a kiss and ends with “cafe au lait beneath the Paris moon.” (A true Parisian would be drinking espresso at that hour, but never mind.) In between are Parisian details like the smell of fish on the grill and walking “in time to the cathedral bell.” And in “Distantly in Love” (on the album “One Particular Harbour”), he’s alone but trying to change that situation:

Tried to phone from Paris thinking
Things could be arranged.
Me and you would rendezvous
But I found your number changed.

In the song “He Went to Paris” (on the album “A White Sport Coat & A Pink Crustacean”), Jimmy tells the story of an old man, now living in the islands, fishing, drinking and writing his memoirs. In his youth, he had turned to Paris to widen his horizons:

He went to Paris looking for answers
To questions that bothered him so.
He was impressive, young and aggressive,
Saving the world on his own.
But the warm summer breezes,
The French wines and cheeses
Put his ambitions at bay.

Paris can do that to you. The cafés beckon with a siren’s song, making you feel you’re doing what you should be, even when you’re only sucking down caffeine, people-watching and considering taking up smoking. Before you know it, you’ve extended your visit a couple of times and Key West is a distant memory.

Blame it on the Champs Elysees
Blame it on a tune
Blame it on the stroke of Monet
But you can’t escape the moon

(From “A Frenchman for the Night” on the album “Fruitcakes”)

Moonlight over the Champs Elysees. Ah, just imagine it. And start pricing airfares.

Your Own Personal Paris

If you want to walk in the footsteps of Oscar Wilde and Jimmy Buffett, Paris works any time of the year. In the winter when they have New Year’s fireworks over the Eiffel Tower and install an ice skating rink in front of Town Hall. In the spring when you can wander through the Bois de Boulogne and experience that trademark Paris beauty. In the summer, with the rest of the tourists, when a beach is set up along the Right Bank of the Seine. And in the fall, the romance of umbrellas and vin nouveau.

Any time of year you have the non-seasonal reasons to visit Paris: the restaurants, museums, architecture, public spaces, stores, even the French themselves. (Yes, despite their reputation as tourist-hating snobs, the French can be warm and helpful–as long as you put in a little effort. Speaking French to them doesn’t hurt.) A few sights you won’t want to miss:

The Louvre. Duh. From Mona (Lisa, that is) to the Winged Victory (aka Nike) to the Da Vinci Code tie-in tours, this one has it all. Take a walk in the Tuileries gardens afterwards.

Centre Pompidou. Almost as comprehensive on the modern front as the Louvre is on every other front. Don’t miss the Agam room, and the restaurant, Georges.

Musee D’Orsay. Where all the best Impressionists are found.

Eiffel Tower. A great restaurant, the Jules Verne, is about halfway up.

Notre Dame de Paris. If you visit only one church, this is the one.

Oh, let’s face it. It doesn’t matter what you do. You’re in Paris! Wear a beret. Soak it up. Hum a Buffett song. Walk for miles, wandering into cafes and chic shops. Ride the Metro, which is easy to navigate. Take a boat ride along the Seine. Alone or with the love of your life — or something in between — you won’t be disappointed.

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