When I visited Paris when I was eight, I was enthralled by how old everything was. My grandmother’s apartment in the 17th—her entire life, really—was a glimpse into another era. I loved the tiny, rickety wood and wrought-iron elevator in my grandmother’s ancient apartment building (into which my father had once carved his initials as a child). I was dumbstruck by the centuries-old buildings and the gold-domed Invalides. In the gilded cafes, I gaped up at the ceilings, painted with ethereal clouds and cherubs, as I sipped hot chocolate from fancy cups. I loved getting dressed up and going to gleaming brasseries that appeared unchanged after over a hundred years in business. I loved how tradition reigned in all things, even the formal (albeit slightly interminable) Sunday lunches complete with heavy platters of leg of lamb. I’ll never forget the care with which the silver candlesticks were placed perfectly symmetrically back on the dining room table with the help of a ruler after being polished; or my grandmother’s labeled boxes of Hermes scarves, each identifying the season for which it would be most suitable.
When I was eighteen, it came time to venture beyond the confines of old-world Paris. Swathed in scarves and head-to-toe black, I headed off to the Latin Quarter to read great French books and scribble fervently (and, to be honest, a little endlessly) in my journal from cafés where legendary writers had done the same.