I hooked up in Paris with my friend Raegan last September and she was interested in visiting some the places where I grew up. We took the RER to the suburbs east of Paris and got off at Noisy-Champs. We walked to my parents’ former house –where I lived until I moved to the US– and then to the elementary school I attended when I was 10 years old. We stood at the gate just before noon, where many mothers were waiting to pick up their children. I usually walked home on my own for lunch but Mom would often come to get me at the end of the school day, with a pain au chocolat, un pain aux raisins, or a chausson aux pommes for my goûter.
On a whim, I decided to head out to Parmi les Fleurs, a floral shop located a mere 100 meters from the school. It also happens to stand right across from the cemetery, which is always a desirable spot when you are in the floral business. None of my family members are buried there but the florist, Elisabeth, designed my wedding bouquet in 1982. She was one of my sister’s childhood friends. I hadn’t seen her since… well, my wedding. I instantly recognized her: the blond hair gave her away. It was fun to reconnect after all these years. Her shop looked beautiful; it was inviting and uncluttered, a suggestion of how the right floral arrangement can transform your space.
I don’t routinely draw comparisons between the French and American cultures but I do believe that we –the French– have a special relationship with flowers. Take weddings as an example. In the US, the bride pretty much makes all decisions on flowers (the bouquet and boutonnieres, of course, but also the arrangements that will be displayed at the church, reception, etc.) There is a lot of emphasis on theme, color, and coordination: there is a master plan and interference is not welcomed. When you live in France, you wouldn’t dream of attending a wedding and not sending your own flowers. Same thing for a funeral: it is de rigueur to send flowers, whether you’re able to attend or not.
And there is Valentine’s, and Mother’s Day, and anniversaries. Even with no special occasion in sight, the French purchase a lot of flowers for their own homes; while growing up, I would often come home and notice that Mom had just bought a bouquet of mimosa, a pot of hyacinths or cyclamens, a bunch of tulips, or a bouquet composé. Just because it looked nice and smelled good. My grandmother would cut roses, gladiolus, or dahlias from her garden and set them out in a vase on the kitchen table.
Floral shops in Paris are almost –almost– as ubiquitous as pharmacies and pâtisseries. Maybe that gives you an idea of where our priorities lie. When I perused a batch of photos recently, I realized that floral shops tend to be a favorite subject of mine. Maybe I should buy more fresh flowers instead of immortalizing them digitally? Anyway, I’m happy to share some of my favorite pictures of floral shops all over Paris. Sorry, no scratch and sniff yet…
Le pain au chocolat: puff pastry (like a croissant) with a chocolate bar in the center
Le pain aux raisins: raisin snail-type pastry
Le chausson aux pommes: lit. a slipper with apples; half-moon shaped puff pastry filled with applesauce
Parmi les fleurs: among the flowers
De rigueur: customary
Le bouquet composé: lit. a composed bouquet of flowers, a floral arrangement
La pâtisserie: pastry shop