If you’ve been following this baby of a blog that I recently created, it’s probably no secret to you that I’m a raging Francophile. In my mind, France embodies everything that is good in this world: amazing food, fashion, and romance (in order of importance, of course). On my dreamiest days, I picture myself in a bright-yellow, eyelet dress, riding a bike with a baguette-stuffed basket on the front, coasting lazily through fields of lavender on my way home from town.
Make no mistake… I would probably not fit in very well in France. First off, as it turns out, I am actually not French. I had a hard time coming to terms with this fact. But after admitting to myself that a) I was not born in France, b) I do not speak French fluently, and c) I have no French relatives, I was forced to draw the only logical conclusion. Also, I’m pretty boorish for a lady. Don’t let the fantasy eyelet dress fool you. I tell dirty jokes, laugh very loudly, and rather enjoy making a spectacle of myself. Very un-chic.
Luckily, I happen to live in a city that allows me to act out some of my French fantasies and doesn’t raise an eyebrow while I’m doing so. Washington, DC is a planned city, designed by French-born architect Pierre L’Enfant. The wide avenues radiating from the city’s majestic landmarks and monuments were meant to evoke the feel of Paris. DC’s grandest avenue is the National Mall, which bears a striking resemblance to Paris’s Champs-Élysées; each is dotted with famous national landmarks, spaced at regular intervals. Fortunately, my walk home from work takes me down our avenue, past the Capital and Washington Monument. More than once I’ve caught myself reminiscing about my trips to our sister city across the pond.
I’ll be the first to admit that Washington lacks that certain Je ne sais quoi of Paris. You would be hard-pressed to find a winding alleyway in DC, and sidewalk cafés are not spilling out into every street. But if you look hard enough, you can find charm here. Trendy Dupont Circle is home to the lion’s share of the city’s 176 foreign embassy houses, making it a neighborhood full of stately mansions and international flare. In Georgetown, upscale shops and restaurants crowd cobblestone streets. The Eastern Market area features a large, open-air market and is lined with beautiful, multi-colored Victorian row homes.
Cultural opportunities in Washington go beyond the Americana associated with some of our most frequently visited museums and monuments. The Phillips Collection and Kreeger Museum both feature wonderful collections from the French Impressionists. If I ever wanted to go to church, you can bet I’ll head straight for the National Cathedral, which has elements of Paris’s gothic Cathédral Notre Dame. Whether you’re religious or not, it’s great for viewing gorgeous architecture. With such a large international community, Washingtonians have easy access to a variety of multi-cultural events. In an effort to become more connected to my adoptive homeland, I’ve even started taking French language classes from chic ladies at the Alliance Française de Washington.
Washington’s farmers’ markets, metro train system (which just so happens to share a name with Paris’s underground), and small, specialty shops encourage a European lifestyle that leaves DC citizens healthy (Washington is consistently ranked as one of the fittest cities in the nation) and donning a relatively small carbon footprint. And I can’t speak for my fellow Washingtonians, but I really enjoy life. I’m not climbing the corporate ladder, and I’m not married with children (why are these the only two options for American women these days?!), but I’m one of the most successful people I know when it comes to having a really good time. Having access to a plethora of amazing restaurants and bars helps. But on nights when we can’t make it out, my boyfriend and I split a bottle of wine (Alsatian, obviously) from the well-stocked liquor store a block from our house and linger over a dinner made from fresh, local products. It’s our little way of channeling the European philosophy that one should savor life’s daily gifts. And it will have to do until my next trip home… ahem, I mean back.
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