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FYI...

April 4, 2013

Paris traveler: I know about the must-sees, but what are the must-eat

By some people's definition, I've never been to Paris, even though I've traveled there a half-dozen times. That's because if you handed me a list of the city's must-see attractions and asked me to check off the ones I've been to, I'd be forced to admit that I must not have seen most of them. Or if I did, they were little more than a blur.

Notre Dame, towering over the Ile de la Cite? I couldn't be bothered. The Pompidou Centre? It looks plenty cool from the outside, sure - enough to win the world's most prestigious architecture prize. But not enough for me to break my stride. Sacre Coeur? A friend dragged me up the steps, we took a quick gander, and I dragged her right back down.

Joni Mitchell once sang about wandering the Champs Elysees and "going cafe to cabaret" in that "unfettered and alive" way. But not I. My approach to that grand boulevard, and most of Paris's landmarks, is better described by Dionne Warwick: I walk on by. Quickly.

What's my rush? Why don't I stop and smell the roses - or at least ogle the stained glass? It's not that I'm uninterested in art, architecture, theater, music or other cultural touchstones of a place as rich as the City of Light. Far from it. But my primary interest commands too much of my attention, and I'm trying to pack it all in.

I skip most of the must-sees because I'm headed for the must-eats.

I know Notre Dame primarily as that imposing structure that rises into the sky on the way across the river to my favorite bakery on the Rue de Rennes - the one with the perfect financiers, those gold-brick-shaped almond cakes that I'll take over a madeleine any day of the week, Proust be damned. Pompidou's modern art museum may hold works by the likes of Dali and Kandinsky and Warhol and Calder, but I mostly think of it as eye candy for my walk to the best falafel shop in the city.

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