For some, Paris is about throwing all caloric caution to the wind. For others, Paris is where you can dress up in Lanvin or Balenciaga, layer on the chicest accessories, and don the highest of Christian Louboutin heels. For still others, Paris is about sightseeing and checking out the latest exhibitions.
One key to understanding the capital is knowing that its denizens take their politics as seriously as they do the quality of their daily tartine (buttered baguette) and tasse de café. The 2007 presidential elections, for example, have already been seized on by le tout Paris. The big buzz is the rivalry between Dominique de Villepin, the devastatingly good-looking conservative prime minister, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the diminutive but charismatic interior minister. The potential candidates are wildly different, both more than 20 years younger than the current president, Jacques Chirac, and are the subject of passionate arguments. They're just part of the general excitement and optimism of Paris these days.
Suddenly, the City of Light is smoldering again. After years of being mocked for being too traditional and taking its civic pride too seriously, Paris—with its unique mix of the old and the new—is proving to be the perfect antidote to globalization. Where else could you find popular boutiques specializing in ribbons, walking canes, dollhouse furniture, and taxidermy? On the other hand, any of Paris's 20 arrondissements (really a cluster of little villages) can dramatically metamorphose from one year to the next. For instance, when the Canal St.-Martin area became the new place to live, the 10th was transformed. When renowned art galleries such as Emmanuel Perrotin moved to Rue Louise-Weiss, the 13th Arrondissement became le "it" neighborhood. The once sleepy First Arrondissement, where my husband and I moved back in 1997, was turned into a destination when the trendsetting store Colette opened on Rue St.-Honoré. Sometimes, I pine for our old diner with its cracked-leather banquettes, for a time when I could slip out to buy fresh croissants in the mornings with just my coat on over my PJ's.
However, adapting is essential to life in Paris. As is being in the know. So, I've dug deep into my little black book and badgered all my stylish Parisian friends for this exhaustive guide to a town of a thousand faces. Just remember: Come with an open heart, don't forget to say "Bonjour" when you enter a shop or to hold the door when exiting the Métro. That, and the following recommendations, should put you on the right track.