Three Courses, 20 Euros: The Affordable Dining Renaissance in Paris


By Alexander Lobrano in The New York Times

The food is so good at these six restaurants, you’d want to go even if their prices weren’t so low.

Not only will you get a good meal at Bouillon Julien, you will also be served in one of the most beautiful dining rooms in Paris: an early 20th-century space in the 10th Arrondissement.CreditCreditJoann Pai for The New York Times
  • April 10, 2019

On a drizzly night in Paris, a crowd spilled out the door of Bouillon Julien and onto the slick sidewalk lining the rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis. The lure was a bargain-priced meal that promised to be surprising for both its quality and reasonable price: less than 20 euros, or about $23, for a three-course dinner with a glass of wine.

Even before the gilets jaunes, or yellow-vested demonstrators, first took to the streets of the French capital last November to protest higher fuel taxes against a backdrop of declining middle-class buying power, Paris was in the midst of a revival of its budget-priced dining scene. The surprise is the difference between the new places and those rock-of-ages cheap addresses in guidebooks for budget travelers, restaurants with menus so immutable that three generations of the same family might have had the same shoe-leather-tough boeuf bourguignon during their penny-wise visits to Paris. The food at many of these recently opened restaurants is often so good you’d want to go even if their prices weren’t so low.

The new affordable dining trend is no more evident than in the comeback of the city’s bouillons — those working-class restaurants that thrived in Paris during the 19th century. “In an age of globalization, eating a meal at a bouillon is an affirmation of Gallic identity, since the comfort food we serve is so traditionally French,” said Christophe Joulie, director of the Groupe Joulie, which owns and runs a number of brasseries in Paris, along with Bouillon Chartier, the 1896 vintage bouillon the company acquired in 2006.

By “traditionally French,” Mr. Joulie was referring to dishes like marinated leeks, canard confit (duck preserved in its own fat) and choucroute Alsacienne (sauerkraut garnished with pork and sausage). “Everyone loves a bargain, especially at a time of economic uncertainty.” he said. “A three-course meal of freshly cooked, on-the-premises food for 20 euros served in 30 minutes — has never been more popular.” (So popular, that Mr. Joulie revived the original second address of Chartier near the Gare Montparnasse on the Left Bank in February.)

So whether you want traditional French comfort food — perhaps a soothing blanquette de veau (stewed veal in cream sauce) — or prefer something more inventive like the terrine of pot au feu with salad and pickled vegetables recently served at Le Cadoret, you can now find restaurants, many in quiet, outlying residential neighborhoods, where a memorable three-course meal won’t cost a small fortune. Here are six of the best.Sautéed shrimp over black rice, and escargots at Bouillon Julien.CreditJoann Pai for The New York Times

Sautéed shrimp over black rice, and escargots at Bouillon Julien.CreditJoann Pai for The New York Times

Not only will you get a very good French meal here, you will also be served in one of the most beautiful dining rooms in Paris: a landmark 1906 vintage space in the gentrifying 10th Arrondissement, with an original pewter-clad mahogany bar by the famous Art Nouveau artist Louis Majorelle, and four stained-glass murals by Louis Trézel.

Until recently, this space was called Brasserie Julien, part of the now-defunct Brasserie Flo chain. An average three-course meal here ran about 60 euros. When the new owner, Jean-Noël Dron, bought it last year, he wanted to reboot it for the 21st century, so he followed the motto of the founder, Edouard Fournier: “Ici, tout est beau, bon, pas cher” (“Here, everything is beautiful, good and inexpensive”). He also hired the chef Christophe Moisand away from the Hotel Westminster to produce a changing menu that runs to lentil salad with duck foie gras, grilled sausage with potato purée, and chocolate mousse.

A recent lunch included pumpkin soup and a casserole of Belgian endive wrapped in ham in Mornay sauce, a satisfyingly sturdy dish that made me nostalgic for the French grandmother I never had. The crème caramel tasted as though it might have been made from a mix, but a small carafe of the house white wine for 3.40 euros was just fine. They take reservations, so book in advance to skip the line.

Bouillon Julien, 16 rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, 10th Arrondissement, Entrees from 8.80 euros to 14 euros.

Only in Paris, will you find such a nonchalant juxtaposition of gastronomy and pornography as the one in the city’s Pigalle district, which has become a hipster neighborhood on its side streets but still recalls Times Square circa 1980 along its boulevards. Erotica is not the reason for the long lines at both lunch and dinner at the two-year old Bouillon Pigalle, however. This place serves satisfying dishes from a menu that changes regularly.

Dining with a friend from Los Angeles, who was as skeptical as I was that we would eat well for so little money, we were seated for dinner — after a 20-minute wait — in a lively 300-seat dining room spread out on two floors. We started with three Gallic classics: oeufs mayonnaise, soupe à l’oignon and foie gras with onion jam. We were especially surprised by the quality of the unctuous, fully flavored foie gras. Generous main courses of blanquette de veau and salmon in sorrel sauce were full of flavor; homey desserts include rice pudding with caramel sauce and île flottante (small clouds of fresh meringue atop a pool of sauce anglaise). It’s even possible to add a 50-centiliter carafe of house wine to your order and still get away for 20 euros a person. No reservations, so get here early or late — they serve nonstop from noon to midnight seven days a week. (A second branch of Bouillon Pigalle is scheduled to open near the Place de la République later this year.)

Bouillon Pigalle, 22 boulevard de Clichy, 18th Arrondissement, Entrees from 8.50 euros to 14 euros.

For the French, Les Routiers, an association of mostly roadside restaurants represented by a graphic sign of the same two words in white sans serif letters on a circular, blue-and-red background, strums chords of happy 1950s and 60s nostalgia — similar to those once evoked by the orange roofs of the Howard Johnson’s restaurant chain in the United States. The difference is that the French label — which was founded in 1937 when two journalists published “La Route Facile,” a guide for truckers that highlighted restaurants with good cheap eats and useful facilities — had a blue-collar, rather than middle-class family, allure. Now Margot and Félix Dumant, twins from a restaurant-owning family, have mined the chain’s retro appeal with several studiously decorated bistros that serve up a menu so profoundly Gaullish that Charles de Gaulle himself would probably have crowed with pleasure.

Aux Bons Crus, which is part of Les Routiers and one of four within Paris, has been a hit ever since it opened last fall in the 11th Arrondissement.

A friend and I recently had an excellent meal that included beet salad with a mimosa garnish (sieved hard-cooked egg); curly endive salad with a poached egg and lardons (chunks of bacon); stuffed cabbage and quenelles de brochet (pike perch dumplings in a pale pink crayfish sauce) from Bobosse, a celebrated charcutier in Lyon; and a shared order of Crêpes Suzette flambéed in Grand Marnier. The menu changes monthly.

Aux Bons Crus, 54 Rue Godefroy Cavaignac, 11th Arrondissement, Entrees from 12 to 19 euros.

In the 1980s, the Bastille district was the city’s young night life zone, not unlike Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in its early heyday. Now people come here for another reason: its restaurants. One that locals don’t want you to know about is this almost year-and-a-half old Buffet, an annex of Au Passage, a popular modern bistrot à vins, on a side street. With a 1950s-style cracked-tile floor, globe lights and wood tables, it looks like the subject of an Édouard Boubat photograph of postwar Paris, and it pulls a loyal crowd of regulars (some who make a daily appearance), drawn by the contemporary dishes listed on the chalkboard menu. The great buy here is the prix fixe menu at 16.50 and 19 euros served on Saturday, the only day they’re open for lunch. For dinner you can order dishes that might include lentil salad with fresh goat cheese, lamb-and-prune Parmentier (a French take on shepherd’s pie), roasted free-ranged pork belly with greens, and a runny chocolate-chestnut cake by the Portuguese chef Luis Miguel Andrade for less than 25 euros, without wine.

Buffet, 8 rue de la Main d’Or, 11th Arrondissement, Average entrees cost about 16 euros.

It’s a bit of a trek to get to Belleville, the working-class neighborhood on the northeastern edge of Paris where Édith Piaf was born, but food-loving locals and visitors have been heading to this gentrifying, but still earthy and unpretentious neighborhood for years to eat at Le Baratin, one of the best bistros in Paris.

Good as it may be, it’s now expensive, and it can be tough to land a table. So try Le Cadoret, a modern bistro housed in a former belle epoque cafe, instead. The cornflower-blue facade has big picture windows, and inside there’s an indigo-painted zinc-topped service bar, open kitchen and wooden tables with cloth napkins and French-made Opinel knives. These latter details subtly announce the seriousness and sincerity with which the Fleuriots, a sister-and-brother team — Léa cooks and Louis-Marie runs the dining room — created their restaurant. Named after their grandmother’s farm in Normandy, the restaurant is all about quality — the cooking, the hospitality, the wines and décor. After an excellent three-course prix fixe lunch for 20 euros — tiny mussels cooked in a creamy saffron-spiked bisque, haddock in a coriander court bouillon with mushrooms and potato purée, and baked apple lashed with caramel, I came back for dinner: pickled candy beets with faisselle (fresh cheese), steak with homemade frites and Béarnaise sauce, and a quivering, bubble-pocked, caramel-laced eggy-tasting crème caramel. They also offer a two-course lunch menu for 17 euros.

Le Cadoret, 1 rue Pradier, 19th Arrondissement, Tel. (33) 01-53-21-92-13. Average entrees cost about 15 euros.

The serial restaurateur Florent Ciccoli has his finger on the pulse of what food-loving young Parisians like to eat these days, and he also knows what they’re willing to spend. This is why his revamped corner cafe, with a copper-fronted bar and retro green-and-topaz wallpaper, just off the Place Léon Blum in the 11th Arrondissement, has become such a hit since it opened two years ago. Mr. Ciccoli understands that younger Parisians have more cosmopolitan tastes than their parents, which means their comfort foods are as likely to come from Italy, Lebanon and North Africa as the Perigord or Provence. This is why variously garnished pizzettes, or individual pizzas made with fluffy yeast-raised dough, have become a signature starter of the three-course, 20-euro lunch menu here, a meal so popular that reservations are essential. A recent lunch here with a friend included a pizzette topped with melted taleggio cheese and studded with fleshy black olives, and a cultural mash-up of pork kefta (these meatballs are normally made with lamb in the non-pork-eating Muslim world) with salad and labneh. Main courses were excellent, too, including a rump steak topped with a thin slice of foie gras on potato gratin, and cuttlefish with Espelette pepper and winter vegetables. At dinner, small plates are served a la carte, including caillette — a caul-fat wrapped herb-filled sausage patty garnished with pickled mustard seeds on a bed of potato purée, or blood sausage with roasted corn and guindillas (pickled green peppers from Spanish Basque Country). Desserts are excellent, too, including mirabelle tart with frangipani, or lemon tart with candied grapefruit peel.

Café du Coin, 9 Rue Camille Desmoulins, 11th Arrondissement, Tel. (33) 01-48-04-82-46. Average entrees cost about 15 euros.

Follow NY Times Travel on TwitterInstagram and Facebook.Get weekly updates from our Travel Dispatch newsletter, with tips on traveling smarter, destination coverage and photos from all over the world.A version of this article appears in print on April 13, 2019, on Page TR9 of the New York edition with the headline: ‘Cheap Eats’ Sounds Classier When You Say It in French. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | SubscribeREAD 108 COMMENT

Paris’s Cathedral of Imagination and Memory

Sacred symbol, tourist attraction, beacon for visitors and locals alike: After the fire, writers reflect on the building that has been both constant and ever-shifting in the life of Paris.

Cherry blossoms bloom near Notre-Dame earlier this month.CreditCreditGetty Images

April 16, 2019

I’m embarrassed by the thought of it now, nearly 30 years later: me busking in the shadow of Notre-Dame, guitar case open for donations as I belted out Bob Dylan and Neil Young songs. I was awful, yet another contributor to a particular strain of noise pollution that has degraded the quality of life in European city centers at least since Bob Marley’s “Exodus” came out. But back then you could make a lot of money in Paris if you sang with a bona fide American accent. So, that’s what I did night after night, planting myself at the edge of the cathedral’s tourist-choked parvis and parlaying an eight-song repertoire from the Liberal Arts College Songbook into a not-insignificant revenue stream.

If you were new to Paris, as I was, Notre-Dame is just where you ended up. It was a lodestar, a known center from which one’s understanding of the city crept tentatively outward. Indeed it was the center of the center, rising in its audacious immensity from the bedrock of the Île de la Cité, Paris’s historical nucleus, and exerting its gravity across the arrondissements with a force that no other structure — not even the Eiffel Tower — could summon. Really, where else was I going to go?

It’s been surmised that the stone carvers tasked with creating the hundreds of figures adorning the portals of the cathedral enlisted drunks and vagrants to sit as models. “Thus,” observes Luc Sante in “The Other Paris,” “the physical trace of the rabble is retained in the oldest, most august, most sanctified monument of the city.” I take comfort in that notion, wincing a little less when I recall the loud, quay side drinking sessions, usually with musicians similarly bereft of talent, into which my nightly balladeering typically descended. I’d seen the rabble, and the rabble was us.

Eventually I stopped busking in front of Notre-Dame and sought out trouble in other parts of Paris, the Île de la Cité becoming in my mind a blandly familiar, anodyne quarter that I’d traverse when traveling from Left Bank to Right Bank or vice versa. Hurrying along the Rue de la Cité, I’d glance at Notre-Dame’s gargoyle-studded towers without giving a thought to the sheer weight of the spiritual aspirations concentrated in those stones, which had been painstakingly placed one atop the other during more than a century of continuous construction by builders whose names were never recorded, in a testament to piety and what the historian William Manchester called “medieval man’s total lack of ego

If only the same could have been said of me. Like countless Paris expats, I fancied myself the antihero of my own romantic narrative, the great cathedral serving merely as a picturesque backdrop. And truth be told, I had become something of a snob when it came to open-air revelry in Paris, my tastes soon inclining toward church squares of more intimate dimensions: St.-Sulpice, say, or St.-Étienne-du-Mont. For all its grandeur, Notre-Dame was for greenhorns.

Maybe it still is, though the last time I paid a visit to the Île de la Cité, I didn’t see any buskers. The city has installed planters and barriers that seem designed to move tourists efficiently across the parvis and discourage the kind of aimless promenading that kept the francs flying into my guitar case all those years ago. I did, however, spot a few questionable-looking 20-somethings passing a bottle in the Square de l’Île de France, the triangular park that constitutes the cathedral’s backyard. The sight was reassuring: Fatuous youth would forever be drawn here, and Notre-Dame would forever accommodate them, as permanent as a mountain of granite. Funny how easily such certainties can be singed. DAVID McANINCH

[Read about the week David McAninch spent walking around the perimeter of Paris.]A photograph of Notre-Dame, circa 1860s, by Édouard Baldus.CreditGetty Images

A photograph of Notre-Dame, circa 1860s, by Édouard Baldus. CreditGetty Images

It always seemed to be there, as much fortress as cathedral, looming over the city. It was a wonderful sight, dominating its little island, reminding me, when I bothered to think about it, of Parisian complexity: tourist attraction, sacred edifice, Victor Hugo and Disney cartoons.

Even as tourists, my wife and I would sometimes have lunch on a Sunday at a little restaurant with a fireplace in sight of Notre-Dame de Paris, Our Lady of Paris. One evening we took a bateau mouche, passing by the cathedral’s extraordinary stones, its spire lit and imposing.

Once or twice we had dinner at La Tour d’Argent, the ancient and intermittently excellent restaurant, famous for its numbered pressed duck, but more cherished for its tables that faced the cathedral, lit up as only Paris can light up its monuments, sparking a feeling both personal and spectacular.

Notre-Dame was always the backdrop for a nice walk along the embankment to buy our cat pots of grass at a flower shop along the quay. But usually in a great rush to get somewhere — to work, to an appointment — the crowds surging around Notre-Dame were a nuisance, and one rarely looked up at the amazing bell towers and spire.

And, of course, I sometimes went inside Notre-Dame, if rarely, pushing through the tourists to get a sense of the sacral and the holy, to see the magnificent rose windows, to gauge the immense space, to contemplate what some believed to be the crown of thorns Jesus wore on the cross. And yes, even to light a candle, once, for my dead parents and sister.

When we lived in Paris, Notre-Dame was the backdrop for some of the necessary nonsense of everyday life. It sits across from the Préfecture de Police de Paris — imposing in its own way — where we regularly went, mounds of documents in hand, to get our cartes de séjour, which let us Americans live and work in Paris. The experience was never pleasant, exactly, trying to be perfect for bored police officers. My wife was especially good at disarming them, usually by noticing the photo of a pet to comment upon.

But it was uplifting, even in the rain, to emerge from the profane to see the cathedral, the promise of another Paris, closer to the heart. STEVEN ERLANGER

[Read Steven Erlanger’s reflections on living in Paris.]

Depending on where you live and what you believe, a church can become a mirror of your own life. Such holy places suggest the serenity of eternity, which can help you find or repair a sense of perspective when you feel damaged or chaotic or sad.

In Paris, there’s a hard wooden bench on the banks of the Seine below the Quai de la Tournelle in the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank that offers a perfect view of the backside of Notre-Dame, my preferred angle, because the elegant genius of the flying buttresses has offered me a recurring visual lesson in the power of fortitude for the 33 years I’ve lived in Paris. I’ve returned here regularly in moments of confusion and sadness. First, because the sweet smell of the dark green waters of the Seine as I descend the stone staircase to the waterside reminds me of the delicious fecundity of France, but also — and perhaps most of all — because the beauty and history of the cathedral on the other side of the river puts my problems in perspective by inducing humility.

The last time I took a good look at Notre-Dame was on a cold, rainy, early morning this past winter when I took the almost-empty Metro to the Prefecture de Police, Paris’s main police station, to collect my new 10-year residence card, my third. I stared up at the two Gothic towers of the facade and remembered the first time I’d ever seen this place, on a hot August afternoon when I was a 15-year-old boy on my first visit to Paris with my family. The city’s sensuality taunted me during our stay, seducing me with pleasures I didn’t completely understand and which were just out of reach.

After a month of traveling in Europe with my mother and brothers, I was frankly weary of visiting churches. I’d had my fill of their big gloomy paintings, those alarming bits and pieces of saints known as relics, and the slightly melancholy smell of candle wax, the eternal scent of the hope found in faith. But on that bright day, this cathedral was different from the others, because it moved me, and not so much in terms of faith, as far as my adolescent mind had any ability to grapple with that concept, but as a place that would come to anchor a dream.

I had fallen hard for Paris, and Notre-Dame, the heart of the city I’d become besotted with, offered hope that — even if I was from Connecticut — maybe one day I, too, could become a Parisian. There was something in the mesmerizing light of the sun streaming through the exultant kaleidoscope of stained glass that made me believe this might just be possible. Sixteen years later, I heaved my big tweed-sided suitcase onto a platform at the Gare du Nord after a long three-part (train, boat, train) journey from London, where I’d been living, and began my new life in Paris.

My first apartment was near the Sorbonne on the Left Bank, and so Notre-Dame amazed me anew every day as I walked to and from work at an office near the Place de la Concorde. The cathedral became a fixture of my daily life. Miraculously, I wasn’t a tourist anymore, but a fledgling Parisian. ALEXANDER LOBRANO

[Alexander Lobrano recently wrote about the affordable dining renaissance happening in Paris.]

To understand the power of the mighty organ at Notre-Dame, all you had to do was stand outside. At night, when the giant wooden doors were shuttered and the cathedral looked like a sleeping giant, I would sometimes be lucky enough to hear the rich but muted strain of music floating from the stone edifice while I was out for an evening stroll.

A talented musician was sitting inside, alone, high above the pews, doing an after-hours practice recital on the great organ’s five stacked keyboards for an upcoming concert. The cathedral’s walls were so thick, and yet pieces of the melody were punching their way from 7,800 pipes into the wider world.

I’ve lived in the center of Paris for years, and one of the things I love best about this city is taking an after-dinner walk to Notre-Dame with my husband just to soak in the Gothic facade, the monstrous gargoyles and the darkened rose windows. We typically make our way through the Marais and toward the Pont Louis Philippe to cross the Seine. No matter how many times we’ve seen the ivory towers of Notre-Dame soar above the tip of the Île St.-Louis, they are always breathtaking.

On summer nights, the area around Notre-Dame tends to be packed with tourists, skateboarders, fire dancers and sidewalk musicians. But especially in the quiet of winter, in the most special moments during these walks, we’d be stopped in our tracks on the parvis by the unexpected tones of the organ rising from behind the statues of saints and kings.

Being inside Notre-Dame while the organ was playing was like being taken to another dimension. Last summer, during a Bach concert, the heavy stone floors seemed to vibrate from the sheer level of decibels created with wood, air and pipes. Notre-Dame’s cavernous interior created a splendid acoustic chamber for the notes to bloom. The organ itself radiated from an ornate carved wooden base supporting a delicate forest of steel pipes, framed by the pinkish-blue halo of the north rose window.

So it was with horror that we watched the flames of Monday’s terrible fire spreading toward Notre-Dame’s massive towers, marching ever closer to the giant bells and the cathedral’s musical heart. The organ was installed in 1868 during Notre-Dame’s last major renovation at the direction of the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who erected the spire that melted away in Monday’s flames. And now, it is an immense relief to see that many of Notre-Dame’s most precious treasures — including the organ — had been saved.

But when will it be played again? LIZ ALDERMAN

[Read Liz Alderman on the city she loves.]

I was visiting Paris on Sept. 11, 2001. It’s hard to describe how incomprehensible it was to return to a hotel room at the end of the day, blithely unaware, and see the images of destruction flicker across the TV screen. When I finally understood what had happened, it still didn’t make sense.

So it was yesterday, as I fielded texts, watched video clips and stared at photos, goose bumps rising on my arms. How could Notre-Dame be on fire? How could history be crumbling before our eyes? Once again, it didn’t make sense.

When I lived in Paris, eight years after that 2001 visit, Notre-Dame was naturally on my circuit to take visiting friends and family. With my mother and stepfather, my nephew and niece, my four best friends from high school, I went. We admired the stained glass, climbed the towers, took countless photos. Each time, I had that sense of pride you get when you show something off that you really have nothing to do with.

More than a tourist stop, Notre-Dame was part of the fiber of my everyday life. I zoomed by it on Vélibs, working my way from the Île St.-Louis to the Left Bank. I saw it from the roof of my office on the Champs-Élysées. I sipped wine in the cafe across the street, willfully absorbing its grace.

What we all love about Paris is that time seems to stand still. So many buildings and landmarks have been preserved through the generations. It is unfathomable that anything could change that. Seeing Notre-Dame’s roof and spire engulfed in flames, I couldn’t help but see how frail everything really is.

But then I saw the pompiersworking the canvas hoses in the streets, and the crowds thronging the bridges. I heard the spontaneous singing and, finally, the decree that the fire was under control. At the end of the day, Notre-Dame’s spirit remains strong. The heart of Paris keeps beating. AMY THOMAS

[Read Amy Thomas on chocolate and Paris.]François Jousse, on the south terrace of Notre-Dame Cathedral in 2006.CreditEd Alcock for The New York TimesImageFrançois Jousse, on the south terrace of Notre-Dame Cathedral in 2006.CreditEd Alcock for The New York Times

The rooftop of Notre-Dame Cathedral had already closed to the public on the night I came to visit many years ago. But my guide was François Jousse, the chief lighting engineer for the city of Paris, and he had his own set of keys. He led the way up a winding, private stone staircase to the south roof to show off the new lighting system he had designed.

We walked a long, lead-covered stretch of roof flanked by a line of flying buttresses so close that I could touch them. Then we waited. Ed Alcock, the New York Times photographer who was with us, called it the hour “entre chien et loup” — between the dog and the wolf — the bewitching interval between sunset and darkness when it is difficult to know exactly what you are seeing.

We were deep into December, and the cold burned into my gloveless hands. Mr. Jousse paced back and forth to keep warm, smoking one French cigarillo after another as he anticipated the moment when darkness would come.

Then, as if touched by an angel’s wand, the entire southern facade of the cathedral lit up, its pillars, gargoyles and flying buttresses bathed in bright white. Giant electric light canisters worthy of a theater stage framed the walkway — too hot to touch. A second set of spotlights, beamed from same bottle-green boxes used by the booksellers who have plied their trade on the banks of the Seine for hundreds of years. A third set bolted into the Hôtel-Dieu hospital across the street completed the coat of light.

Notre-Dame, said Mr. Jousse in solemn tones, “is much more than a monument. Victor Hugo called it a vast symphony in stone, the colossal achievement of a man and a nation.”

The rooftop on which we walked is gone. The rage-filled fire on Monday engulfed it.

For me, standing on the roof of Notre-Dame that night was to stand on Paris’s history. I learned a lot about that history in researching a book about the Seine. The cathedral is the jewel of the Île de la Cité, the island in the middle of the Seine called Lutetia in ancient times. A crypt under the square in front of the cathedral holds precious remnants of the city’s past, including stones from a fourth-century B.C. wall built around the island, gold and bronze coins and amphoras.

The site of Notre-Dame even may have been a holy place in ancient times. Some archaeologists surmise that a pagan temple dedicated to the god Jupiter may have stood on the very spot where Notre-Dame was built so many centuries later.

As evidence, they point to the oldest Gallo-Roman monument ever discovered in Paris — a 17-foot stone pillar made from four blocks of stone carved with bas-reliefs. The pillar, which honored Jupiter, was discovered in 1710 during the construction of a burial vault for the archbishops of Paris in Notre-Dame.

Then came a church dedicated to Saint Stephen, a Merovingian basilica and Carolingian and Romanesque cathedrals. Perhaps that explains why Notre-Dame seems to hold within it a quiet spirituality, even for nonbelievers, and attracts even more worshipers and tourists than Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

Mr. Jousse is retired, but still revered in Paris as “the king of light.” When Notre-Dame is restored to life — as it has been so many times over the centuries — I hope that he will be there to adorn it once again in pure white. ELAINE SCIOLINO

[Read Elaine Sciolino on Paris at night.]What Does Notre-Dame Cathedral Mean to You?April 16, 2019

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Why are Americans so infatuated with Paris?

Why are Americans still so infatuated with Paris?

All photos: AFP
Last year more Americans visited Paris than any other nationality, but what is it about the City of Light that still draws millions of visitors from across the Pond? Corey Frye, an America tour guide in Paris explains.

Why are Americans so fascinated with Paris?

One could start with the fact that on Île de la Cité sits a courthouse where the gate is as old as America itself. But the allure of old objects is just the beginning.

Paris’ reputation for history and culture was exported to the far corners of the earth long ago. But for many in the U.S. it’s more than that—it represents a slightly better version of living, a return to a slower pace and a willingness to stop and smell a few roses.

READ ALSO: Paris welcomes record number of visitors as Americans top the table

This is evident in the rather simplistic Paris fantasies that Americans harbor: fingering through old vinyl at the Marché aux Puces, sniffing one’s way through a farmer’s market, or buying a handmade baguette at a boulangerie (extra points if you do it in French). None of which are particularly grandiose in their own right, but to an American francophile they mean the world.

In too many American towns those moments are long gone, tamped down in favor of efficiency and conglomerate commerce. In an increasingly strip-mall, Walmart society there’s something that feels right about individual boutiques and relationships with a vendor.

It’s inspiring to see artisans working each day to hone a craft and imbibe products with love and intent, even in the stacking of clementine pyramids at a produce stand. Whether it’s a wrought-iron balcony above your head or mosaic tiling under your feet, a walk through Paris is a walk through a gallery of little masterpieces.

Sure the Americans are filling up the Eiffel Tower and the floor space in front of Mona Lisa on a daily basis. They love those icons like all cultures, and they should.

But once those obligatory broad strokes are made, they’re also hungry for a taste of the lifestyle they’ve grown up hearing about.

Luckily Paris tends to deliver remarkably well on those promises: yes the wine is cheaper than Coke and tastes really nice; yes you can buy one espresso and watch the world go by for half a day; yes the locals pay attention to their clothes and dash around on pastel-colored Vespas with impeccable hair and seemingly not a care in the world.

The city has also made itself more attractive to Americans. Paris veterans who have come back over decades all say that the cliché of the rude Parisian, while perhaps true 20 or 30 years ago, isn’t the case today. Can a server have a bad day and get testy?

Sure. But Parisians are cosmopolitan and quite culturally aware when it comes to the United States. Whereas older generations may have seen English as a linguistic hand grenade set to destroy their culture, today’s younger Parisian wears competency in spoken English like a badge of honor.

This means that social interactions are generally smoother than travelers expect, and while making an effort in the local language is always the best default, it’s not at all a pre-requisite for enjoying Paris.

Paris has its faults, no doubt. But to an American it still represents, despite cigarette smoke and graffiti and dog droppings on the sidewalk, a slice of the good life.

It’s the land of lusciously unpasteurized butter and doctor’s visits that don’t require a bank loan.

It’s the place of mom-and-pop shops that are happy to give up two days’ worth of revenue each week if it means more time at home with family. It’s a city where an unexpected organ rehearsal inside Saint Sulpice can kick off any time, and where the sun can kiss the Seine at dusk and create an Impressionist composition in front of your eyes.

In a word, it’s Paris—and more than enough to keep the French version of the American dream (or the American version of the French dream?) alive and well.

Thank you to Corey Frye, an American tour guide, blogger and photographer living in Paris. He shares the city’s details via free live-stream video tours on his Facebook page, A French Frye in Paris, as well as on his blog by the same name. This article was pasted here without permission. I hope that’s okay!