Kathy Borrus, author of several books about Paris, led the 400+ crowd attending the virtual Levy Lecture on Aug. 18 in some armchair travel around each arrondissement (district) of Paris. Even veteran travelers learned about new places to visit, and those who have not visited in a while (or ever) were entranced with the magical sights, lesser known parks and museums, and hidden treasures sprinkled throughout the City of Lights.
Ms. Borrus has a background in art history, shopping, and global travel. This is not a description of a trust fund babe with a faux career. For twenty years she worked for the Smithsonian Institution as the Merchandise Manager where she was responsible for finding unique items for its 25 museum stores across 12 Smithsonian buildings.
Her job took her all over the world. She has great instincts about what is new, different, or special when it comes to stores, establishments that sell food, parks, entertainment venues, and places to take great photos. All of this expertise she brought to the lecture and shared with the audience.
Paris is huge, and the arrondisements are arranged in a clockwise spiral. In front of Notre Dame there is a spot, the so-called ‘point zero,’ that is the exact center of Paris. The arrondissements clustered around the center of Paris tend to be smaller geographically, and first-time tourists tend to spend most of their time there visiting Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and other famous sights. As one moves around the city to the higher-number arrondissements, the geographical footprint is larger, and it becomes more ‘neighborhoody.’
Ms. Borrus wanted to orient the group around what she considers to be the four ‘icons’ of Paris: the Eiffel Tower, the I.M. Pei glass triangle and museum entrance located in the courtyard of the Louvre, Sacre Coeur, and Notre Dame. The group would learn new things about each of these buildings even though they are obvious tourist attractions and not ‘off the beaten path.’
Ms. Borrus mentioned she is often asked, “What’s your favorite building in Paris?” She proudly said that while she knows it’s cliché, she loves the Eiffel Tower. She loves that is so industrial, yet strikingly elegant. She spoke about the history of the tower, described opening day mishaps, and how a structure that was expected to last 20-30 years has outlived its meager projections and has become a beloved building known throughout the world. Appropriately, our tour started there, in the seventh arrondissement, abbreviated as 7e. Using a map of the city, she showed the audience how easy it is to walk from the Eiffel Tower in the 7e to the 16e, the location of the huge Trocadéro park.
Soon after the slide presentation moved to 1e and the second icon of Paris, the Louvre. Ms. Borrus’s presentation spent time in each arrondissement, pointing out personal favorites, before taking the group three kilometers out of the city to La Defense. She spoke of smaller house museums displaying private collections, new design and architectural ideas sprouting amid so many 17th and 18th century buildings, and charming markets that respond to the needs of that specific neighborhood. She shared historical facts and gossip about various artists, their models, home owners, and famous families. There were unexpected surprises and places to add to a bucket list.
The lecture was followed by questions from the audience, which Ms. Borrus answered in detail and offered suggestions for further research. An encore presentation of the lecture is available on the Levy Senior Center Foundation’s YouTube channel.