Paris tempts you with food, overwhelms you with culture and envelops you in activity. Buffeted by the language and badgered by the traffic, and with so much to do and see, visitors are easily overwhelmed. So wouldn't it be great to find a small, graceful lodging in the center of Paris, convenient to food and fun, inexpensive and totally peaceful? It exists. It's a Zen center.
My wife and I don't follow the path or practice the meditation. But on a recent trip to Paris, Grazyna Perl, Polish-born, American-married "Dharma master," welcomed us to the Centre Parisien de Zen, where she and her husband rent studio apartments to visitors.
From the bustling Rue de Lyon in the 12th Arrondissement, we could walk through two gates, under a canopy of dark green leaves, and emerge into a small, gardened courtyard. There were no telephones or TVs in the rooms (though one of each was available in a common room), no smoking, and all guests removed their shoes on entering. Enormous casement windows in every room opened onto the garden.
It was five minutes to the Place de la Bastille, where we could catch the Metro, step into the newly popular 11th Arrondissement, or sit in a cafe, observing the throngs. In the other direction lay the Viaduc des Arts, an old railway viaduct that now carries a landscaped walkway along its top and trendy new stores below.
This being Paris, we found half a dozen places nearby to buy fresh bread. Our favorite became Boulangerie Bazin, at Rue de Chareton and Rue Emilo Castelar. We ate the bakery's baguettes, along with fresh Normandy butter, fruit and a wonderful pastry called pain au raisin, every morning at our small dining table.
After stopping at the nearby ATM we would walk to the open-air markets. Sometimes we'd shop for food for dinner, which we'd cook later in our kitchen. On other days, we'd picnic in the courtyard or down by the nearby canal, which frequently hosts antiques shows, carnivals, rock concerts and art shows.
Within a block of the Zen center are two pharmacies, a Turkish fast-food eatery and the Parisian equivalent of a 7-Eleven, which also carries fresh fruits and vegetables. Within two blocks are a laundromat, wine store and several decent restaurants. And a 20-minute walk brings you to Au C'Amelot, at 50 Rue Amelot, for dinner. With 12 tables, a homey mismatch of chairs and tablecloths and a menu that offers a choice only in dessert, the restaurant served us one of the best meals of our lives--for $36 per person, including tax, tip and a bottle of wine.
Our stay at the Paris Zen Center wasn't just relaxing, it was cheap. The center rents rooms only for a week or more, and the rate ($238 a week for one, or $381 for two sharing a studio) works out to about $54 a night double--a great bargain for spotless quarters with private bathroom and small kitchen. For two weeks, the rate is about $476 for one, $762 for two.
There are quirks, of course. Only six rooms are available, the comfortable mattresses (not futons) rest on the floor, and since this is more an apartment than a hotel, the sheets are changed and rooms cleaned only once a week. But on the other hand, Perl, an accomplished artist who is fluent in Polish, French and English, displays her art work in the guest quarters and occasionally hosts art shows for other Parisian artists in one of the commonrooms. Furthermore, the meditation room is open to any guest for group meditation or individual practice--something we may be tempted to try on our next stay.
Grazyna and Jacob Perl Centre Parisien de Zen, 35 Rue de Lyon, 75012 Paris, telephone 011-331-44-87-08-13.