Art of the Song

Cultural Permission to Create

Feeling at Home as a Writer

By Eric Maisel, PhD | Posted 7/1/07 | Updated 5/8/23

Each time I arrive in Paris I head directly for the Place des Vosges, the most beautiful square in the world.

How many writers and painters have stumbled upon this famous Marais square and said, "Oh, I see. This is why I came to Paris!"?

Once discovered, it becomes a place to be remembered. A working artist can spend whole days there, writing, soaking up the ancient and the contemporary, and living ideally. Surrounded by Renaissance townhouses whose street-level arcades are filled with cafés, art galleries, and, in summer, classical musicians, it is lively, quiet; shady; safe, inviting and gorgeous.

You can write for an hour, move to a café table under the arcade for an espresso, write some more, stroll twice around the square, and resume your writing.

What is the magic of this place? The wrought iron lamps are certainly beautiful, as are the low wrought iron fences shaped like bent twigs. The placement of the fountains is right, the arcades that surround the square are right, the red brick mansions are right, it is all right, but I don't believe its allure is only about golden proportions.

It is the zeitgeist, the ethic, the cultural imperative. Here you are encouraged to sit and write and people watch, to adjourn to a neighboring cafe and write and people watch some more, and pass an entire day this way.

This is not encouragement that you will receive in America.

You feel at home in Paris because the things that you care about — strolling, thinking, loving, creating — are built into the fabric of the city.

Despite its negatives — 18,000,000 annual tourists, 11% unemployment, large numbers of homeless people — Paris remains the place where you can feel comfortable decked out as a dreamy artist. The Place des Vosges supports your artist nature. About how many places can that be said?

It is almost 9pm. A uniformed guard begins shouting and gesticulating. He is closing the Place des Vosges. Parisian parks close at dusk.

Too bad. I will be forced to stroll the back streets of the Marais and stop for a glass of wine at a cafe. I pack up my pad and my pen. The guard is getting animated. We are not leaving quickly enough. Of course not, as he is unceremoniously rousing us from a beautiful dream.

©2007 Eric Maisel. All rights reserved.