I wrote three letters from Paris in 2008 and it was prior to creating my own blog so since people are still asking me what do we do in Paris on our regular visits I thought I would add the letters along with a few photos.
It is 11.45 am in Australia and I have been woken by a phone call on John’s mobile – so it is 3.45am in the morning here. The number does not show on the phone. Sometimes it is a call from a wholesale fruit or vegetable agent advising John of a donation for Foodbank and of course they do not know John is out of the country. We take our ‘message bank’ off when travelling otherwise we end up paying Telstra the exorbitant international rates, even for the incoming calls and another charge to simply retrieve messages.
We settled in quickly in our St Germain des Pres address, the most prestigious we have had so far, it is right in the midst of the publishing and visual art district. This is also the place to find high-end interior design and textile company showrooms for the trade, they are so beautifully presented and the public are welcome to browse but must buy through their interior designers.
If you cross over Blvd St Germain, going south toward Montparnesse all the leading international fashion designers are to be found. Of course they are over on the right bank as well. Loved this way to enter Goyard.
But what is special about shopping or ‘window shopping’ in Paris is the quantity of Parisian fashion designers that can thrive by just having one boutique. Even underwear designers, and there are several I have seen that are outrageously expensive, even by my standards! The same goes for purveyors of quality food. There are ‘chocolatiers’ of long standing that I have never heard of outside of Paris. The most successful have possibly three locations but that is still only in Paris. They don’t go global so they can control the quality.
I keep seeing the most wonderful edibles so pace myself and buy something fabulous every other day, taking my purchase home first to photograph it, the former food stylist in me cannot resist an opportunity to record and maintain the memory since I cannot see or buy these amazing pastries or chocolates back home. I have tried photographing some through the windows but risk the wrath of the shop owners and reflection of glass hampers the clarity.
Our apartment resembles one of the interior design showrooms in our district. An eclectic mix of furniture, there are two Indian silver framed mirrors, in the same room with an equally large baroque style gilded mirror and then throw in two art deco mirrored table lamps. It is no wonder the French watch their weight with endless opportunities to study their reflections. A bit campy really, and we were not surprised to find that it is owned by two guys who live in New York. Our bed has a fan of turquoise-to-black feathers pinned to each end of the bed head with a silver clasp! Say no more I hear your chorus.
The first day that we arrived we joined up John at a gym for a month 133.00 euros – it has a swimming pool built around the 1930’s and is lined with changing rooms, reminiscent of the ‘Valley’ pool in Brisbane. I did not join, as I couldn’t stand the pressure of John nagging me to get my money’s worth. He swims at 7am so I get to sleep in. After joining the gym we had to find a sports store so he could buy a set of flippers, sensibly called fins here and a bathing cap, it is compulsory to wear a cap according to the pool manager. You are only exempt if you are bald or shave your head. John thought that idea financially prudent, but in the end opted to buy the bathing cap.
The same day we lost no time in buying a monthly transport ticket that gets us all over Paris on train, bus or metro. We paid around 55.00 euros ($116.00) for that privilege and that pass is earning its keep. When we were here in May this year, it was called a ‘Carte Orange’ and they have suddenly after many years changed it to a ‘Navigo Pass’. I finally found a bus timetable large enough to read so I could figure out the system and we find the buses rather than metro allow us better views to fit more pieces of the puzzle that is Paris.
We opened our French bank account yesterday and it now feels like we are really on our way to realising our ambitions to spend more time based in Paris. The French cannot get their heads around my title being Ms, as they still want to call me Mrs and perversely will put Mrs MacAllan on our bank account and card. We even had to present our marriage certificate so they could copy and put on file. We had to provide a bill with our house address in Australia, and the other usual ID. They wanted to know our income, no evidence of proof required though, even though we had it all at the ready. They asked the value of our house, once again we just gave them a quick calculation of AUD to Euros and verbal report on the spot thereof. At the end they checked to see if we knew anything about the stock market. Did John Potter know anything about the stock market! He passed with flying colours.
We met with another ‘apartment hunter’ Donna an American woman who wrote to us a couple of months ago when she heard of our mission. Her rate is a little lower than the first couple we met but she doesn’t take you through the process as the Halvorsen couple have stated. As it turned out she knows them also. She invited us to a wine tasting which she organised so we felt like locals turning up to that ‘insider’ event.
This week we saw the big retrospective for the recently retired Valentino (he doesn’t need a last name) at the Decorative Arts Museum section of the Louvre. It is alone worth the trip to Paris right now, if you appreciate the art and craft of the couturier. Not being tall and slim made it easier to swallow the fact that I would never be able to afford the gowns and ensembles, although as I pointed out to John some of them would only have cost the same as a painting or sculpture of a mid-career Australian visual artist!
We were catapulted back to earth when shortly afterwards we crossed the Seine on the ‘Pont des Arts’ the wooden footbridge where a photographic exhibition was mounted to show of the effects of Malaria throughout underdeveloped countries and the ways to contain it. Not complicated, one simple answer – money.
Next a quick visit to inspect an apartment that might serve us next year when we return for a longer visit, a loft apartment in the 10th district that is supposedly an up and coming area, with artists and designers said to be moving in fast.
It is near the Canal St Martin that was restored a short time ago but you are flat-out finding the smarter end of town around here. Sometimes in these so-called revived areas many apartment buildings look run down on the outside whilst inside they have been completely renovated with a genteel courtyard entrance that surprises you. That is if you get to see the heavy wooden doors open. So we can see it is going to take some time to be sure we are even looking in the right area.
Overheard an argument in the street of couple of American tourists, both about our age, on which direction to take, she said with a frustrated tone ‘if we take your way today and it doesn’t work, we take my way tomorrow – right’. He was forced to agree to her logic. They walked off holding hands.
We returned to a museum that impressed us last visit. It now holds our title of our most interesting museum to visit in Paris. It is in the district Le Marais, The Musee de la Chasse et de la Nature. How is that for a romantic name for a gallery! Not only is this musee so quirky and interesting for its permanent exhibits of the hunters and the hunted but for its guest exhibition programme. In May this year we saw the compelling photographs of Karen Knorr, an American photographer who selected some of the musee’s stuffed animals and birds and then staged alongside the taxidermy, two of the human species in their natural state (undressed).
This time Belgian sculptor Johan Cretan had been invited to use the special ground floor exhibition gallery and also placed other works throughout the museum. His sculptures had an organic quality, some figurative and some amorphous. It is quite a contrast from most work seen coming out of the historical and prestigious Sevres Porcelain workshop where he was granted a residency.
On one of our winding walks with no particular agenda, we discovered the Village Voice bookshop, it doesn’t have the romantic legacy of the Shakespeare Bookshop founded by American Sylvia Beach but it is laid out so much better to browse. We bought the latest ‘it’ book on dining in Paris called ‘Hungry for Paris, by Alexander Lobrano. Next week we are attending a book reading by David Burke who has written Writers in Paris: Literary Lives in the City of Light. There is no charge, unlike the author events in Brisbane.
Our apartment on rue de Seine overlooks the street so even if you never went out you are treated to the most amazing sights. One evening I saw a woman downstairs on the pavement talking to a friend, she was wearing black tapered trousers and longish black shirt with an asymmetrical cut, her shoes the popular ballet style pumps. I could only see her from the back at first and wondered what she was wearing on her head, but when she turned around to face me, all was revealed, she had a huge black bow so stiffened that it stood up high on her head. This 30 something woman applied her makeup in the exaggerated strokes you would find on a rag doll. She had drawn two large red dots on her cheeks, possibly in lipstick, blatantly disobeying all the ‘make-up-artists’ rules, blend, blend, blend. She was a walking reminder of the self-portraits that Australian artist Jenny Watson has painted and drawn of herself in caricature.
On another level of sights and experiences in Paris is to find the old viaduct in the 12th. You head to Bastille on the right bank and take one of the roads leading from its roundabout, just near the Opera House side to Avenue Daumesnil. Walk down the avenue and you will see steps that lead to the top of the viaduct. A botanical surprise awaits you. A well established flowing garden that flanks a pathway of wood decking. As most Paris buildings are only about six stories high you can almost peek into the windows as you stroll. Along the way there are plenty of benches provided for resting and some strategically placed seats even higher up for prime viewing.
Under the arches of the viaduct are workshops and ateliers for artists and small businesses although I suspect in the beginning when this was created there were more consistent occupations and now some have moved on. We never did find the Phillipe Starck atelier that was supposed to occupy one of the spaces.
Some of our days turn into themes, one day we had an Arabic day by first visiting the Arab Institute – a contemporary building close to the Seine on the Left Bank. They host exhibitions, hold concerts and have a good bookshop and 3 restaurants. If those do not interest you it is still worth the visit take advantage of the rooftop restaurant terrace for more aerial style photos of Paris. Later that day we went to the Paris Mosque, visitors welcome and guided tours available at certain times for 3 euro each. To simply look around on our own (we missed the guided tour) we had to acquire an entrance ticket – that costs nothing, but it is a way of tracking how many people visit. You cannot enter the mosque itself but are free to wander around the connected buildings. We were transported back to Morocco, white marble floors, teal and dark blue tiles, courtyards of cooling fountains and plants. There is also a small cafe serving mint tea and honey laced pastries but we intend to go back and order a l’oeuf a la brik – a Tunisian speciality of egg and tuna filled crepe that we grew to love and have missed from our travels through Tunisia.
Across the road from the Mosque is the entrance to the Museum of Natural Sciences and that leads directly into the Jardin de Plantes, the city’s official botanical gardens. This attraction is probably on the second or third tier of things to do in Paris unless it is your passion. We did wonder though why it was not on our radar on our last visit to Paris but maybe seeing it in September turned out for the best as everything was in full flower. Trees so old that their branches carpeted the ground, all plants labelled and designed in the ordered and immaculate way of the French. Roz & John