Go Home, I Say. Go Home, Lie Down and Eat Lots of Potatoes

Last week I set off on the Eurostar for Paris. I met with my fellow travellers at Kings Cross, only really knowing one person – an old friend from a decade ago. I was nervous but with a sense of carpe diem that is quite alien to me, I threw myself into the mix. I had thought that the Eurostar was some kind of luxurious way of travelling – mainly due to the price of the tickets and the fact that it goes to Parie. Well anyway, it’s not luxurious or exciting – in fact it’s a bit like flying Easyjet – you’ve got limited space, no chance of relaxing, bloody air con rushing out from under the windows straight into your sardined body, and the most obnoxious, loud commuters I’ve ever known.
Both ways!

Anyway. We got there and it was all going swimmingly until we rang the landlord of the apartment we were meant to be staying in in district two, only to be told the apartment burnt down the week before and we were being moved to an apartment in district ten. Now, in hindsight, that’s not to bad because the districts snake round like a snail (very in-keeping) so district ten is not too far from district one, but we didn’t know that, nor did we pay for it. Then we couldn’t find the bloody place. Then there weren’t enough beds. Then the wifi didn’t work. It goes on and on and on. My relaxing, cultural week away wasn’t looking so relaxing after all. Although it did not become relaxing at any point, it was very cultural.

I had a few things I wanted to do (I say a few…) – Louvre, Notre Dame, Musee d’Orsay, Raspail Market, Besnier Pere et Fils, Pierre Herme, Angelica, Rue de Rivoli, Versailles, Moulin Rouge, Monmartre, and see Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. And in very limited time (big groups = a lot of compromising and time wasted), I managed to see / go to most of these places.

We saw Notre Dame on the first day, it was raining hard and the queue was snaking round the whole courtyard and round the side of the cathedral so we left it. I actually took one look at it in the rain and thought ‘you know what, I will pass on this’ but the next day I persevered, still hanging on to that carpe diem state I had acquired, and queued up with the others. And oh my was it worth the wait.

I actually left my camera/phone at home that day, this photo is in passing on a miserable day. I felt it was such a shame that people were so busy snapping, looking through viewfinders and trying to capture sights eternally, that they weren’t actually seeing anything at all. Granted, I’ve been just as guilty – at the Louvre, for instance, but in the Notre Dame you’re exposed to so many sensory stimuli such as smells and textures and beyond all other things, emotions, that it is doing yourself a disservice not to put technology down for a moment and soak up something bigger than you and your little world, something that is transcendental.
Oh dear, getting a bit enthusiastic there. But really, it was a shame, especially seeing as we got to witness a full service and the transubstantiation right there, in the middle of the cathedral with the backdrop of a giant Mother Mary.
When we left I had wanted to sit down immediately and write about how it made me feel – I wanted to return the next day with my notepad and just let the religion and history flow through me, through my pen, and on to the page where a moment of tangible connection between me and something other could remain encapsulated and natural for as long as I wished.

But like I said, travelling in groups means compromises and so I have now only a feint vapour of understanding and enthusiasm compared to the iron manacles I felt before, chaining me to the experience.

Feeling bright and uplifted (I speak for myself; there may have been others seriously lagging after being dragged round a big, old, smelly cathedral) we walked to the Left Bank where we immediately discovered Shakespeare and Company. It wasn’t until I was inside the book shop that I realised what the relevance was – I had seen a documentary about Jeanette Winterson and this book shop had been featured strongly in it, as a home from home for English speaking writers in France and all over Europe. The likes of Ezra Pound, Hemingway, and Joyce have found retreat and comdraderie in this quaint, bohemian boutique.

‘An artist has no home in Europe except in Paris’
Friedrich Nietzsche
So read one epigraph in ‘A Tale of Three Cities‘, an arts journal I picked up in the shop. There are 500 issues of each three editions – one for Berlin, Paris, and London (Europes ‘Golden Triangle’) – and I have issue #436. Bit chuffed about this journal. I had initially bought it for my mum after only skimming through a few poems which caught my eye. Turns out it’s inappropriate for young daughter to give to rather conservative mother, and so it’s all mine. It’s beautiful. Totally nondescript dust cover of shallow corrugation, a mushroomy grey colour enough for the eye to gloss over, but then there’s a silver triangle holding a trio of maps in the place of a title. Berlin, Paris and London. Inside the paper is off white, slightly textured and the typography is simple yet effective: using the odd splash of red ink, and uniform title pages. The book is split in two: words, and photographs. What more could you need.

In regards to the words, I have fully read just ‘Taxidermy’ by Catherine McNamara.The words, the photographs, the journal itself is to be taken as a whole, I believe, and then it can be called intriguing and delightful.

This is #2 ‘the home edition’ – I must lay my hands on the other two.

Shakespeare and Company can be found on the Left Bank across from the Notre Dame, just off Quai de Montebello.

Enough.

The next day was cafes, postcard writing, and then, at 1pm exactly, the Louvre. Well, on my list of things to do, Pierre Herme. Not that I was in some way going to do Mr Herme, but rather hunt down his famous macaroons. Thanks to my lack of geographical savvy, I walked past the boutique twice, and in total walked about 4 miles, not including the walk from the apartment, backwards and forwards on the Rue de Rivoli. Eventually I found it after taking many pit stop breaks buying postcards – and importantly, my first pastry of Paris!

The cafe I was sitting out side of at this point actually had amazing looking macarons and pastries and sweeties etc, but it wasn’t French enough for my liking, and anyway, I’d set out to find this bloody Hermes.
The macaroons at this macaroon specialist place were just over 2 euros each, and the smallest box they did was for 12. And I didn’t understand the French names. And they melted in the hot sun while I was waiting outside the Louvre. And they’re now soggy and sorry in the fridge at home.
This is what they did look like…

I had been using a Tipadvisor suggested itinerary on my mobile to find out about roads like Rue de Rivoli and boutiques like Pierre Herme. I don’t know if it was the most inspired itinerary unfortunately. Rue de Rivoli is a mile long, featuring the Louvre and some very upmarket hotels, however it is the streets behind the Rivoli that are interesting and ‘authentic’ (yuck). I would suggest moving away from the overpriced touristy areas of the boulevards and main high streets, and benefit from some real investigation! For instance, the gang met for lunch and I scouted out a nice cafe instead of settling for an illy. There, at Le Royal Opera, we had the best Croque Monsieur yet (for those unfamiliar – it is basically cheese on toast – a staple item on any menu), for 7 euros, which due to the location and comparison of other cafes we’d been too, was more than reasonable. The waiter was the first friendly, servile waiter we’d had, and he even had a sense of humour! Shock, horror.

Later, in the Louvre, my eyes were opened to the beauty of renaissance art. I didn’t see the Mona Lisa – I wasn’t interested in fighting my way through the crowds only to view it through the display of someone’s iPhone camera. But I did see Raphael’s series of George and the Dragon:
and The Head of John the Baptist:
and La Jeune Martyre:
 

all of which most caught my eye.

I am ill and now tired, and thus I must retire, although there are many more meaningless sentences to make about chiched experiences in Paris.

au revior

 

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