Golden days in Paris

It was still dark when I left the house. As I turned the corner a young fox, looking like a two dimensional angular cartoon character, leaped out in a wide arc from behind a car and melted into the shadows.

I had been tempted to take a taxi to the Eurostar but as I walked along by the pond, it felt good to be the only person out and about, listening to the muffled, waking tweets of the ducks and moorhens on the island. I was just in time – a lighted bus was coming up the High Street. We flew up Castelnau, picking up some single men at bus stops along the way. Workmen in beanie hats and a couple of besuited FT readers with battered briefcases.

Lots of yawning on the almost empty tube… night shifters coming home and others with cases like mine – Kings Cross is now like a work of art compared to its old, grimy self and it’s a joy to walk through to St. Pancras and the Eurostar.
I feel so grateful to all the people who designed it and to those who made it happen. It is such a success and makes travelling a joy. My tax contribution well spent for a change. I bought a carnet of ten metro tickets and settled down to study my Paris A-Z. The hotel was on the Rive Gauche and the No. 4 metro line would take me all the way to Odéon from the Gare du Nord.

A gaggle of Japanese girls, sounding like tiny, twittering sparrows were surrounding their English teacher, who kept counting them anxiously. A man with a giant rucksack on his back was leading a very small boy along, who was totally oblivious of the overhanging rock above him. A spatchcock chicken in the making – I hope not! A tall, hard muscled young man with ginger hair in a buzzcut dressed in becoming blue, a fat man with a bullish bald head, wolfing down croissants and looking contented, a large lady in a floral shirt and dyed blonde hair sticking out every which way, wondering if there would be a full English (breakfast) included at her hotel … variety and spice etc.!

Eurostar - we must already be in France ...

Eurostar – we must already be in France …

I was booked in standard and the carriage was full. Luckily, I had a window seat. As we left London, the landscape was milky, the train window blurred with a lick of soft mist. I began to doze a little and woke up to find that we were in France already. The landscape said so!

Speeding through the French countryside ...

Speeding through the French countryside …

The train was on time and soon enough we were passing walls covered in graffiti on the outskirts of the city. Disgorged into it, the metro spirited me along to Odéon and within minutes I was walking up the pretty cobbled entrance to our hotel, where Hania was leaning over the balcony of our room to greet me.

Everything is red and green and covered in roses. Even the walls are carpeted with them! The bathroom is minute but marbled and mirrored to the point that I can see myself too many times from behind – oh dear, not quite as stylish and chic as I’d thought – maybe I should invest in that process that freezes fat cells into extinction.

Roses all the way at 'Les Marronniers'

Roses all the way at ‘Les Marronniers’

There was the threat of a metro strike, so we decided to go first to Fragonard, which has a small musée ‘de parfum’ and a shop to go with… We can walk to lots of places from Odéon but it’s too far to Opéra. ‘ Muguet des Bois’ – ‘savon à l’huile d’abricot, parfumé à la clementine’ – we smell very fragrant already. I wish there was a ‘click and smell’ button for my journal! Things are well priced here and make wonderful ‘cadeaux de Noël’ … The museum is fascinating too and we were lucky to arrive just as a guided tour was setting off – it’s small but if you’re interested in the history of perfume and like perfume bottles through the ages, it’s worth the trip.

Fragonard is near Galeries Lafayettes and also Opéra Garnier. This last has an unguided tour for 10 euros and so we took advantage of it being just round the corner. Outside on the pavement a young man with bare arms was playing brilliantly on a piano – we stood and watched and marvelled…

Opéra Garnier 1

Opéra Garnier 1

Ceiling at Opera Garnier

Ceiling at Opera Garnier

Opera Garnier - dancer

Opera Garnier – dancer

Sonata in yellow ...

Sonata in yellow …

Still threatened by a metro strike tomorrow, we sped down to Sèvres-Babylone and had a ‘café crême’ in ‘Le Bon Marché’. It seems to have become much more upmarket and my purse being more suited to vintage shops, we bought a packet of ‘Petits-Beurre de Lorient’, 27 being the odd magic number on the front, then made our way by metro to Mabillon.

Waiting for the metro to Mabillon

Waiting for the metro to Mabillon

We didn't stop to enquire ...

We didn’t stop to enquire …

Nearby, Hania remembered a small bistrot called ‘Chez Julien, le lou pescadou’, 16 rue Mabillon and we arrived just in time to snap up the last table for two. Monsieur Julien, a man looking like a favourite uncle, seems to manage the whole thing almost by himself – he races around, throwing out humorous asides here and there – his cooking delights, as does the ‘pot’ of red wine, drafted from a large barrel in the corner. The old Paris definitely lives on here … we walked back along the now familiar streets. The evening was mild. People were sitting outside, making the most of the late summer, which was bravely hanging on.

Next morning was bright and sunny. Down the Rue de Seine towards the river there are lots of small art galleries.

Geese on the Rue de Seine

Geese on the Rue de Seine

Rue de Seine - the mouse's wedding fan ...

Rue de Seine – the mouse’s wedding fan …

Is this a giant peach or just a large bottom?  Confused ...

Is this a giant peach or just a large bottom? Confused …

Popular café on Rue de Seine

Popular café on Rue de Seine

Gâteaux  - Rive Gauche

Gâteaux – Rive Gauche

We walked along the river to ‘Shakespeare & Co’ – a bookshop celebrated for being unique – not to be missed! I am always entranced by it and could spend many happy hours there.

Today, somebody was tinkling on a piano upstairs … it’s a place which attracts homing pigeons like a dovecote.

A bookshop by the river Seine not to be missed ...

A bookshop by the river Seine not to be missed …

Next it was a late breakfast at the St. Régis – Ile St. Louis. This is a great place for very fresh orange juice, boiled eggs with toast fingers or omelettes with tartines, butter and jam.

The Ile St. Louis is small but exquisite. One of my favourite localities.

A late breakfast on the Ile St. Louis ...

A late breakfast on the Ile St. Louis …

There are some very alluring and friendly boutiques here, which drew us in. Suddenly, somebody was calling out us. It was Rose, a colleague of Hania’s, who was surprised to see her in Paris. I’m always ‘bouleversée’ when I meet somebody I know by chance in another country. How often do you meet people like this, and how often do you just miss them by a street or a metro carriage – like ‘Sliding Doors’ … this was an unexpected treat.

A 'galerie' on the Ile St. Louis

A ‘galerie’ on the Ile St. Louis

Next stop was Rue des Rosiers in the Marais. The shops here are very tempting – bon chic, bon genre. We walked up from the river through the small locality of St. Paul, which has interesting bric-à-brac and button shops as well as small photography and art galleries in cobbled courtyards. Rustic, romantic restaurants, like ‘Les Vins des Pyreneés’ are also recommended. We pressed onwards, via the Rue de Turenne.

Rue des Rosiers  -  he must be eating a delicious spinach filled borek from Finkelsteins.  The cheese ones are delicious too!

Rue des Rosiers – he must be eating a delicious spinach filled borek from Finkelsteins. The cheese ones are delicious too!

Perfume à la bicyclette ...

Perfume à la bicyclette …

Lapin de Marais, paré de bijoux

Lapin de Marais, paré de bijoux

Shopping in the Marais ...

Shopping in the Marais …

I tracked down a vintage/second hand clothes shop near here and came away with a soft green jacket, traced with small, delicate flowers the same colour – with a silky green lining and seemingly unworn. Ten euros! Perhaps it was a sample from one of the fashion lines. Oh, the joy of a beautiful bargain!

Encounters en route 1

Encounters en route 1

Next on our list was a walk to the Canal St. Martin, north of République. This is an ‘up and coming’ area – maybe the equivalent of Stoke Newington in London. It’s still down at heel in parts but has one of the best bakeries in Paris and sample clothes shops from designers, hoping to make it to Le Marais and other central locations. Some of them have already.

Encounters en route 2

Encounters en route 2

The canal runs deep and limpid green, cutting the area in two. There are minor auction houses, old fashioned shops, which I would love to explore further and bridges over the water every three minutes or so. It’s quite quiet by the water’s edge, with people sitting on benches, some looking melancholy and bereft, others catching your eye as you pass by.

A shop window near the Canal St. Martin

A shop window near the Canal St. Martin

Time for a pastry from that bakery, stuffed with apple purée. Then we decided to double back to Sèvres-Babylone on the metro and catch Woody Allen’s new film, ‘Blue Jasmine’, which was on at the Japanese Pagoda.

Instead of trudging back to the cacophony of République, we hopped on the train at Goncourt. I wondered whether this station’s name had anything to do with ‘le prix Goncourt’.

It’s not in a fashionable area. However, the literary prize is very prestigious.

I am flagging but a welcome pot of tea, sitting by the dragon in the garden of ‘la Pagode Japonaise’ on the rue Babylone, is a lifesaver. We’ve bought tickets for this special cinema.

‘Blue Jasmine’ is shown in a salon where leopards, snakes, dragons and exotic scenes in gold leaf and rich oriental colours cover the walls and ceiling. We sink back into the red plush chairs in anticipation.

Tea at the 'pagode japonaise' with the dragon ...

Tea at the ‘pagode japonaise’ with the dragon …

The intricate art of cloisonné

The intricate art of cloisonné

Cloisonné is an intricate and decorative ancient technique, used first in the Byzantine Empire and spreading out to China and later to mediaeval Europe. It uses wire made of copper or silver to enclose enamels of different colours. Objects decorated like this are still very popular and can command vast prices today.

We couldn’t have seen ‘Blue Jasmine’ in a more wonderful setting. Double fabulosity. La Pagode was built in 1896 as a gift to the area from M. Morin, who owned ‘Le Bon Marché’. Once a dance hall, it’s now a well attended, independent cinema.

Afterwards, we had dinner at ‘La Boissonerie’, near the hotel. It specialises in fish dishes and was packed to the gills, but we only had to wait fifteen minutes to get a table. A great choice with a buzzy, upbeat ambiance.

La Boissonerie, rue de Seine

La Boissonerie, rue de Seine

Rain hovered next morning, so we slipped around the corner to the Musée Delacroix. It’s a special place with a hidden garden and feeling of intimacy. Small and contemplative.

Feral window boxes, rue de Seine

Feral window boxes, rue de Seine

Delacroix's secret garden

Delacroix’s secret garden

A quick sprint to the shop which sells sardines in pretty packaging, then it was back across the river to Finkelsteins to buy boreks for the train journey to London. We chose the spinach and the cheese. The threat of rain had passed and so we made our way through the Tuileries gardens, where banks of fabulous flowers were still in bloom.

Sumptuous flowerbeds at Les Tuileries ...

Sumptuous flowerbeds at Les Tuileries …

A herbaceous border to envy in Les Tuileries

A herbaceous border to envy in Les Tuileries

Speeding towards Autumn - Les Tuileries

Speeding towards Autumn – Les Tuileries

Les Tuileries - a confabulation of crows...

Les Tuileries – a confabulation of crows…

Les Tuileries - symphony in yellow and green

Les Tuileries – symphony in yellow and green

The new Frieda Kahlo exhibition at the Orangerie had queues to the horizon, so we took the passerelle across the Seine, passed the Musée d’Orsay and made our way down the Rue de Lille. Lunch at ‘Le Comptoir’ at the carrefour Odéon was next in our sights. Before that, we passed the famous triumvirate of ‘Les Deux Magots’, Café Flore’ and ‘Brasserie Lipp’ on the Boulevard St. Germain – not forgetting the mad waiter from time past at ‘Le Petit St. Benoît’ with its red check tables, just around the corner.

Study in brown - Rue de Lille

Study in brown – Rue de Lille

Life behind the blue doors ...

Life behind the blue doors …

A favourite 'Papeterie' near Café Flore ...

A favourite ‘Papeterie’ near Café Flore …

Les vins de France  ...

Les vins de France …

Lunch at 'Le Comptoir'  -  we'll be back!

Lunch at ‘Le Comptoir’ – we’ll be back!

No metro strike after all but our cases were heavy, so we took a taxi back to the Gare du Nord. As we waited in the courtyard, the rain finally broke through in earnest, so the twenty euros was well spent.

Note; Le Prix Goncourt was set up by the brothers Goncourt – Edmond (1822-1896) and Jules (1830-1870). They first saw themselves as painters but changed to writing together.

They wrote a long journal, describing the literary and social life of the times, started in 1851. They were friends of Flaubert and also wrote novels together, one about the maid in their household who, to their surprise, led a double life.

After Edmond’s death, their estate was used to set up the Academy Goncourt, which administers the Prix Goncourt for literature. This has been awarded since 1903. The equivalent in the U.K. would be the Man-Booker prize.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.