Paris is always a delicious assault on the senses – it comes in through the eyes, the mouth, the nose, the ears in a swoon of language, scents, music and light like no other city. And the result – if you’re in receiving mode – is one of intoxication.
On the first evening’s ride into the city on the Metro, I stood shoulder to shoulder with stylish homeward-bound commuters, wilting in the underground heat. As they came and went at the various stops, I picked up wafts of sweat and stale perfume after a long day’s work. The next morning, I walked past a bakery and caught the scent of fresh bread and coffee as sunshine bounced off the windscreens of the passing cars.
We spent three days in the city, strolling through the 14th arrondisement and sleeping on a futon in the book-lined third floor apartment of our dear friend Stephanie Schwerter. We woke up with creaking joints in the morning and opened her shutters - looking straight up the tall canyon of the street to see a narrow corridor of spring sky.
The 14th is very pleasant and very Parisian – old six-storey apartment buildings with little balconies and shuttered windows, behind which lie high ceilings, ancient plumbing, tiny elevators and spiral staircases. Outside, lots of neighbours on bicycles and scrawny, elegant old ladies walking their dogs. On the street corners of the Rue Raymond Losserand, lots of boulangeries, restaurants and cafes.
Unforgettable are the fresh baguette and the slather of Boursault cheese with fresh apples and strong coffee. It puts the usual morning muesli & banana combo slightly to shame, but then that’s what a holiday is all about.
Andrea and I had barely seen each other in the three weeks preceding – each of us seemed to be getting up early or coming back late, distracted by guests and workshops and schedules. So we decided to be really relaxed and leave the tourist traps behind. In fairness, we did visit the Tuileries and Les Jardins du Palais Royal, but most of the time, we walked out for a croissant and a coffee and just window-shopped or sat on a bench in the sunshine.
Our highlights: Dinner in Vins des Pyrenees, a fantastic little restaurant in le Marais, just two doors up from where Jim Morrison died.
* The Cimetiere du Montparnasse, where Samuel Beckett is buried – as well as de Maupassant, Susan Sontag, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and many others. Fantastic tombs with ornate doors and elaborate gravestones, traversed by wide, leafy avenues.
* Sitting in another little bistro near Stephanie’s apartment, L’Auriel, watching the buses go by with their greenish interior light as old gents walked their little dogs and night fell over the rooftops.
* The winding medieval streets of the Marais, with vintage scooters and stylish, narrow young Parisians in well-cut clothes.
* Coffee and macaroons in an expensive little café in the gardens of the Palais Royal – and the young guy at the next table who had a very happy golden retriever that he referred to as ‘Ernest’.
* A visit to the studio of Eugene Delacroix, which proved to be slightly disappointing – his most famous picture, ‘Liberty Leading the People’, is not here, and the work on display didn’t set us on fire. There’s a delicious little courtyard garden at the rear of his house, though, where the sunshine comes down through the trees and makes you feel kind of blessed.
* St. Germain-des-Pres – the shadowy interior lit by shafts of sunlight through the stained glass windows, dappling the tiles. We lit a candle to St. Antoine and offered up a prayer for good fortune, to whoever might be listening out there…