A Shambles Ramble: Paris (Part 3)
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
I was woken up by those not-too-distant bells, and counted the rings before deciding whether to open my eyes and start the day. I imagine being able to walk out onto your balcony in the morning with a cup of tea, to watch the sun spill out over a monastery and its gardens as birdsong masks the din of the traffic is a rare thing in the centre of the city. I anticipate we’ll be off to Versailles soon. Hopefully ill be too busy sightseeing to write anything before this evening.
I wonder what order I should write in now. Yesterday, or today first? Chronological, or contemporary? Hmm.
How about neither because your day was so busy and tiring that you had neither the time nor the energy to write anything. Now I’m two days behind and I only have 2 or 3 hours to write! Why did the atmosphere make a nap so irresistible?
Ok, let’s see. Wednesday was marvellous. Lots of small things added up to a big day. The idea was that Alice would guide me around town, but the route wasn’t set in stone. If we changed our minds, that was fine too. Before we’d left, I saw Alice putting compost inside a canvas bag, and felt very confused as to why you’d deliberately ruin a canvas bag like that. She explained that the only waste bin for compost was enroute, down the road. She was embarrassed to carry it around uncovered, hence the canvas bag. I’d never seen something like that before.
The day was bright but cloudy when we stepped outside, and together we set off towards Rue Mouffetard. Along Bord du Port Royal is a street market, which is open 3 times a week. Luckily for us it was open, so I got to see some of the specialities on sale in Paris for the first time. Cheeses, fish, fruits (4 stalls with the same offerings, why?), accompanied by what could have been a stray dog! Alice poured cold water on that idea though, saying that Parisians tend to let their dogs off the lead quit often. We may never know the truth. Just as we had reached the end of the market, we came across a surprisingly well-furnished homeless camp. The person had a mattress, a table, chairs, a sofa, and even a pillow or two. On the one hand, good for them; on the other what a shame that they had enough time to accumulate so much stuff. Best of a bad situation I suppose.
After walking past the police station and what appeared to be an abandoned house (which it probably wasn’t but they could at least cut the grass) we arrived at Rue Mouffetard. The first thing that struck me was the flowers on and around the roundabout. Their scent made a pleasant change from the dull pollution stink of the city streets, and made me wish we had more wildflowers on London. Alice explained that there’s a book series about a witch that lives on Rue Mouffetard, which, considering the choice of setting, makes sense. There was something unique about that street that I just couldn’t place. Maybe it was the pace of life slowed down by the absence of cars. Or, maybe it was all the cheese and wine on sale in different boutiques, sprinkled with small groups of people taking their time that morning. Or maybe it was the view back down the narrowing street that was almost good enough for a picture, but never quite enough. It’s a brilliant, tiny snapshot of a larger whole. Definitely bewitching! In a dissimilar vein, as we reached the square at the top of the hill, we found an old man apparently drunk before midday.
Start sweating cause you’re too far behind now. The old man was waving his greetings at passers-by without any expectation of a return. Regardless, we moved swiftly on to a playing court in the stye of an old stone arena, only there were children kicking a football instead of doing something exciting like fighting a tiger and losing. It reminded me of the playground I had in Spain. Alice tricked me into thinking it was roman and I fell for it, because I’m dumb.
I’m running out of time to write so sorry if there’s less detail! After crossing behind Notre Dame, we arrived at the coffee shop Alice wanted to bring me to. It was smart and decent-sized, but surrounded by other coffee shops too. All of their exterior seating together made for quite a clustered view. Unfortunately for us, they were only serving people who would order food as well, so frustratingly we had to move on. No favourite coffee for Alice that day. After that we were less targeted in our walking, although Alice still had a route in mind. I would often stop and duck into side-streets or run over to a particularly pretty part of the area and take a picture quickly before the traffic hit me. One of the streets I popped into had an old house with great timber beams that I wanted to see more closely. As we were heading back to the main road, a short, full-faced lady was giving people the meanest side-eye I’ve seen for a while. She had with her a dog that was far too big for her, and she sang a slurred song I didn’t recognise, probably because it was in French. She had warts, also. Not that that’s essential information, though.
By now we were getting hungry (much like I am now in fact) and so we headed off towards the direction of food. The route took us past one of the ugliest buildings I’ve ever seen. It looked like it had hoovered up every industrial pipe in Paris and reconstituted them into a godawful construct. You know those times you see modern art, and you wonder if maybe you just don’t get it? No. This was just bad. Really bad. I hate it. Apparently, the architect has been hired by LSE to design a new building for them. All I can say is good luck.
The dirty fountain crammed with disunified installations next to the building didn’t help boost my appreciation either. Luckily for us, we weren’t stopping there, and after one more street and a walk past another church (the statue of Christ on the cross was ALSO being renovated; literally everything in this city is being renovated right now) we finally chose a place to eat: burger joint. For some reason this one burger restaurant had the monopoly on outside seating that stretched past the next (admittedly small) outlets down the road, so we found a seat with a fantastic view of Saint-Jacques Tower. There were laughs, there were chips, and one man’s jar fell out of the bottom of his paper bag and smashed, leaving a bright orange stain on the road. My French pronunciation was great apparently, so much that it convinced the waiter that I spoke French fluently. I’d joked before with Alice that my French was excellent as long as nobody asked any follow-up questions. When the waiter asked his follow-up questions, I pulled a grimace at Alice and apologised after several seconds about my complete inadequacy. Could be worse things to be mistaken for than a fluent French speaker I suppose. I don’t remember the specifics of our conversation now; it was 3 days ago leave me alone.
After lunch, we moved into a part of the city that reminded me a lot of London, especially the area around Chancery Lane and Jermyn Street. Tall, flat-topped, large-bricked buildings on quiet streets that suggest a more important past, and throughways filled with very expensive, very small, very specialised shops. ‘Artisan’ may be the work I’m looking for. They looked like the ones on Jermyn Street. We popped out the other side of the mall to see yet another big fancy building, that was a research institute for some-such thing. I’ve never seen a place with a higher concentration of institutes than Paris. Which is good, in a way; this way the Institute for Big Hats can more easily communicate with the Institute for Umbrellas and Parasols to discuss the future of sun avoidance in the 21st century.
Next stop was another of Alice’s favourite places: Jardin du Palais Royal. I’m sorry to say that the first thing that came to mind for me was Assassin’s Creed, which is certainly not a cultured reference point. Then again everything is permitted in these pages so who cares. So yes, I recognised it from that game, and Alice and I sat down by the fountain for a while to rest and talk. The garden was long, dusty, bright, and open, gently gated in by the palace around it. In the warm afternoon sun, we talked about accents; how hard some are to understand, what a strong accent sounds like to a local and a foreigner etc. Also, Americans. It’s always fun to make fun of American accents. My accent is much easier to understand, Alice says. Nicholas’ is strong and she hates it. He teases her by stressing it sometimes. Personally, I can’t tell
the difference, but that’s probably because I’m not French.
The ridiculousness of the French monarchy sunk in when we took literally 5 steps from one former palace and arrived at the Louvre. Paris is mostly palaces, it seems. Good for kings, bad for people. Someone should od something about that. We didn’t go into the museum as we were a little tired, and are also planning to go with Nicholas at the weekend (today!), so we moved on towards home. As we walked, and I continued to snap anything and everything that I thought looked nice, Alice commented how it felt like seeing Paris for the first time again. I’m taking perspective shots of roads and trying (and failing) to find nice angles for pictures, so I suppose it should follow that it’s because I have no idea what should be looking at. It was nice that it gave her that feeling again, though. I’m glad I could help. It’s not hard to find beauty in the mundane here in Paris. I understand that the ‘beauty of the mundane’ isn’t exactly a fair assessment by virtue of the fact that Paris is already a pretty city. Paris is so pretty, that even a non-descript street in the right part of town has its own charm. A je-ne sais quoi. Which is why I have so many pictures of streets.
This was true too for the art district we apparently ended up in, as shop after shop happened to be a small independent art gallery, which together spanned the length and breadth of the artistic spectrum. There was nobody else there to window-shop with us. One of the shops sold illuminated manuscripts and stencils. Alice loved in particular the Russian alphabet book, which was written out by hand in illuminated calligraphy. The penmanship was just stylised enough that she struggled to recognise the translation from the original Cyrillic to Russian lettering. For my part, I thought it made what I would usually consider to be a rather brutalist alphabet into a into a much softer one, with many more flourishes. I don’t know what I’m talking about, honestly, but I like to pretend I do. There was also a cool griffin, and a battle scene that I liked.
Before we got home, Alice spied an M&S, so we went to look for milk. I hid behind a column outside and tried to out-manoeuvre her so she wouldn’t see me, but I was quickly discovered. I then tried it again, and saw Alice doing the same thing in the window’s reflection. After the stalemate, Alice declared she needed more practice, and we headed inside. They did not have the right milk, and all of the wine had been sold. There was no wine on the shelves. Rows of naked shelves, wine-less and afraid. We left the shop.
On the final stretch, we dipped into the Jardin du Luxembourg, and came across the Boules players in their special Boules boxes. Why do they pay a yearly fee to use a dusty box instead of the just the (free) dusty ground? Who knows. Maybe they’re special Boules pits. I struggled to explain the distinction between Boules and Bowls, but all I could say was that instead of throwing the ball, you roll it. Turns out they’re pretty similar. Alice did not want to try out the old merry-go-round she used to play on when she was a baby.
And then we were home! And all that happened then was a rest, a writing session, and dinner. We had potato-less shepherd’s pie (it wasn’t really what it was called, but that’s essentially what it was) with a missed opportunity to add some red wine. Nicholas, being French in all things, managed to guess the origin of the leftover Rosé because he might as well be able to do that. Had a rather nice cake for dessert too. Alice is so popular that she has several parties that we could go to later in the week. The last thing I’ll say about that day is that Charlie Hebdo has some talented cartoonists, and that we had a conversation about French politics. Macron is a fantastic public speaker, but a poor statesman according to Alice, and the rise of nationalism in France is deeply worrying. But then, where isn’t it worrying?
Phew. Ok. One day down, now onto Versailles. After some breakfast at least, at what is now lunchtime.