Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The pleasure that is Paris

“I’m not sure I can be bothered with Paris.”

Said my lovely, lovely husband on the eve of another decadent weekend away. I mean, talk about first world problem, talk about fucking sacrilege, more like.

I'm developing an unhealthy obsession with Paris doors
Last weekend we were in Reykjavik with LB’s parents, several weeks before that we were traipsing through France and Italy with my parents and this weekend just gone we’ve been in Paris, with my aunt and uncle on their virgin European adventure. I get the exhaustion – I myself may have also complained about it in recent weeks – but BUCK UP kiddo, it’s PARIS! And I love Paris, even when it’s nine degrees and raining.

J&G had invited us to spend the weekend with them at the end of their week exploring the city and it’s outer touristic regions (Giverny, Versailles, Normandy etc) and after bollocking LB for being a grumpy old man he came to St Pancras on Friday evening armed with a list of Stuff To Do In Paris That We Haven’t Already Done Before.

On the Ile St Louis
Boarding the train with our Marks & Spencer tuna sandwiches and gins-and-tonic-in-a-classy-tin we had the usual cruisy ride into Paris before hopping on the metro to Ile St Louis. Mum and I have stayed in this part of town on our last couple of visits and I rather love the fact that I now know my way around Paris well enough to navigate my way from Gard du Nord to the hotel with only a slightly smug hint of insouciant confidence.   

The last time LB and I were in Paris it was for my 30th birthday and the weather was primed to be just as overbearing this time around so husband was happy at least. And I was ready: with my hat and my factor 50 and my bottle of water.

Monet's Water Lilies, Orangerie
We met J&G for breakfast on the Saturday morning, which left me buzzing from the rush of family gossip and exchange. G & LB were left to discuss the perilous state of the cricket…

Because J&G had done all the major sites, and because LB felt he’d already “done” Paris, we’d planned a couple of days of less-obvious Parisian delights. Though having said that, our first stop was the Orangerie in the Tuileries to appreciate the Zen genius of Monet’s water lilies in the round.

These two large, white, ovoid rooms were designed by Monet himself for the purpose of housing his panoramic lily landscapes, which he donated to France after the First World War. In his own words he wanted these rooms to “offer a refuge for peaceful meditation” and the eight panels across the two rooms chart the changing light in his garden in Giverny, from sunrise in the east to sunset in the west. 

With no horizon and just these literally reflective paintings – Monet catching the water surface catching the clouds above – these paintings are so totally absorbing and contemplative it’s hard not to make religious comparisons. The fact that the cranky French invigilators barely let the room get above a whisper helps with the whole reverential vibe. But cranky French aside, it’s a moving, beautiful experience and a pretty nice way to start a Saturday.

From here we wandered over towards the 16th arrondissement and the food and flower market along Ave President Wilson. Not bothered by the fact we’d only eaten breakfast a couple of hours ago, we idled our way through the market, scooping peaches and cheese and cherries and baby tomatoes and baguettes and prosciutto up along the way. My kind of heaven really. And from here we wandered up towards the Eiffel Tower, past the Eiffel Tower key ring sellers and into the park for a picnic. There are worse views for lunch.

Ave President Wilson food markets

The picnic
The view from the picnic
Our next stop was the result of some delightful blog-tripping. I have no idea how I came across it but somewhere or another I read about the incredible flower displays in the lobby of le posh hotel George V and their rather lovely courtyard serving rather lovely cocktails at exorbitant Paris prices. But [insert French for ‘Fuck It’ here], that was next up – booze and flowers.

Foyer of George V Hotel
The service was a bit le shit and drinks a staggering 26 euros each but they were pretty bloody amazing and the courtyard, once you’d got past ogling the foyer and its floral arrangement under the chandelier, was just civilised personified. The ‘roof’ of the courtyard was a canopy of purple orchids with a water feature filled with more purple orchids, potted in large dark vases that were so shiny as to look like oversized children’s marbles. Set against a flowing wall of water, the effect was extravagant and hypnotic. If you can stomach the prices, it’s a particular Paris experience worth having. Just make sure you visit the loos before you leave so you can ogle all the Flemish tapestries and 19th century paintings along the way.

Last stop on our Paris Saturday was the Marais for a petite bout of shopping. G and LB idled outside, clinging to every BBC sports update about the state of the Ashes while J and I trawled the sales racks. Lighter in purse, we then wandered to the northern part of the Marais for a drink at a little bar called Le Mary Celeste that LB had read about during his anti-grumpy research. We found it eventually, and gosh it was cool. Not hipster, this-makes-me-feel-self-conscious cool, but just really cool. Interesting bar snacks, a great dry rose, charming service and a kicking 80s rock soundtrack.

It was considerably busier when we were here...
That night at dinner, at a little every-corner bistro, we found ourselves accosted by an inebriated though charming gay couple from London who were in town for Bastille Day. Turns out Sunday was Bastille Day! Who knew! Anyway, these guys took obsessed to Justin Bieber levels of enthusiasm and told us all about the tanks and the soldiers and the horses and the president and the flyover and the and the and the…. Apparently if you’re out and about at La Defense at 7am you can wander about amongst the tanks and the soldiers and the horses and the and the and the…

A bit of casual Hitchcockian street art.
Bidding a polite goodbye, we crashed out with zero intention of a 7am start. Sunday instead was a walk along the Promenade plantée through the 12th arrondissement. The high line that inspired the New York high line, this beautiful, verdant walkway follows nearly 5km of the elevated former Vincennes railway. It was just so lovely – and popular with joggers, dear old ducks and small excitable children on scooters. It made for an ideal viewing platform for the Bastille Day flyover.

Having sufficiently promenaded our last stop before lunch before heading back to London was a visit to Patisserie Stohrer on rue Montorgueil to pick up some snacks for the train journey home. Stohrer’s is the oldest patisserie in Paris. It was opened in 1730 by Nicholas Stohrer, the pastry chef to Louis XV’s Polish wife Marie, who had followed her to Versailles in 1725 to make cakes for the king. 

And praise be that he did. Against the odds we did actually manage to wait until we were on the train later that afternoon before hoeing in to the tarts and éclairs we’d carefully selected from a dazzling range of options, which was probably a good thing because had we eaten them on the spot, we’d have been forced to go back and buy dozens more. Bloody hell - there just aren’t enough superlatives to describe this moment of pastry perfection.

Note the amazing 18th century roof...

It was a sweet, perfect end to a perfect couple of days in Paris. And now, well, it’s back to the real world. At least until the August long weekend…  

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