Champagne & shopping in Paris

GoosterontheLoose is now blogging from a little closer to home than usual. There will be more South American stories to follow; for now, a tiny titbit from the land of the baguette, champagne and stripy T-shirts.

Only in Paris would a hoover attachment protruding from your hotel bathroom wall count as a ‘hairdryer in every room’. And where else but Paris would you see a group of four or five young homeless men, hunkered down in sleeping bags on a picnic blanket of old cardboard boxes, feasting on a spread including fresh roast chicken and champagne? They were outside the cultural centre of the Cite Internationale des Artes, on the banks of the Seine, near the imposing Hotel de Ville fronted by its wide open square bedecked with old-fashioned Narnia-style street lamps, so I can only presume they were the beneficiaries of some generous-minded artistic types. We swept past guiltily in the rain-flashed gloom of Saturday night, on the way to Chez Julien, a chic bistrot on the right bank. At dinner, we sat next to a middle-aged French couple in matching black polo necks and curiously enough, they breakfasted in the same café as us the next morning. It made us feel like locals. And I wouldn’t object too strongly to living in the Marais: it’s my favourite area of Paris and I’ve been staying there since the late ‘80s.

Our visit didn’t hold the mellow days of hesitant sunshine and clear blue skies you’d hope for from Paris in the springtime, but when it stopped raining we could smell the heady perfume of the hyacinths in the Tuileries, watch old men in stereotypical berets play petanque on the damp sandy surface of the Jardin des Halles and listen to a busking orchestra play dignified classical music next to the coloured glass bauble pagoda in Place St Clemente – at least until a pelting hailstorm drove them away. I was in Paris with a friend for a quick spontaneous visit over Easter and while we’d intended to take in some French culture, in the end we ended up taking in plenty of food, drink and shopping, but a noticeable lack of art.

We sipped a mouth-wateringly crisp Sancerre in Les Deux Magots on Boulevard St Germain while revelling in its literary history – the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde and Andre Breton used to while away the hours here. Is there any bar of note, anywhere, that can’t boast Hemingway as a customer? That man was one prodigious drinker! Apparently Picasso even met his muse Dora Maar at the cramped but cosy Deux Magots. That fact made me feel just slightly better about not revisiting the Picasso Museum. We drank champagne at 2am in a bar at the edge of the Place de Vosges, surely the world’s most beautiful square. We ate tarte tatin while we watched the artists wrestling their canvases from the gusty hands of the wind in the elevated Place de Tertre in Montmartre and then staggered round, stomachs brimful of sugar, to peer at the gargoyles clinging to the outside of the Sacre Couer, leering angrily and spitting rain. Inside the church, which I learned was built as a memorial to the 58,000 French soldiers killed during the Franco-Prussian War, it was surprisingly warm. We shuffled round in the gloom in a slow tourist procession, straining to see right to the top of the dome and gawping at the Byzantine mosaic over the chancel, which shows a dark Christ against a deep blue sky cut by rays of dazzling light.

We ate soupe a l’oignon with a delicious gloopy crust of cheese at Bofinger, Paris’s oldest brasserie. We drank endless cafes au lait and along with the caffeine drank in our fill of street scenes. Surprisingly, lots of local shops were open on Easter Sunday morning, and smartly-clad Parisians in shirts, ties and hats queued outside the boulangeries for bread and exquisitely crafted cakes and chocolates. A silver-haired woman in a mac and heels swung an old-fashioned wicker shopping basket. Much red lipstick, effortlessly stylish black clothing and stripy T-shirts were in evidence. In Paris, romance is always in the air, or can breeze in at any moment, and I watched as an elderly couple in camel overcoats paused as they crossed the Rue de Rivoli and kissed passionately.

In between people watching and meandering round the streets, we staged a girly raid on the boutiques of St Germain. In one, we fell prey to the charming but wily owner, who primped, prodded and advised until we finally emerged laden with bags and with distinctly lighter wallets. At one point she whisked back the curtain of the changing room my friend was in, ordering her not to take off the top she was trying on, until she’d seen it under the jacket that she was now thrusting into the cubicle. Needless to say, she bought both … We also spent an hour or so in the oppressive majesty of Galeries Lafayette, sniffing gloriously smelly cheeses and buying French food to stuff the gaps in our weekend wheelie-bags. Best buy for me though was a blue and white stripy T-shirt I picked up in a little shop on a back street of the Marais. I’m convinced it makes me look like a bona fide Parisienne …

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5 thoughts on “Champagne & shopping in Paris

  1. Sounds like bliss. I love the Marais. And the shopping sounds great. Unfortunately the only thing that happens to me in French boutiques is the ladies saying loudly how tall I am before they realise I understand them. Grrrr. But I do always get asked directions in Paris, by French people, which also makes me feel like a bona fide Parisienne.

    1. Ha, I know what you mean Eliane – think I blogged in a previous post about being asked directions, no matter where I am in the world! And sure enough, as I was roaming around near the Louvre (driven away by the undoable queue) a man asked me how to get to the Galerias Lafayette. Having been there the day before, I actually knew roughly where it was, so I was able to wave vaguely in its general direction, but my French is abysmal, so I ended up telling him ‘c’est loin’ and advising him to get the metro. I realised soon after that it wasn’t really too far after all. But, if he will seek the advice of strangers in a foreign land … 🙂

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