So. After my perfect Paris chocolate day (which still makes me smile whenever I think of it – it really was an absolute gift), I realised that Wednesday could not POSSIBLY live up to the same level of Parisian wonderfulness, and that was OK. Really, one fantasy-Paris day in a visit should be enough for anyone.
On Wednesday, therefore, I decided to get started on my project of walking through as many arondissements in Paris as I could. Having already explored the Tuileries Gardens (before getting distracted by chocolate), I took the Metro to the Place de Concorde, and began heading westward along the Champs Élysées.
The Champs actually starts out quite leafy and green, but pretty quickly becomes a very busy and rather touristy and expensive shopping strip. There is even a McDonalds, which I thought was a little sad. I walked along, and snuck into a FNAC to pick up my concert tickets for later in the week and continued my approach to the Arc de Triomphe.
I don’t know that I’ve ever been so close to the Arc before – I’m usually pretty focused on not looking like a tourist, which means walking purposefully along the Champs Élysées and absolutely not taking photos! (I’d already been fleeced by one fake charity the day before, and while I’ve learned to accept this sort of thing as the flipside of all the nice things that happen to me in Paris as a result of wandering around Paris looking friendly and smiling at people, there’s only so much I want to invite.)
Has the big French flag always been there? I don’t remember seeing it before.
I walked around the Étoile, which was kind of a fun thing to do, actually, and continued heading westward, aiming for the Bois de Boulogne.
The Boulevard de la Grande Armée was a bit ugly, so I ducked south and followed the Boulevard Foch for a bit. This was much wider and leafier and generally more gorgeous, and I had a sudden recollection that the 16th arondissement – which was where I was by now – was one of the really posh ones.
I also had a sudden recollection that Patrick Roger, who was on my Endless List of Chocolate courtesy of Laura Florand, had a shop around here somewhere, and indeed he does – I ducked south again, to the Avenue Victor Hugo, and sure enough, there was his shop.
It is super posh.
I mean, I’ve been looking at posh chocolates, but these are super-posh chocolates. Also, there is a near-life-sized sculpted chocolate tiger in the display case. Judging by his website, chocolate sculpture is a big thing of his.
The lady behind the counter was very formal and polite and explained to me what the various chocolates were – notable among them were an oat ganache (that – spoiler – tasted basically like chocolate to my unrefined palate) and a potato marzipan (which I thought I had requested, but does not appear to be in my collection. Probably for the best, that). She gave me a pistachio marzipan to try, with a brilliantly green centre and a true marzipan taste.
Here is how the chocolates are presented.
Yes. It’s like that.
I bought a discreet handful – these chocolates are the most expensive I’ve encountered so far – and continued on my merry way, westward-ho! (They are, as it turns out, excellent chocolates, but I’m not sure my palate is sufficiently sophisticated to justify chocolates that cost 4 Euros apiece when I find the 1 or 2 Euro chocolates taste just as good, if not better…)
A little more walking, and consultation of my map, revealed to me that while I would, eventually, reach the Bois de Boulogne, I was going to end up in the bit that is about 5km from most of the things I wanted to see (in retrospect, actually, I should have continued – I had forgotten the Chateau de la Bagatelle. Next time!).
So I hopped on a bus, which took me west and south to a square not far from where Joséphine‘s father owns a bistro, Le Gorgeon.
I must tell you, that was a delicious lunch. And yes, I had the full, decadent, three courses. First course was the artichoke vinaigrette with parmesan, which was subtle and delicious – the most artichokey artichoke I’ve ever tasted. Really a dish that understood how to highlight an ingredient. I see where Josephine gets her knack for flavour from.
Second course was duckling breast with ‘deux pommes’. I wasn’t sure whether this meant two kinds of potato, or two kinds of apple, or apple and potato, or potato and sweet potato, but since I like all those things, it hardly mattered. It turned out to be roasted potatoes and apples, and a lovely, very meaty, sauce, with perfectly tender duckling. Really, really good.
Dessert was a strawberry and rhubarb gratin, which was hot and fresh tasting and good, and I definitely do not regret it, but I have to say, Josephine’s desserts are better.
Thus fortified, I headed for the Jardin de Serres d’Auteuil.
This is a garden containing a collection of historic and modern glass houses, and plants from four continents.
It’s rather lovely to walk around in, though less so if one has blisters. And, what with the heat and humidity and the amount of walking I’d already done (in York and Bath and then in Paris), I really did have blisters.
Still, blisters or not, if you walk far enough, you find yourself in the Square des Poètes, where there are plants and stones with bits of poetry on them.
I definitely recommend this garden.
Sadly, the peacefulness of the garden was a little marred for me by an older gentleman who started off by giving helpful directions, and then moved on to some fairly unpleasant innuendo (I suspect he thought I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but I could).
My blisters were just saying no to a further exploration of Boulogne at this point, so I called it a day, and took the metro back to Jussieu, where I bought a few things for dinner – a baguette with Emmenthal, a little container of ratatouille, and some apricots and raspberries. Perfect for a picnic, and a lovely end to a surprisingly hot (how does Paris manage to be so hot when it is only 24°C) and not wholly pleasant day. I would love to go to the Bois de Boulogne again, but I think next time, I’d go straight there on the Métro and save my walking for the woods.
The Euro Soccer Cup was due to start on Friday, so I thought I’d better get to Saint Denis on Thursday, before it became full of football fans. I got there and was initially uncertain and uncomfortable – this is a less wealthy area of Paris than the ones I had been in so far, and while I suspect that, like Coburg, it feels safe if you live there and know how it all works, I didn’t. There was also some fairly aggressive begging, which I always feel a bit intimidated by, so that didn’t really help, either.
Also, Paris has been having strikes, and these strikes include the rubbish collectors. Saint Denis was the first place I’d been to where this was really noticeable, with lots of garbage bags piled high in the streets – and the weather was warm, so the aroma was quite noticeable. And it was so hot in that big, empty, paved square in front of the Basilica, and I wondered why I had decided to come here.
But then I stepped inside the Basilica, and it was amazing.
First, it has incredibly vivid stained glass – some old, some modern, and wonderful, high vaulted ceilings.
I believe the original foundation dates back to Dagobert, in about the 6th or 7th century, and Saint Denis is particularly known for the very large numbers of memorial statues and stones for the various Kings, Queens, Princes and Princesses of France – I think there are ninety or so?
I’m not sure all these people were buried there originally, but they have been moved there now, and so you have, in addition to a lot of history, what feels like a museum of more than a thousand years of funerary sculpture, and it’s just wonderful.
I don’t have an eye for art or any knowledge of art history, but I could still see the changes in styles of sculpture, and styles of clothing, and fashions for funeral sculpture (including the period when sculptors sculpted mostly-naked cadavers, covered with a bit of discreet drapery at the appropriate point). It was really fascinating.
And there’s more in the crypt, too.
The crypt also came with a strange exhibition of modern art – medieval-inspired gowns made from modern materials, such as men’s ties and collars. Very odd, and I have no idea what the artist was trying to convey, but quite lovely nonetheless.
I really loved the serenity and beauty of the place, and spent nearly two hours there – I didn’t want to leave.
But I did. The appropriate thing to do next was obviously to go to Monmartre. You see, the Basilica of Saint Denis is apparently the location at which Saint Denis stopped. And by stopped, I mean that having had his head cut off at Monmartre, he then picked it up under one arm and walked all the way to Saint Denis, preaching a sermon as he went.
As you do.
Monmartre, I must admit, was a disappointment. It didn’t like me. I had a hilariously terrible lunch – the waiter was rude (first rude Parisian I have encountered, I might add), the steak was cooked until it was completely dry (not sure if that’s just how the chef likes cooking steaks, or if the waiter was making assumptions about my Englishness), and then, when I wanted to just pay and leave without dessert the waiter got quite offended and pushy (I didn’t want dessert because I had already seen what they could do to an innocent salad, not to mention a steak, and was not prepared to witness further culinary cruelty). So no, Café Panorama in Monmartre would not be getting a recommendation from me.
I then decided to walk up to Sacre Coeur and was completely played by a pushy but charming African man who insisted on making me a friendship bracelet and then demanding 15 Euros for it (!). I am too polite for this sort of situation, especially when the grifter in question has absolutely no shame and just grins, shrugs and says ‘Africain’ when I comment on it.
Sacre Coeur has a lovely view, but isn’t a patch on Saint Denis. I can entirely see why he decided to walk north.
I would too, if I thought the alternative was a church like this one.
The high point of the afternoon was certainly the discovery of Popelini, a bakery that specialises in petits choux. I bought way too many, and ate several of them in a local park – the raspberry and lemon ones were particularly delicious.
I headed home for a bit of a lie down and to rest my feet. By this time, the 5th was also full of rubbish bags, oh dear.
But it did cool down after dinner, and I walked up the street to a local pub that was preparing for the football crowds, and had a nice dinner of mango and mint gazpacho followed by gnocchi and salad.
Friday was fun! I woke to the sounds of garbos very manifestly (oh, the cleverness of my puns) not picking up the rubbish. They were standing around gesticulating about it a lot, though. My hostess revealed that the rubbish is, in fact, being collected from park bins, just not domestic ones. She is sneaking out by night to put her rubbish in the bin at the local park. She also asked me about strikes in Australia, and seemed pleased with my reply that we don’t take it to quite the same levels of enthusiasm that the French do. Overall impression: she is personally quite inconvenienced by the strikes, but patriotically proud of them.
And she now thoroughly approves of me – not only have I dared to come to Paris during the floods and the strikes (many of her friends have had guests cancel), but I respect the strikes as a good non-French person should. She is also impressed with my non-standard list of things to do in Paris. I have heard her boasting about ‘ma petite Australienne’ to her friends on the phone…
My plan for Friday was to hang out in the Marais, and visit the Carnavelet Museum and the Musee des Arts et Metiers.
Alas, the Carnavelet is partly closed for renovations, which meant no French Revolution and no ogling the extremely hot portrait of Liszt. (The link really does not do it justice. Trust me, the painting is quite hypnotic.)
This was a great disappointment, especially Liszt.
But entry was free, and there were still plenty of interesting things to look at.
Also, the bookshop was dangerous, not least because it had a facsimile copy of Carème’s main cookbook. How can I be expected to resist something like that?
I then went a-wandering through the Marais, which turns out to be absolutely full of cake and confectionery and ice cream shops. Dangerous. I did find Pralus, and picked up a pink praline brioche to share with my hostess for breakfast.
I really liked the Marais – cake shops, museums, fascinating jewelry shops – what’s not to love?
I went to a crêperie for lunch, where I intended to have the healthy fish and ratatouille option until I smelled the cheese and lardons at which point it was all over for me…
And then I got overwhelmed by the profusion of museums to choose from and wound up in a somewhat creepy doll museum.
Basically, Stories Under Paris can expect an onslaught of creepy doll stories any time now. I think that museum revived a certain recurring childhood nightmare about vampire dolls…
I rested for a little in the Anne Frank garden, which is home to some fairly disturbing statuary, but was also pleasingly full of families and small children playing after school.
I came home for a rest and to get changed, and then headed out again, because I had a concert to go to at the Sainte Chapelle. But I was early, so, oh dear, I kind of had to go to Gibert Jeune, which is a large bookshop of the kind that I find very difficult to resist. (And for next time, I really do need a reading list of fantasy and sci fi by French authors – most of what I could see was in translation.)
The Sainte Chapelle was gorgeous.
The concert was… nice.
I think the original singer must have been sick, because the program had changed completely and instead of Berlioz’s Nuits d’Été we had Mozart and Bach greatest hits. This was rather a pity – I’d gone to some trouble to avoid a concert full of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Pachelbel’s Canon, because while they are very nice pieces of music, I’ve already heard them three hundred times. and to get the Mozartian and Bach equivalent was tiresome. Also, there was only one thing in that program that I hadn’t sung myself, so I noticed every hesitation in her encore. Which was, sigh, Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring. Why must everyone sing that at every opportunity? Why?
But the singer did a pretty good job with it, and the surrounds were glorious.
I then headed back into the Latin Quarter for some dinner. With, as it turns out, football fans, including the waiters, who were sporting French flags on their cheeks. Nice atmosphere. I ate my salad and walked home…
…to where I discovered that the window, through which I could previously hear the dulcet sounds of birdsong, also allowed me to hear my neighbour, who had very strong views about the football. Very strong views indeed. Cries of ‘Ooh la la, c’est pas possible!’ were heard not infrequently, and in moments of great stress we even had ‘Oh la la la LA!!’, in tones of deepest outrage. It was hilarious. I had to close my window, not to cut out the sound (which I could still hear loud and clear – my neighbour had fine lungs and excellent voice production) but to prevent the neighbour from hearing my hysterical laughter – I had no idea ‘ooh la la’ could be used in this sort of context. One learns so much when visiting a foreign country… He did seem to be happy with the outcome of the game, however, as was everyone down on the Rue Monge, from what I could hear. I deduce that France won.
Ridiculous as this may sound, that made my whole evening.