Since my last visit in 1989, a lot has changed. I’m not 15. I’m 40. Which means I can enjoy the finer points of a city. And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything!
For four days I hared around Paris with Elizabeth taking endless ‘rolls’ of film and drinking coarse wine. The results you can see in the video at the bottom of the page.
Paris is a fascinating place while at the same time being incredibly tedious. A city to love and hate in the same moment. If it’s not great, then it’s bad. No middle ground. Which is why I suppose it has inspired so many great writers, artists and musicians over the years.
These are my thoughts on the city.
The Best Bits…
Montmartre – Maddeningly busy but very pleasant all the same, and the only place I remember from the school trip. Perhaps because someone took a photo and the event stuck in my mind. (Photo below almost at the same spot.)
Shakespeare & Company – Wanted to see for myself the bookshop that inspired my friend Richard to start his own and to see what all the fuss was about.
Moelleux au Chocolat on a stone bench near the Louvre – After a hard day tramping round the city on Friday I sat down near the Louvre to eat my chocolate cake. It was cold, it was damp, yet for a few minutes it was paradise. Just to stop and be for a moment, to think of what it all means. What is this place, Paris. Why is it so big, why is it so famous, why are all these people here, why, why, why? Then I got up and joined them all.
Padlocks and bridges – When I lived in Lyon there was a bridge across to the old town that had a few padlocks attached to it. That was when the craze was starting, so I suspect the bridge in Lyon is now like this bridge near Notre Dame. Unless it’s fallen into the water under the sheer weight of metal.
Le Mont Valerien – Seldom visited memorial to the resistance fighters who were shot by the Nazis. Previously a fortress during the Franco-Prussian war, it overlooks the city and offers superb views of the Eiffel Tower as well as a place to contemplate the horrors of war.
Lunch at Bouillon Chartier – Old fashioned restaurant where you get great simple food and wine served by moody yet polite waiters at a good price in an atmosphere from another age. Quite superb!
Wandering Around – I like wandering round cities going nowhere in particular. I’m not the tick-the-box sightseer as you may have gathered. Plus crowds bother me. So I try to find my own special sights in-between the masses, like an old homeless man being given a ten Euro note by a kind lady and watching the smile ripple over his face.
The Lesser Bits…
La Défense (Paris business district) – A grey-suited human swamp encircled by nondescript skyscrapers hammered into the Paris skyline like giant tent pegs to hold up the flimsy marquee that is the French economy.
Crowds at the Eiffel Tower – Even at zero degrees on a Sunday evening the base of the Eiffel Tower was like leaving a football stadium after watching your team lose 6-0 against local rivals. A blood bath. A seething mass of humans crawling all over each other in search of that unobtainable photo of themselves and the tower without anybody else in it.
Galeries Lafayette et Les Grandes Magasins – If you manage to avoid getting crushed by the Xmas shoppers fresh from their Black Friday spending spree last week, you’re lucky. I survived, but it was close.
Avenue des Champs-Élysées – Probably the most famous street in the world, and probably the most sterile. A bland mix of flagship sportswear stores, fast-food outlets, fashion chains, cinemas and a Bang & Olufsen shop, makes it feel like it’s seen better days. And probably looks better on telly – a Bang & Olufsen one.
Panini café near Notre Dame (name unknown) – Overcrowded pencil thin café with the décor of a hairdresser serving cold coffee and hot chocolate made from old Easter eggs.
The Weather – I can’t exactly remember what George Orwell said about the weather in Down and Out in Paris and London as I don’t have a copy any more. But as I was walking along the Seine on Friday morning something came to mind: Paris is bloody cold!
So here’s to Paris. Thank you and goodbye.
Enjoy the film (needs sound).