Friday, August 03, 2007

Paris with Panache

I almost found myself stranded in Paris this weekend. The person with whom I had been expecting to share a couple of days, and a hotel room there had buggered off into the Land of Splitting Up. Naturally, this somewhat perturbed me, my mother, my friends, and NG who swung into action immediately and called upon a very dear friend to be my Knight in Shining Accommodation.

Visions of me scuttling around the Gare de Lyon looking for a spot to rest my weary head receded. It was the weekend when the Tour de France passed through Paris, so you can imagine how easy it would have been to find a hotel room at less than the mortgage repayments on a château.

Instead of trudging round with dead weight suitcase, luggable computer, handbag and Carrefour shopping bag filled to the brim with holiday crap trying to change my non-modifiable non-reimbursable TGV ticket, I was able to drop my encumbering stuff in a nifty flat in the septième, have a snooze and enjoy a Lebanese supper en famille. Was I rescued or wot?

The next day, on NG's advice, I had the sort of day that she would have done had she been with me. As I was in total provincial cousin mode, getting lost all over the place, and not knowing what on earth I wanted to do, I was extremely grateful for being taken in hand. I'm quite well-organised as a rule, but having the role of Damsel in Distress thrust upon me played havoc with my common sense and left me like a gibbering wreck.

It was suggested, then, that I visit the Maillol Museum to see the Weegee exhibition, do a little tour around the Louvre, and finish with a hot choccie at Angelina's. Perfect! I didn't know who Weegee was, but the reviews have been excellent so I was game.

Rightly so, too. Weegee was an American news photographer in New York working between 1935-45. He had an office in his car, and listened to the police radio to hear what was going on. This enabled him to be on scenes of murders, buildings on fire, car accidents and so on immediately, and he photographed the scenes with a style and sensitivity that is just extraordinary. He also took photos of happier events such as this one of children enjoying a refreshing soak on a hot day from a fire hydrant.

I left the exhibition breathless with the effect of the images; my main impression being that of the tragic nature of much that he witnessed and preserved for posterity.

Needing sustenance, I lunched outside a brasserie - steak and chips with a lovely glass of red Sancerre looking out over rue du Bac and boulevard Raspail.

Then I strolled down rue du Bac to the Louvre. A happy scene presented itself, of tourists enjoying themselves, waiting patiently to make their way into the pyramid, taking photos and looking impressively about at the massive building. Once inside, I looked around the posters of the exhibitions for something particular to see. The very thing presented itself to me - a series of sketches by Camille Corot (1796-1875) made throughout his life.

One of the most interesting aspects of artists is to see how they evolve; to compare their early work with their later creations and see in which direction they headed. Corot's early sketches were very detailed. He used an incredibly fine pencil and took almost architectural care over the accuracy of what he drew, without, however killing the work with obsession to detail. His later work is more free-flowing. He has more confidence in his ability, and is able to render image and movement in fewer lines.

His subjects were scenes from his travels; lots of countryside, some portraits of the people he met. In contrast to Weegee's work, his subjects are calm and peaceful. There is no violence or rude reality smacking your sensibilities around.

By now calm and serene, I took a quick dive into the bowels of the Louvre to see the old walls, and then made my way out into the breath-takingly lovely day to walk down to the rue Rivoli to Angelina's.

If you have ever drunk hot chocolate, but have never been to Angelina's, you have not lived. If you enjoy hot chocolate I hope that one day you may make the pilgrimmage to this temple of the cocoa bean. You sit in the splendour of a Belle Epoch dining room which seems to stretch back into a hazy infinity. I was placed at a little table that I just seemed to arrive at, ignoring a queue of tourists awaiting politely their turn. There was only one of me, after all... I scanned the menu and found it - hot chocolate. After my copious lunch I could not face a creamy cake, so ordered merely the luscious nectar.

What arrived was not just a cup of brimming froth, but a panoply of essential accoutrements to the enjoyment of the ultimate cup : glass and carafe of water, little dish of whipped cream, bowl of sugar (!), napkin, cup and saucer, and finally, the jug to end all jugs, full of a dark rich creamy semi-liquid. I poured it out reverently and took a sip. My taste buds all woke up and shouted for their copains to come and join in the sensual feast. Heaven slipped down my throat, caressing with thick enchantment as it slid south. You have never tasted anything like it. I took my time, lingering over the jug, wishing it to refill itself, but in the end it was just enough to enjoy fully before becoming sickly.

I took my leave (6.50€) and went to contemplate the delights of visiting Paris on a bench by the Jardins des Tuileries.

I would not like to live there. It's too busy, too frenetic, too polluted, but I love visiting, and I love taking the TGV First Class back home. The holiday was over, but it finished in style.


  1. Well, I felt as though I was there as I could have been and would have been under other circumstances. I was a real parisian but not in their frenetic way. My days were spent that way...and all around that area.....and I always finished my museum treats in Angelina's.

    I'm so happy dear that you too think and know now that until you drink chocolate at Angelina' just don't know what chocolate is!

    I'm an absolute Weegee fan, and was so pleased you saw it - its all the story of America at that time, pathos, drama,hairaising daily events, also simple folks happiness but everything he did was breathtaking to look at. I thought you wrote about it divinely, which is not at all surprising for a budding writer.......

    In the Louvre I always get carried away to another planet when amongst the greek monumental statues, under glass rooves and surrounded by living trees.....grandiose......the Louvre when I was young was sort of dusty, dark and's now a well of light and so many marvels it knocks the breath out of you everytime.

    I miss Paris for that...and for the way I lived at that time.

    Parisian Paris is not for me either.

    Thank you dear for this lovely editorial which warmed my heart and brought back beautiful souvenirs...and it is really written about perfectly. Bravo

  2. Budding writer ? In full bloom if you ask me. Pity that there are so few passers by in this patch of the blogosphere desert ...

  3. Angelina's is absolute heaven... along with the Maison du Chocolat macaron, choc heaven.

    Thanks for the tips on Weegee.

    And TGV back is a great extension to the holidays in itself!

  4. Thanks for your words of encouragement!

    I was sooo glad to have stuck two fingers up at RyanAir, and gone by Eurostar. Even the second class Eurostar seats had more room than the cramped conditions of RyanAir.

  5. Don't knock Ryanair. Without it and easyJet, UK hols would probably be a weekend in Morecambe courtesy of Virgin railways, rail fare £195 return per head, booked 2 months in advance !

    Personally I'm prepared to submit to the faint risk of DVT to get right away from the UK's rip-off society.

    Why has the Catholic Church not canonised O'Leary yet ?

  6. You're right, Colin. It's just that they spoil things by taking the piss so blatantly out of their passengers, and that 6AM return flight to Montpellier where the boys and I had to sleep in the airport is not an experience I want to repeat.

    It takes a while to recover from a RyanAir early flight!

  7. I'm sure if you worked in the Complaints department of Ryanair, Sarah, you'd be taking the piss out of the travelling public too.

    "My flight was cancelled due to fog. Why weren't and I my family accomodated in the nearby Holiday Inn, and given dinner and breakfast meal vouchers winge,winge,winge ....?"

  8. PS How can that fat cat O'Leary justify charging us £13.75 for our tickets to Spain and then treat us in this fashion ?

    I demand £275 compensation. If you don't pay up, I'll report you to Watchdog.

  9. £13.75 plus taxes, plus baggage fees, plus boarding plus whatever else they invent to fleece more money out of you.

    But I agree that they have opened up places and possibilities to millions of people, myself included. It's just that I hate travelling with them.


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