There is Paramount Paris and Metro Paris and of course the real Paris. Paramount’s is the most Parisian of all.
SFO to CDG via ORD, a long foreshortened night of catnaps in cramped poses. Ultimate duty-free marketing copy absorbs first caffeine, over the Old World, while the coast of France sneaks up underneath and away again in a cat and mouse dawn landfall, or was that the coast of Jersey (or did he say Guernsey?) after all? Mouth of the Seine, with auxiliary canal, and then follow the river inland across its squiggles with green and yellow farmscapes on both sides.
RER from Charles de Gaulle to the Gare du Nord, first sight of Old World houses, the old railroad slice through the world on a bias, with a quick shot of the Sacré-Coeur, the first touristically familiar sight, above the cutting just before we plunge into the station tunnel.
Take care of business at the station, getting a Métro Carte Orange and weekly ticket, and then step out onto the rue de Dunkerque (perfect for an Englishman’s arrival), like stepping onto a stage or movie set, and breathe the Freedom a/k/a French air.
The streetsweepers, in their chartreuse green and yellow suits, with long-handled brooms whose green plastic bristles are designed like the old bundle of twigs. They use sandbags and rags to direct the flow of water from a curb-cut outlet along the gutter, as they sweep debris into the current.
Head for Bibliothèque Nationale to pick up apartment key from Paul, and dive into the most extensive covered passages, Verdeau leading to Jouffroy leading to Panoramas, quiet and twilit in midday, against bright and bustling boulevard and streets just steps away.
A quick café at the bar with Paul to crispen the consciousness, trundle self and luggage to apartment via rue Drouot and its stamp dealers, get winded climbing up the spiral stairs to the Ve, get bearings in apartment, get baguette sandwich jambon et fromage at Didier and Laurent boulangerie on corner, and eat it with Orangina at place Lino Ventura just up rue des Martyrs.
Hike up and around the Butte de Montmartre, counter-clockwise around the base of the Sacré-Coeur into quieter zones, and down onto boulevardish rue Ordener in search of perfect spot for a first roost, past Notre Dame de Clignancourt, the mairie of the XVIIIe in place Jules Joffrin, and come to earth at place Charles Bernard at the foot of a small market street closed for siesta, and order an Amstel. Down the street the pulsing green neon cross of the pharmacy leaps in and out of green foliage behind it. A brief nod on a park bench, somewhere in the XVIIIe, and Métro back to Notre-Dame de Lorette, where a slumming Baudelaire watched the street-walking lorettes kill time with cigarettes.
Short, shallow Eurobath with knees tucked up under chin. Nods and blinks to stay awake till wine at seven, amazing stimulant, and dinner with Paul at neighborhood Chinon:
One tough bavette, frites
Tarte aux pêches
Pichet de Chinon rouge
Wednesday, April 30
Sleep with windows open and earplugs in. Crisp whole-wheat baguette from Laurent et Didier with apricot-almond jam. Light showers off and on under grey skies. Walk to the Marais and the Hôtel et Musée Carnavalet, with its few visitors and splendid curatorial lassitude, lackadaisical labels and little signage. Voltaire’s diminutive and low-slung armchair, with its dual swinging armature-like wings, a writing table on one side and a reading lectern on the other.…The Salles Sévigné, sparse but furnished with a lock of Mme’s hair, a swatch of her burial gown, a letter to Mlle, and Mlle’s marriage contract with Grignan, including “les secrets de son coeur.”… Proust’s bedroom unobtrusively is suddenly there, without any warning or headlines. Its warm, gold-toned cork wall tiles contrast sharply with the dark furnishings, set off by dark blue satin bedspread on the tarnished brass bedstead. Adjacent night table has pen and ink and a hand-numbered cahier on top, not to mention the pile of brother cahiers on the shelf below, a nice curatorial touch. Very dark wood desk and credenza, and a chaise longue “offerte à Reynaldo Hahn.” I hope his allergies were only to pollen and not dust, since the cork tiles and crevices between them look like a dust mite’s paradise—which always troubled me from the moment I heard about it…. La Révolution—chunky models of the Bastille and a detailed painting of its demolition. It comes clear to me that they didn’t whack away at the base of it with sticks. Rather a horde was busy atop the ramparts with sledges and prybars taking it apart stone by stone, top down. It must have taken weeks or more, giant demolition project in the heart of the city, like the World Trade Center. A pair of small before-and-after guillotine paintings, one of Louis XVI lying prone, in position, the blade high up, and the other with Marie-Antoinette’s head on a pike being paraded around the platform, a fountain of blood still gushing from her neck into the basket. Not far from the painting, a lock of her hair in a crystal medallion…. Napoleon’s nécessaire de campagne, a 110-piece set of toilet articles, eating and cooking gear, navigational instruments in vermeil, crystal, porcelain, ivory, mother of pearl, steel, ebony, or morocco—all in an attaché case-sized coffret with pull-out drawers.
Leisurely lunch at Ma Bourgogne under the arcades of the place des Vosges,
Glass of Sancerre
Café with good crema
Back to the Carnavalet for prehistory wing, the highlight a line-drawing aerial view of Lutéce (Lutetia, Latin: “Midwater-Dwelling), the city built on the Ile de la Cité and extending south on the Left Bank along both sides of an ancient Boul’Mich. On the Right Bank, surprising traces of an old meander of the Seine curving up under Montmartre and back…. Facade and reconstructed interior showroom of Fouquet’s boutique…. In the Siege of Paris section, a painting of a room full of clerks copying dispatches from image projected on a large screen of microfilm brought by carrier pigeon.
Walk in drizzle around place des Vosges, Paris’s first residential square, four sides of matching three-story red brick buildings with contrasting white stone quoins and window frames, arcades at ground level. According to Nerval,
When you see their high windows and brick facades, interspersed and framed with stone, at the moment when they are lit up by the splendid rays of the setting sun, you feel the same veneration as you do before a parliamentary court, assembled in red robes trimmed with ermine.
Assuming it’s not raining…. Surprisingly depressing Village St-Paul, well-known residential and artisan restoration on the former site of Charles V’s gardens…. Tea and almond croissant at a boulangerie counter…. A quick stroll through the Jewish quarter, rue des Rosiers…. Hustle over to the Ile de la Cité to buy ticket for Sainte-Chapelle concert and cool heels on windy bench on civic mall. Gendarmes in bulletproof vests guarding the Palais de Justice, avocats in black gowns, white blouses, and black cravats at the top of the steps behind the fence. Les Solistes Francais string chamber group perform Scarlati Sonate en forme de suite, Bach concerto pour violin en la min. with its goosepimpling slow second movement, Bach concerto pour violin in mi maj., and substitute finale of A Little Night Music due to injured second-violin soloist. All in tall chapel with wall-to-wall stained glass soaring to extraordinary heights. Windows dim in setting sun during the concert, and the dying chords of the encore are accompanied by a crash of thunder, thanks to Celestial Special Effects as the day’s showers finally peter out…Gendarme with mitraillette on the way out.
Footsore and hipped, amble to rue Monsieur-le-Prince and Crémerie Restaurant Polidor in rue Racine. Waitress, an Africaine with blond dreads who explains the numbered drawers at the back of the room were for the clients d’avant.
Pâté de campagne with plenty cornichons and mustard
Poulet rôti, pommes frites
Pichet de Cahors
Bavarois au cassis
Table-mate French middle-aged husband in couple ends up with the white quarter of the bird, while mine was not only dark and juicy but had the pope’s nose thrown in. Overheard French phrases come rushing back to memory, with wine.
Thursday, May 1
Quiet night and morning for fête des ouvriers. A Sunday stillness in the streets, except for flowers being sold (for good causes?) every few feet. Métro to Pont Marie and walk to Hotel Salé-Picasso Museum…. Hotel de Sens, a medieval castle with pepperpot turrets…. Ile St-Louis for a short walk along the quai, au bord de la Seine. Mirabelle cone at Berthillon, dessert first. Buy salami slices, and Picodon and Rocumador cheeses and baguette for lunch on quai. Mouches and other bateaux go by…. To Left Bank, rue du Cardinal Lemoine, stumbling on Larbaud house at 71. Hemingway spinning like a top in his grave over rue Mouffetarde’s kitsch and tourism. R. Cobb:
…The rue Mouffetard (or what has been left of it), once the most popular market of the Left Bank, and a street of intense sociability, has been given over to tourism, bars, and pornography. Only a few old inn-signs…hang as sad, limp reminders of what had once been a triumphal gully of small shops, barrows, overhanging clothes-lines, and popular eloquence. Les gens de la Mouffe have been spirited away, as on a magic carpet, to Sarcelles…. Only the big gendarmerie barracks and the convents and monasteries behind their tall green portes cochères are reminders of the odd mixture that had once constituted the peculiar flavour of the quarter Maubert-Mouffetard: monks and nuns, gendarmes, and a population of long-living small shopkeepers, many of them widows,…the oldest female age group in the city. The place has been taken over by young pied-noir couples running pizza bars and by elegant antique-dealers.
That was 1985. You’d be happy to find an elegant antique there now.
Arènes de Lutèce, old Roman arena, now a pleasant park and well-populated boules ground with dozens of games in progress, and up in the stands a half-dozen young men outfitted as veiled nuns in a semi-circle around a seated girl with a man lying down, head in her lap, pose for photos from above. Snooze, sitting up, in the sun for 20 minutes.
Jardin des Plantes, much gravel. Many Parisians enthusiastically astroll with kids, who enjoy skidding and sliding on the broad gravel paths. Lush, green “English garden” section is off limits behind fence and locked gates.
Earl Grey tea at café across from the old Poly, a few drops of rain. Rue St-Séverin as bad as Mouffetarde. Duck out of harder rain under awning of grillades restaurant as chicken and lamb legs go onto gas spit. Boulevard St-Germain, St-Sulpice, rue de Fleurus and number 27—an imposing apartment house for G. Stein, with plaque. Sun out again, wet benches in the Jardin de Luxembourg, purple chestnuts in bloom, and even green lawns. A glass of Côtes du Rhône at rue de Fleurus café across street from garden.
Young lovers still kiss on streets of Paris, and on the Métro. Wend way back to IXe via patisserie and new lines on Métro. Paul’s steamed moules with pasta, broiled large sardine filets, leeks, galette d’orange.
What works to stay afoot all day: strong tea at breakfast, pick-me-up espresso late morning, more tea in late afternoon, wine with dinner.
Friday to Sunday, May 2 to 4
Weekend at snail ranch in the Massif Central.
Monday, May 5
Steady drizzle. Shops closed on rue des Martyrs. Walk via passages to Palais-Royale and Banque de France. Exchange old franc notes for Euros.
The upscale Gallerie Vivienne with art students sketching the architectural detail. Pizza marguerite with hot oil. Walk rue d’Aboukir and rue de Cléry—cheap garment outlets—and triumphal boulevard arches at portes St-Denis and St-Martin to rue du Faubourg St-Martin and the Xe mairie for Paris railway exhibit, old prints and photographs, large-scale engineering drawings of track layouts..
Canal St-Martin in fine drizzle…Ecluses de Récollets (double locks), pont tournant at Grange aux Belles, joining the two sides of the Xme, canal boat “Canauxrama” with woman tour guide on P.A. in multiple languages: “’Ave a nice shower,” to those in the bow as the sluices open to fill the lock chamber. Shot of tunnel as canal continues south underground, passing beneath place de la Bastille to the Seine.
Tea, four cups full, at les Enfants Gâtés, rue des Francs Bourgeois, an upscale Marais shopping street. Buy pair of maroon tennis élastiques for Lily. Walk to old Opéra Garnier through leather/handbag street, rue des Gravilliers, then rue Réamur. Métro to Odéon and Polidor again. Out of smoked salmon, but
Spinach salad with mustardy walnut oil
Pintade rôti au chou
Pot de Cahors
Tart tatin smoking hot
Meet Chris Maybach, L.A. film documentarian of painters (Art City) and friend of Crista (Mrs. Sam) Fuller. Likes Pickup on South Street and The Long Goodbye. Scouting site for Paris restaurant with friend Dieter and his girlfriend Serafina of West Oakland. Wander Boul’Mich at St-Germain via rue St-André des Arts and rue de Buci, still a cute quarter despite commerce and crowds.
Tuesday, May 6
Métro to Latour Maubourg and Invalides for Musée des Plans-Reliefs. Immense models in dark room with muted indirect daylighting of coastal towns and fortifications along Atlantic and Channel, with one in a Pyrenees pass. A VW-sized Mont St-Michel. Stages of siege of fortified town with bug-sized soldiers, zig-zag entrenchments, tunnels, and other Tristram Shandy-like business. Walk rue de Varennes past heavily guarded government buildings. Past Senate and Odéon, Panthéon and Sorbonne. Starfish earrings on rue du Cardinal Lemoine turn out to be starfish pins. Poor composed salad at chi-chi Café Delmas on place de la Contrascarpe of green beans, raw mushrooms, smoked haddock, crème acidulé with some crushed hazlenuts—sole bad meal. English neo-punk students discuss Jim Morrison in New Haven. Sad, kissing couple from motorcycle. Wander back across Boul’Mich to rue St-André des Arts. Métro to Parc Monceau in fine drizzle, with its worn follies and high-grotto English garden beautifully planted and networked with little grassy paths, but only for the eye, fenced off-limits and marked dangereux. Plenty of moms and nannies with kids. The greenest park in France, for its upscale neighbors. Landing site for André-Jacques Garnerin, first “regularly successful” parachutist, who jumped from balloons under a 23-foot white canvas canopy.
Métro to Action Odéon rue Christine cinema for Preminger’s Angel Face, with Mitchum and Simmons. Métro to Chez Michel near Gare du Nord, rue de Belzunce.
Andouillette de porc and red cabbage
Rumsteak and crushed potato
Puff pastry with praline crème and praline bits!
Fillette de Bordeaux
Seated next to a young American couple, both ex-Postrio cooks: Laurie and Jeff of San Francisco. She, pastry chef at Home on Market; he, in Cordon Bleu school, after two months eating themselves through Italy and two in Paris. Jeff’s dinner: beef cheek and marrow bone in little oval iron pot.
Wednesday, May 7
Sunny and warm. Scrambled farm eggs and toasted baguette. Walk rue de la Lune (under construction) and passage du Caire and rue Blondel (morning hookers) to Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers, redirected to museum. Old meter and other standard rules. The original liter was called le cadil. Foucault measured speed of light in 1862, done with mirrors, rotating. First all-glass lion and snake, also 1862. TV developed in France by René Barthélemy in 1935, with no mention of P. Farnsworth. Architectural and construction models. Old phones, telegraphs, printing presses…with a good balance of curatorial disregard / engagement… Retrace steps, and via passage Jouffroy to buy a copy of Passages couverts parisiens, back to rue des Martyrs.
Meet Stephen at La Luciole, blvd. Menilmontant and rue Cendriers (“Ashes,” he said on the weak phone connection earlier, “like O’Hara’s nickname for Ashbery”). Café, then salad with toasted chevre, un pression. Walk to Stephen’s qg (quartier general), for a stand-up café in North African concrete neighborhood. Stephen’s studio, chock full of his word paintings, old furniture, an instant bohemia. Tour of paintings…. Père Lachaise—more rock and concrete, above the grade, than I expected. Many phonebooth-size houses, terrain at several levels, paving-stone streets. In a hurry, Apollinaire’s and Wilde’s monuments, videotaped readings of inscriptions. Wilde’s moderne Jacob Epstein block, covered with lipstick lip prints, guys’ or girls’?
Métro across Paris to pick up Dewey at Sq. Lambert—another densely populated park. Chez Rodefer for Dewey to wash up, blow sax, Stephen’s email. Métro to Odéon and walk to Café Mazarin, rue Mazarine. Very crowded holiday eve bustle on streets. Katrine arrives, sick, and tired from job at Télérama, working on Johnny Hallyday 60th birthday issue. Menthe a l’eau for Dewey. Harried, careless waiter brings wrong wine.
Rôti de porc, haricots vert
St-Porçelain, rouge (from Allier)
Ecole des Beaux Arts brass band in street. Walk across Paris with Stephen, Pont Neuf, Ile de la Cité, Pont au Change, rue St-Martin to the boulevards, all Paris on its feet for a night out. Look in at old Art Nouveau restaurant Julien, rue du Faubourg St-Denis.
Thursday, May 8
Up betimes to pack up. Walk the quarter, past Musée Gustave-Moreau and up the west side of Montmartre, places Pigalle and Abesses, to stumble on site of Bateau-Lavoir. Get last sandwich jambon et fromage. Walk rue de Maubeuge to Gare du Nord…
Polar route home, over Lake District, Scottish lochs and Hebrides, Greenland, and staggering ice floes in North Atlantic, frozen waste of northern Quebec, and across Lake Superior and Whitefish Bay and Northern Peninsula to Lake’Mich and on into Chicago to change planes.
Alan Bernheimer was born a New Yorker in 1948. Coastal inclination since. Europe before the age of reason. Graduated from Yale in 1970, and worked with words at various jobs. High-tech marketing for a long spell, and now solar. Bay Area resident for 30 some years. Most recent book is The Spoonlight Institute (Adventures in Poetry, 2009). Buy it here.