Everyone has Paris in them and for everyone – it’s different. I see Paris through filter, everywhere I turn Camille Pissarro paintings, Philippe Garel’s film scenes, divine Yves Saint Laurent elegance, devilish Serge Gainsbourg’s voice, Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast… everywhere I go, I feel inspired, probably just like other seventy-five million tourists, who come to visit France each year.
This is a short story about my Paris in the middle of August when for the first time after years of living in London, I finally booked the train tickets and left.
In August, Paris is abandoned by the locals and there are only tourists inhabiting the city, and everyone communicates to each other with the help of three words learnt: bonjour, pardon and merci.
Timhotel in Montmartre is a walkable distance from Gare du Nord. A bit pricy but located in the fascinating easy to reach location surrounded by patisseries, for your fresh morning croissant, cafes, designer shops, sightseeing locations and a short climb up the stairs to see the famous Sacré-Coeur.
Since this time, I decided to stay locally and explore all Montmartre has to offer, Museum of Romantic Life was one of the first stops I made. A hidden gem with two authentic studios that display paintings and French novelist George Stand’s memorabilia, with a truly fascinating a greenhouse, a precious little garden, and a paved courtyard.
After, I popped to a tiny French bistro Le Petit Moulin hoping to eat something at three o’clock in the afternoon. A young charismatic Frenchman was standing by the bar. Parlez vous angles? – I asked. Only when I want to, – replied the bartender in oh so French accent. I enquired about the menu and he gave me that are-you-serious? look explaining that they will only serve food after six and it will be only for locals, also their chief hasn’t arrived and because it’s raining he doubts he will be able to get all the products. In other words: fuck off. Could I at least get a cup of coffee? – I persisted. Yes! – he exclaimed and charged me three euros forty cents for a cup of lukewarm latte. I listened him talk with an older American couple about French impressionism, Paris and jazz. My husband is a jazz musician, – proudly repeated the woman. Well, you are very unlucky, sir, – said the bartender as if it was all he intended to say and then added, – all the good jazz clubs in Paris closed. Then he stood lingering in the doorway, watching the horizon and sighted: I cannot wait until the summer is over and all tourist are gone, then I can go back to museums.
The second sightseeing location was The Musee de Montmartre that explores the area and bohemian life of the mid to late 19th century, until the rise of Montparnasse.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover Jardins Renoir, dedicated to Auguste Renoir, a leading painter of Impressionist style. A cinematographic garden hidden behind the main building of the museum, with classic French outdoor seating, a fountain and lovely artisan café.
A film exhibition Décor de Cinema that captures the romantic charms of the area is open until 14th of January, 2018. It’s worth paying a visit to discover the scenery of the neighbourhood through the eyes of legendary directors, such as Vincente Minnelli (An American in Paris, 1951), Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, 2001), Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris, 2010), Truffaut (Baisers voles, 1968) and more. The permanent collection displays paintings, drawings and posters celebrating the golden era of the neighbourhood.
Café des Deux Moulins, a slightly disappointing site where Amélie, a French romantic comedy directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, was filmed in 2001. The café looked a bit ran down, full of tourists, it smelled and I had to eat onion soup waving off an army of food flies. The soup was alright though and staff looked welcoming and friendly as I tried to ask for a check in my google-translate-level French. I am not too sure what did I expect, after all it’s been over sixteen years, I bet they had quite a few annoying customers since then, who treated the place as another touristic attraction paying little attention to what the place offers, as a French person, I would be insulted and, frankly, pissed off.
Moving further away from Montmartre towards Ile de la Cité and one of a few destinations I try to visit each time I come to Paris, the Shakespeare & Company bookstore. This time I got myself The Erotic Potential of My Wife by David Foenkinos. The bookshop is slightly overpriced and becoming increasingly commercial, however remains a one of the kind to all book lovers around the world.
After Shakespeare & Company I popped down to a restaurant around a corner to grab a bite and ended up with three course dinner starting with snails as an appetizer.
At a table across two men, a younger in his late twenties and an older gentleman in his eighties, were enjoying their meal and a glass of wine, from time to time, an older man would nod his head, then they would sit in silence for a short while until starting another discussion.
I never paid attention to French relationship with the elder but it’s certainly something I now admire. And it all started from the article I read in Eurostar magazine about a food service provided in France for hiring a retiree chef to cook at your home in such way sharing culinary skills and perhaps life experience? I think nowadays when we’re losing touch with each other and our cultural past – this is a fantastic idea.
I was always repelled by the exterior of The Centre Pompidou and only upon my fourth visit to Paris, I finally added it to the to-do-list. I went there around lunchtime to find a fifteen-minute queue, most likely for David Hockney, who followed me from London, as I missed his well-advertised exhibition at Tate Britain. A few things I was pleased to find at the museum was Otto Dix’s Portrait of the journalist Sylvia von Harden (1926) & breath-taking top balcony view of Parisian rooftops. Whereas, I appreciate The Centre Pompidou to be the largest museum of modern art in Europe and understand it to be architectural monument, I came to conclusion that my heart belongs to the old Tate Modern building and its somehow more intimate spaces. When I left, the queue was so long it went outside and up to the street corner.
Another characteristic I adore about the nation is the light manner they carry themselves around the city, up and down the underground stairs and never get tired. I was exhausted and decided rest at one of a few open cafes back in Montmartre. I ordered a glass of white wine and flipped the cover of French Vogue. I was hoping to get my hands-on September issue, but unfortunately, I came a few weeks too early. The iPhone died after loyally guiding me through the tiny streets of Paris, abandoning me with my Moleskine and the moment. The sun was shining, rainy clouds passed by leaving behind wet pavements and air filled with heavy powdery smell. Parisians sat outside enjoying their afternoon coffee and a cigarette.
After a couple of days in Montmartre I began to see familiar faces: a bartender from Le Petit Moulin passed by waving at a mademoiselle with long ash-blond hair, leather jacket, blue ankle jeans, wearing Adidas trainers, a little bag across her chest hanging lightly at the back, she crossed the street with an ease of a local. A grocery shop owner on the store doorstep, an elder lady walking a black-fur French bulldog.
It was hard not to notice nostalgic Frenchmen looks, as if red lips, and same shade nails, a cigarette between my fingers and a glass of white reminded them about fading classic look more often adopted by Francophiles than French women. Maybe.
On my last day in the city of light, I wander to Le Marais bohemian district for the best crêpe in town at La Droguerie, trendy and hype shopping experience, coffee break or (and) a tranquil afternoon at Jardin des Rosiers-Joseph Migneret reading a book. I did not have time to explore its full potential but I believe there is much more to it. If you’ve been there and have places to recommend – I would love to hear from you.
I also travelled all the way to Bercy to find la cinémathèque française closed until September. How imprudent of me it was to rely on Google search checking for opening times? So, I sat there on a bench smoking one of my last cigarettes adding review on Google and observing slightly different and a bit unsettling side of Paris, the one that did not quite fit my vision. I left in a short while, planning to come back.
I fell in love with Le Pure Café after watching Before Sunset, the romantic drama directed by Richard Linklater. There is something reassuring about the place, something that makes me feel everything is going to be alright. Therefore, I always pop back for a cup of black coffee that comes with a slice of magic of the daily life. And this time, I ordered a cup of coffee hoping that the last two euros I had will cover it and was pleasantly surprised when the bartender turned the blind eye pretending not to note I am forty eurocents short. All the tables outside were taken and I joined two French mademoiselles, who were kind enough to offer me a seat denying all the rumours about unwelcome Parisians’ character.
Londoners are reconciled, too polite, too hesitant to act, whereas Parisians seem to have an agenda, they sit in cafes planning revolutions and then hit the streets. They also haven’t lost the human touch. By the end of the trip I found my-self carrying a luggage filled with twelve bottles of wine*, a sack of potatoes and bunch of carrots trying to get down the stairs of Abbesses to 36 metres below the ground. It truly felt like hell but everywhere I went I was offered help by men and women who carried my luggage to Gare du Nord. A different story followed when I arrived to King’s Cross St. Pancras International and was about to lift the unbearably heavy baggage on to the bus deck when a beer belly lad with his hands in his pockets without any intention to help laughed and went: are you alright, luv?
That sort of sums everything up.
*A tip for stocking up good French wine search a bottle with a green metal capsule marked with the letter ‘R’. An advice kindly given by a supermarket assistant who could no longer stand watching me scan hundreds of bottles with Vivino app. He also encouraged me to talk to people instead of relying on technology.