The Janvier weekend in Paris was inspired by my recent decision to learn French and there is no better tonic to avoiding the January blues than a weekend in Paris. I’m wondering if I could live there. Perhaps learning French is a subliminal desire to prepare for a move to Paris post Bexit. Ma mere was tres furieux when I told her my plan, still heady from my visit. “Don’t be ridiculous, the Seine has flooded and they have rats and Macron.” However, I don’t think it is unreasonable to assume that in a few years time, once I am trés fluent in French and Macron’s wife is no longer around because she is a century older than he is, that there might be a position opening up? Anyway, I didn’t see any rats. I saw a confident, beautiful, often surprisingly smiley and engagingly cool city, steeped in January sunlight.
Et je suis tombé amoureux de la ville (I’ve just had to put that into Google translation by the way – I’m only up to days of the week and months of the year, so a long way to go yet).
It’s so easy to get there. I had forgotten how amazing it is to get on a train for two hours and step off the other end into a whole new world. The Gard du Nord train station is magnificent and the taxis plentiful and organised.
We dropped off our bags at our small but quirkily formed hotel, The Hotel des Arts recommended by a friend who lives in Paris, in the heart of Montmartre. Inexpensive because it’s only 3 star, but I would have given it one more star. Only a 10 minute walk to Sacre Coeur and the wonderful place du Tertre avec sen nombreux artistes. Il y a ausssi beaucoup des cafes, des restaurants, des cabarets et des musèes dans the area.
Within an hour of arriving in Paris we were soaking up the atmosphere in Montmartre in the place du Tertre. The artists who put Montmartre on the map back in the day still breathe in the vibrant square:-
I decided that if I couldn’t participate in the Parisian chic, at least I could try and smell like a local by consuming the tres délicieux soupe aux l’oignons et la Croque Madame et aussi un grand verre de vin rouge:-
Sacré-Coeur c’est une église, une basilique exactement:-
We then got a taxi to the Louis Vuitton Foundation. A contemporary art museum and cultural centre designed by Frank Gehry and built on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne. An extraordinary building, looming large. It looked like glass sails inflated by the wind.
They are currently hosting “Being Modern MoMA in Paris” – 200 works of art taking us through a wide range of artworks acquired by MoMA over the years – Edward Hopper, Cezanne, Jackson Pollock, Minimalism and pop art through to contemporary works. It’s wonderful. But I would recommend buying tickets in advance, as even late in the day there was a long queue to get in.
Love this colour transparency called After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison. Canadian artist Jeff Wall created an absorbing and vivid image based on the book chronicling the story of an educated black man struggling to overcome difficulties. He has to illicitly siphon electricity to wire every inch of the ceiling and parts of the walls with 1,369 lightbulbs:-
An extraordinary sound experience is also on offer. Visitors were entranced. The Forty-Part Motet reworks Renaissance musician Thomas Tallis’s motet “Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui” (“Hope in Any Other Have I None”). In Janet Cardiff’s installation, each audio speaker on its stand represents one of the forty voices for which the original composition was written. You can stand by each speaker and listen to each voice individually or congregate in the middle to luxuriate in the glory of the entire piece. It’s like you’ve just climbed in to the music itself and been submersed, the high ceilinged architecture of the Frank Gehry designed space does the resonance justice:-
Definitely worth a visit.
Next on our agenda was dinner at La Coupole, despite struggling to get us there by testing out my very basic French to the taxi driver:-
“La Coupole, s’il vous plait” I trilled in my best French accent as we got in the taxi.
“La Coupole?” C’est la très famous restaurant dans Montparnasse?
Blank. Repeat. Blank. Repeat. Blank. Repeat.
So I show him the location of the restaurant on my phone.
“AH… LA COUPOLE”. Why didn’t you say?
WTF. I DID!
So he says it 8 times, very slowly and carefully so that I can repeat after him…all sounding exactly the same and then falls about laughing at my attempts to correctly repeat his pronunciation of the “CU” bit of the word.
“C’est tres difficile pour vous” he said.
I give up. It’s going to be harder than I thought to do this and my thoughts of hanging out with Macron fall slowly off the edge of the cliff. Nevermind. Maybe I’ll learn to sing and play the guitar next and go for Sarkozy instead. Although he’s a little small. To be honest, I suspect Macron is small too. They clearly don’t eat enough MacDonalds in France.
The restaurant experience was a triumph.
La Coupole, the legendary brasserie had been recommended to me as the best restaurant to go to prior to the jazz club by a local. I don’t believe it has a plaque, but if it did, it would read “Here, the Spanish painter Picasso often came, as did the painters Derain, Léger, Soutine and Man Ray aussi. Henry Miller came from afar, Matisse drank beer, while Joyce lined up his whiskeys. The writers Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre were regulars, Gainsbourg and Birkin would come for Sunday lunch as Renaud busked and François Mitterrand ate his last meal here – the famous lamb curry”. Situated dans le quartier du Montparnasse, sur le boulevard du meme nom, it is literally an art deco shrine to a past that has coloured your imagination for all things French, a symbol of history where art, literature and classic French cuisine merge.
The menu is mainly seafood, at least I think it is…I requested the menu in French and then couldn’t understand a word – except for Crepes Suzette – my favourite which did not disappoint. All fire and fury. I took a photo of the pancakes, but they’re never very photogenic, so I will spare you the image:-
The staff were très agréable, surprisingly so. Making jokes and not minding that we were late arriving after my taxi driver failed to understand where we were going. It was heaving and they do 500 seats a night. Full of locals, which is always a good sign. Most of them seemed to be celebrating a birthday. They do a thing for birthdays. The lights dim and a fake cake is lit with huge candles. All the staff form a procession and go off to the birthday table to sing. It’s very sweet. But by the eighth time that evening, I imagine they must have been getting a little weary of the process, but they didn’t show it.
The signature pudding:-
The evening was topped off with a splendid few hours at a jazz club in the Latin Quarter called Caveau de la Huchette – drinking Cointreau and dancing badly, which was so good that it has it’s own blog post.
The next day after croissant at a local French cafe we set off to see a miracle of light. The jewel in the crown that is Saint-Chappelle. A Royal chapel (Holy Chapel) in the Gothc style within the medieval Palais de la Cite. It is one of the Gothic wonders of the medieval world and breathtaking to behold – a little like being inside a kaleidoscope. It is one of Paris’ most beautiful structures – small, but astonishingly beautiful. Built in just seven years and consecrated in 1248 to house King Louis IX of France’s collection of passion relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns and part of the cross – one of the most important releics in medieval Christendom. The chapel was restored recently in time for the 800th anniversary of the birth of the King who commissioned the chapel. The royal palace around the chapel disappeared during the Revolution and it’s now surrounded by the Palais de Justice and next door to The Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette was held before meeting the guillotine.
Marked by it’s sense of weightlessness and strong vertical emphasis (how does it even stand up?) it must put modern builders to shame to know how quickly it was erected 800 years ago. It has the most extensive 13th century stained glass collections anywhere in the world – great towering windows, prisms of light – 15 huge windows fill the space with a large rose window on the western wall. It is no surprise that the spectacle receives 900K visitors a year.
Next was a meander around the streets and stroll along the Seine (pre the flooding) and lunch. Look how COOL the Parisians are:-
Back on the train and home in time for supper!