Paris is all the guidebooks say it is and more: a place where you can experience romance and adventure from the front row seat of a cafe. As we were only in town for a few days, we made a list of all the things we wanted to see. You know, the usual touristy stuff: Le Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower. Thankfully, we dumped the list and spent our time in happier pursuits, such as finding the perfect crepe and people watching. When you are in Paris those two things are enough to occupy your time. The sky was blue, there were cafes a plenty and we were in the city of light!
Over lunch, I entertained myself by counting the number of people with baguettes. Parisians have a delightful habit of walking and chewing bread at the same time: youngsters on mobiles, mothers with strollers, children in school uniforms, nuns. They start at the top taking little nibbles, as if eating ice cream. If this was a film, I’d have thought it artfully cliched, but it was actually happening around us. I also counted poodles. Every other dog strolling in Paris is either a poodle or a terrier; the French seemingly incapable of owning ugly dogs. They also don’t believe in ugly drinks. In some places beer is served in white porcelain mugs and coffee comes in glasses or giant soup bowls.
After lunch we visited Notre Dame. The line was long so we gave up and found a cafe nearby. A few feet away was a painter in a red beret, brandishing a brush, as he were contemplating his next masterpiece. He really played up to the crowds. A real Artist in Paris. Cest magnifique! Every time an excited tourist group left and a new one took its place, our artiste dipped his brush into a pot of vermillion and struck an inspired pose. The entire time we sat there we never saw him paint a thing.
Occasionally he would dab at the stack of printed illustrations he sold at 15 euros a pop. I guess you could argue that he was actually ‘painting‘, as he swabbed a little vermillion on the cherries of his postcards. He tried to explain his method to me in Spanish; really just French with a lot of Z’s thrown around for effect. I bought a painting. I can’t resist an artist, especially a charming one in a hat.
Next stop was the Cite Metro station. It is invisible, by which I mean it exists, but you can’t see it. Tres crise existentielle. It should be here, said D, pointing at the map. We circled round and round and finally found it hidden behind some ivy and a flower shop. Instead of the usual blue M, the sign was art nouveau with a flowing script that blended right into the landscape like camouflage. Seriously, aside from Parisians who thinks of hiding a station?
I had looked forward to the perfume museum but was a little disappointed to find that there weren’t any classic scents, just new stuff for the busloads of excited, fragrance-strip-waving tourists to buy as presents for the folks at home.
D was hoping to find his Remembrance of Scent Long Forgotten. He isn’t a big smell person like me, but he once passed a woman wearing a scent so powerful, so awe-inspiringly sexy and warm and wonderful that’s he’s been spellbound by the memory ever since. I asked him to describe the smell, but it got confusing after 50 mismatched adjectives. Also, he can’t tell the difference between an oriental and a floral and is for all intents and purposes smell-blind. I guess he’ll have to go through life disappointed like Proust.
On the way back to London we took a bus to the train station. Nothing like experiencing a city through the eyes of public transportation.
From my window I saw the following:
1. two ballerinas in tutus standing on a corner practicing their entrechats and jetés, their graceful limbs warming-up against lampposts.
2. 50 or so Elvis aficionados (elvi?) roller skating thru the streets of Montparnasse.
3. a businessman in a suit and briefcase riding a skateboard.
But that was forgotten when a fight broke out on our bus. Maybe the bus driver was distracted by the businessman too, because he suddenly stopped in the middle of the street, got off the bus, rolled up his sleeves and went into the street to sort things out with the person who had cut him off. Out of nowhere appeared a crowd of angry men all arguing in loud voices. A little old lady passenger rushed after our driver, yelling out what I hope was the french version of: get back on the bus, you ass.
Whatever she said, worked. Before you could say C’est la vie, all the men started shaking hands and patting themselves on the back, all animosity forgotten.
Our driver got back on the bus chuckling. As we pulled out, the roller disco Elvi passed us. I waved, but they skated on in silence, the sound of Paris drowned out by the whoosh of their wheels.