Paris, Day Three

Our last day in Paris was one of those glorious late October days when the sky is blue, the air is crisp, the smell of woodsmoke is in the air and golden leaves form a carpet on which to crunch your feet. We had no set plans for our final hours in this beautiful city; we wanted to pick up some souvenirs, but we’d visited everywhere we had wanted to get to, and weren’t in any rush to go anywhere in particular. We were content to just be flaneurs and wander at will for the morning. After a quick breakfast at a boulangerie, we meandered down to the Seine and walked through the Tuilieries gardens towards the Champs Elysees, where we spotted the President’s calvacade go screaming past as we crossed La Concorde. This is a rather strange junction that has been deemed the most fitting spot to display Paris’ Egyptian Obelisk (not sure whether it’s called Cleopatra’s Needle like London and New York’s? Any Parisians care to enlighten me?) – goodness knows why – and there is some lovely copper and gilt work on display in the streetlamps – but other than that, it’s very much a spot where you do less sight seeing and more attempting to stay alive as you dodge the hundreds of cars going in a million different directions at high speed on both sides of you. Especially stressful if, like me, you always look the wrong way when abroad (I only survived unscathed in New York because most streets are one way!).

As we walked along, we passed the Grand Palais and saw the sign for the Edward Hopper exhibition that is currently showing. We both love Edward Hopper, so we decided why not? and went on in to see the exhibition. It was marvellous. I haven’t seen many Hoppers in the flesh, and seeing those quintessentially American scenes, many of which took me back to the stifling, sticky streets of Manhattan in the summer, really took my breath away. Hopper was incredible at managing to recreate that sense of loneliness at the heart of life, and while his paintings often leave me feeling sad, they also leave me marvelling at how acute his understanding of humanity was. Even his paintings that don’t feature any human figures are positively vibrating with emotion. The exhibition juxtaposed his paintings with those of his French contemporaries, building an argument for how closely Hopper was influenced by his time in Paris and his French trained mentor. Thankfully the exhibition was fully translated, so we were able to read all of the art history analysis, and we left feeling educated and more appreciative of Hopper’s oeuvre. A trip to the gift shop added a few more postcards to my collection, and an exhibition poster; that’s gone into my ‘when I am a grown up and have my own house’ drawer, ready to come out when I eventually have walls to hang things on that don’t belong to someone else!

After viewing the exhibition, we continued on to the Champs Elysees, which isn’t hugely exciting these days, especially as the hell hole that is Abercrombie and Fitch has now opened practically next to Laduree and was genuinely pumping out aftershave to entice in adolescent teenage girls, who had created a queue nearly as long as the one to get into the Louvre outside the shop, the entrance to which was guarded by two pre-pubescent boys in boxer shorts. Lovely. We walked on by and into the more palatable surroundings of Laduree, where we spent a small fortune on macarons to take home (they’re cheaper in London, but it feels more special buying them from the Paris store!!).

We then decided to head back to our neighbourhood, as we had been recommended to go to a local shopping street by our lovely host. We meandered our way down the back streets behind her apartment, past La Bourse (the old stock exchange) and onto Rue Montorgueil, famous for its range of food shops and for being painted by Monet. We were absolutely charmed by it; it reminded me of Upper Street in Islington, and feels like a slice of ‘real’ Paris rather than the more touristy and generic shopping streets in the main thoroughfares of the city. If you’re looking for the Paris you see in films, where you can buy cheese and fish and bread and wine from individual specialist shops and watch people chatting over coffee and cigarettes outside quintessential cane chaired and yellow awninged cafes, then this is the place to come.

We just had time for a stroll up and down the street before the time came for us to head over to Gare du Nord for our train home. We took our last look at the elegant buildings with their tall French windows and elaborate wrought iron balconies that line the street of ‘our’ neighbourhood and the view of the Sacre Coeur from the end of ‘our’ street, before heading down into the Metro to go to the station. We came out at the always bustling Gare du Nord at rush hour, and as I always do at any station, I looked longingly at the departures board, wishing I had the freedom to hop on a train to one of the many fascinating looking destinations. Brussels? Amsterdam? Lille? Amiens? Instead, I had to board the escalator up to the Eurostar lounge, watching the people below boarding the trains to these places I have never seen underneath the colossal glass and wrought iron ceiling of this once beautiful station. At the sight of the train to Amiens, I wondered whether Stephen and Isabelle in Birdsong would have ever come to Gare du Nord on their travels through France…perhaps. And in a reverie along these lines, I stepped onto the Eurostar, ready to be whisked back to normality once again.

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12 comments

  1. I didn’t make it to Hopper, thinking that I’d been to the wonderful Tate exhibition a few years ago. But I did go to the Marmottan, for the first time in many years. Felt gutted because it has been horribly modernised and lost so much of its charm. All Monet’s wonderful letters now under lock and key and not on view.

    1. Oh no! I need to go to the Marmottan – I will go next time I visit. Shame it’s been modernised though. I’m glad you loved the fashion exhibit – that was the real show stopper of the trip for me, and I’m sure you saw all the same Hoppers at the Tate anyway!

  2. I’ve always dreamed of visiting Paris, but never have – so your lovely posts are making me drool!

    (Saw the Hopper exhibit in the Tate a few years back and it was amazing – to see Nighthawks in the flesh was a wonderful experience!)

    1. I’m so glad you’re enjoying these posts, Kaggsy! I hope you’ll get to go to Paris one day.

      Seeing Hopper’s paintings in the flesh is incredible – they’re such cult images that I sometimes forget the original exists!!

  3. I hope you do have a chance to go wandering about the world while you’re still young enough to find it adventurous. In 1988, my husband started his own business and, anticipating no vacations for a while, we went to Great Britain and Europe for five weeks, the first three weeks on the Continent and the last two in England. We had a general route planned and a few hotel reservations, but, being October and November, we had no problems finding lovely places to stay. It was the most wonderful trip I’ve ever taken. We rented a car and drove anywhere that took our fancy and managed to visit almost every western European country for at least a few hours. I didn’t want to come home. Now, I find travelling very stressful and prefer to do it via armchair. But I’m so glad that we travelled so much when it was still fun to travel. I wish that for you, too, and it seems you’re making a good start!

    1. That trip sounds wonderful, Joan! I love to travel but I like staying with people more than I do hotels. It makes it feel more homely! I do have big plans for more travel now I’m teaching – the long holidays make proper trips possible so I am hoping I’ll be able to see a lot of sights over the next few years!

  4. I often look at the departure boards when travelling. When we were in London we went over to Prague and at the Stansted airport both my husband and I were fascinated by where planes were going. I would love to travel more but oh the cost and the waiting at airports and the uncomfortable long journeys on a plane. I agree with Joan Kyler travel as much as possible when you are young. I really enjoy your travels vicariously !!!!
    I bought the Persephone book of short stories just published and it is great and has a wonderful Dorothy Whipple in it.

    1. Travelling can be a pain but it is also so often wonderful! I must confess, I get tired of the meals out and the constant rushing around – I like time to relax and I miss cooking myself dinner! That’s why I usually stay with friends when I travel – it takes the stress out of things as well as cutting the cost!
      Lovely – I plan on treating myself to the short stories as a Christmas present – I’m glad you’re enjoying it!

  5. My favourite photo is the one with masses of red flowers in the windowboxes. Wondering about the lives of people behind the windows is my guilty pleasure while wandering around foreign neighbourhoods. And I laughed at paying more for treats from Laduree in Paris than at home….well, yeah! The same thought crossed my mind about buying books in London that I could order through TBD for less money…you simply must buy certain things while standing right there. My London trip and your trip reports have inspired me to sign out a couple of books on impressionism from the library. Loved that Tissot painting you shared, Rachel!

    1. Me too, Darlene! I wish I could have peeped into those apartments!! It’s so true – you need that souvenir, and when you’re on holiday, it’s ok to not count the pennies!! Oh lovely – Tissot is apparently very famous but I had never heard of him – his portraits are all stunning so I hope you will find some of his paintings in those books!!

  6. I can enlighten you : the obelisk is not called “Cleopatra’s needle” (neither l’Aiguille de Cléopâtre), just l’Obélisque de la Concorde. London and New-York are much more imaginative than we are !

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