The husband and I were deep into planning an anniversary trip when friends informed us they would be in Paris for a few days in late August. We looked at each other and decided that we would be there too. After all, a friend turns 50 once and it is a cause for celebration, particularly if you haven’t seen them in well over a year. The timing was perfect – we could add a few days and make a l-o-n-g weekend of it. I adore Paris. I really had forgotten how much since we were last there three years ago. I thought that maybe part of the magic was that it was a reunion trip during a deployment. Nope. Paris has a special charm that doesn’t disappear just because you’ve experienced it once.
We had been told by a number of people that August is a terrific time to see Paris. Apparently, there are fewer crowds there than at other times, since many Parisians close up shop for much of the month and head off on vacation. Museum schedules don’t seem to be affected, so unless you are only there for the shopping, the line-ups are shorter to get into most attractions. We expected it to be warm, but weren’t really prepared for the hot, steamy 37-39°C that it hit most days (98.5-102°F for my American friends). Our intended trip to Versailles was cut for this reason….by the third day, we just couldn’t face the idea. Much nicer to stay in the city and pop into air conditioning when necessary. We stayed for six days in total, two of which were spent with our friends.
We walked. And walked. Even though we bought passes for the transit system (which I highly recommend), we still seemed to walk an awful lot. But we did take the metro, unlike our last visit. It really is a convenient way to get around the city, especially when your friends are staying at the other end of it. Our hotel was in St-Germain de Prés, within a few minutes’ walk of two different metro lines. One of the things I love about Paris is the neighbourhood feel everywhere….it just doesn’t feel like a huge city. On the first morning, we encountered a farmers’ market around the corner from our hotel, set up on the park-like boulevard between the two lanes of traffic. Wow! The produce is unbelievable in freshness and variety, reasonably priced, and artistically arranged. I can honestly say that if I was a resident, I would do most of my food shopping at these markets. There was even a booth with lovely handwoven scarves and shawls. The only thing stopping me from buying was that we’d only just arrived and I didn’t want to be too hasty. Fool. What was I thinking???
So what did we see? The Pompidou Centre, the site of the largest collection of modern art in Europe, captivated us for several hours. Following a particular love of mine, we attended an exhibition at the newly opened Les Docks design centre hosted by Cité de la Mode et du Design. It was in two parts, one entitled “Cristóbal Balenciaga: Collectionneur de Modes”, a 65 piece retrospective of the designer’s work. In contrast to the largely black Balenciaga garments, the other exhibit displayed only pure white pieces from the Spring 2012 collection of Comme des Garçon. I hadn’t expected to like this and was pleasantly surprised.
Each display corresponded to a stage of life: birth, marriage, death and transcendence. I was most disturbed by the wedding dresses that resembled straightjackets….most thought-provoking indeed, resembling more avant-garde art than fashion. The Louvre was the setting for yet another presentation in the fashion arena: Louis Vuitton-Marc Jacobs at Les Arts Decoratif. Absolutely amazing. I found the history of the company particularly interesting….all those steamer trunks invoke an age where travel was so totally different from what it is today. While at the Louvre, we also toured the sculpture displays. Not my usual choice, but I enjoyed it very much and took a fair number of photos.
Following this theme, we also stumbled upon the most interesting place. As we waited to cross a street, we noticed that the building opposite was unlike anything we had ever seen before. Wildly painted and decorated, there was a large sign indicating that the premises were devoted to artists’ workshops and the public was welcome to enter. Well, how could we not? The place was astonishing, amazing, inspiring….and colourful. Unfortunately, I am unable to grab any photos and didn’t think to take one myself, but there is a website that is well worth checking out: http://59rivoli-eng.org/main.html. We spent quite some time exploring the studios and chatting with the artists, who seemed to come from a variety of locations around the world. We even purchased a couple of prints.
I think I’ll stop there…for now anyway. I’m still sifting through photos….