Sunday, 22 April 2012

Paris, je t'aime

Writers, artists, creative people if you're feeling that your soul is being eroded by everyday life (i.e. by that thing called a day job that pays your mortgage or whatever) then I recommend a trip to Paris. Many a morning I've fantasised about hopping on a plane and flying off here so a few weeks ago that became a reality - I packed my case and took off alone. Halfway along the runway I did have a niggling feeling of; hmm I'm going to a city I've never been to, alone, me, of no sense of direction; is this a good plan? But I survived to tell the tale and I'm pleased to report I only got 'lost' once when I couldn't figure out how to get across the road to the other side of La Seine outside Musee D'Orsay. Trust me, it's more complicated than it looks...

The photo at the top is my vision of Paris - spindly trees and old fashioned lamp posts that evoke a sense of stepping back in time. I took that photo when I was on La Batobus sailing down La Seine (a very relaxing way to travel and it gives you good views).

One of the first places I headed to when I arrived was the Louvre and standing outside this place is amazing, never mind venturing inside to see the art. The architecture and sculptures outside are awe inspiring; the pyramid in the centre reminded me of a Dali painting; a futuristic structure in the middle of classic images.

I'm not sure if it was because I was too tired when I visited the Louvre, but I did get the sense that the art/sheer size of the place was too overwhelming for me and I had a much better time at Musee D'orsay. After my visit here I've become a big fan of Jean Francois Millet - I could have looked at the painting 'Le Printemps' for hours; See it here. This online image doesn't do it justice as the light shining from it was mesmerising. I also loved the Pictorialism Photography section (where the artists create an optical blur, mixing photography with engraving and drawing to create an ambigious, dreamy image). I particularly liked the dark and mysterious images of Edward Steichen.
The Art Nouveau section was also amazing - walking through living rooms and bedrooms furnished by great artists like Gaudi. I love the delicate and intricate Art Nouveau style and how it's embedded across the city. Even the metro signs in Paris are pretty...

One of my favourite 'parks' was Jardin de Luxembourg and on my walk to the entrance I had a strange feeling of de ja vu, like I'd been here in a past life. I like how seats are left out in the parks in Paris, inviting people to sit by the ponds and fountains and watch the world go by. I enjoyed watching two old men play chess on a bench, a little girl squeezing her head through the gap in the bench, studying them intently. I also noticed an old couple walking hand in hand through the park- they must have been in their late seventies- and the old man suddenly pulled her to him and kissed her passionately. It was such an unexpected gesture; it filled me with a sense of hope or something.

My hotel was two minutes from the Shakespeare and Co. bookshop. One of my favourite films of all time is 'Before Sunset' and the film opens with a scene inside this book shop. Sadly I didn't find Ethan Hawke inside but I loved this place so much! Wall to wall books; little nooks and crannies where you can sit and read, old fashioned typewriters hidden in corners. Upstairs takes you to the reading library, dedicated to Sylvia Beach, who owned the orginal shop (and used to let Hemingway borrow loads of books on credit according to his accounts of Paris in 'A Moveable Feast'). There were lots of people sitting reading in the 'library' and a table overlooking the window was set up with an old typewriter, giving the sense that some literary ghost was sitting there...Next door were two make-shift beds (which poor writers can apparently make use of) and an old piano (and of course more books...). A boy sat down at the piano and started to play music which added a nice atmosphere to the place. On my way out I'm sure he started to play what sounded like Nirvana's 'Smells like Teen Spirit'. Just outside this room a girl sat in a corner sketching images from a book. The wall above her head was covered with post-it notes, adorned with comments from visitors from all around the world. One had a passport photograph attached of a very dramatic and serious looking couple (I'm sure they must have been Italian).

If you ever visit the bookshop make sure you browse the Shakespeare shelves along the back wall downstairs. You might find a note hidden in amongst the books, penned by me. I'm hoping someone interesting finds it and follows my instructions to email me about what they love about Paris...

One of my favourite streets was just around the corner from Shakespeare and Co: 'Rue Galande'. You'll find quirky little shops, a great creperie and a small cinema along here.

I was lucky enough to visit Notre Dame Cathedral when a service had just started. Hearing the choir singing in such as magnificant building, watching as a cloud of incense snaked upwards towards the sunlight streaming in through the stain glass windows gave me goosebumps. As I wandered around the cathedral I also saw an outline of a man through the confessional screen, standing talking to a priest, gesturing in such a serious manner I wondered what sins he'd committed...

It's difficult to capture in words the effect Paris can have on your mind. Every corner you turn there's something which fires your imagination. Artists line La Seine; even set up home in the museums (one woman was painting a Pierre Bonnard picture in Musee d'orsay stroke by stroke- an eerily accurate replica).

One image which will stay with me was seeing a young Japanese woman walking along a winding street in Ile St- Louis, dressed in a black leather jacket, a white wedding dress underneath and the happiest smile on her face. I couldn't see anyone who might be her husband with her; she looked like she was in some sort of a trance and a part of me wondered if she had put on the dress and was wandering the streets of Paris, marrying the city. I told you; it's difficult to put into words the effect it has on your mind...


  1. Glad you had a good time; nice to see the cathedral there with the blossom on the trees outside. One of the best things about France is the interior of the churches - even for a heathen like me they are spiritual places; they leave you with a real feeling of reverence.

  2. I am so glad you posted this as I am hoping to see Paris myself this year, at long last. It will be a short visit, en route to elsewhere, and I need to plan it so I can see the things I most want. I would definitely like to do a trip down the Seine. Thank you for reminding me about Shakespeare and Co too. I had read about it some time ago on another blog, and must try to see it while I'm there.

  3. Wonderful post, Vicki. I've so enjoyed reading this and congratulations on having the courage to travel alone.
    We also had trouble working out how to cross that road!
    When we were walking along by the Seine we saw a single red rose, still in cellophane, discarded in a litter bin. We still wonder about the story behind that and the image of it in my mind sums up Paris - its style, romance and underlying melancholy and beauty.
    I love Before Sunset as well and would love to visit that bookshop next time.
    Like you, we were lucky enough to experience a service when we went inside Notre Dame and it was magical. I'll never forget it. Even my travel-weary daughters, very young at the time, were entranced by it.
    We couldn't go inside the Louvre because the queue was so long and we had limited time, but we wandered for ages outside, marvelling at the building and those structures, especially the pyramid. I didn't expect to like it, but found I was fascinated after all.
    My favourite moment was suddenly seeing the Eiffel Tower when I wasn't expecting it. (Bad sense of direction too.) It took my breath away. It possessed a kind of elegance that, again, I hadn't expected to see.
    Thank you for inspiring me. Your post has put at least two story ideas into my head.
    And well done again for making the solo trip.

  4. Wonderful post, Vikki, and I so wish I'd been with you - although that would have spoiled the solo visit that inspired your creativity. You've really captured the spirit of the place with your words - I definitely want to visit Shakespeare & CO! And I'm proud of you for going on your own.

  5. Wonderful description of one of my favourite cities - thanks for all the memories it evoked for me.

  6. Thanks for all of the comments...
    'Dr Sneaky' - the atmosphere inside Notre Dame was definitely something and the cherry blossoms in full bloom added to the beauty of the city.

    I'm sure you'll have a great time Joanne. If you take the Batobus (which stops at major sites along the Seine such as Notre Dame, Musee d'orsay, Eiffel Tower, Louvre etc) you can hop on and off all day if you want - or just stay on for a round trip. Once I got my bearings mind you I found that I enjoyed walking everywhere. Shakespeare and Co is in the Latin Quarter, a great area, and is just across the street from Notre Dame. It's also about a 25 min walk from here to Louvre and Musee D'orsay-if you walk fairly fast!. (They're on the opposite sides of the Seine from one another). Enjoy!

    I enjoyed reading your account of Paris, Joanna. Really like the image of the rose; it's little observations like that that do make your mind develop ideas for stories. I found it to be a great city to explore alone -felt very safe. The queues in Paris are annoying but I found arriving before opening to wait or going later (Louvre was open until 9.45pm on Wed and I think maybe Friday too) helped a lot!

    Thanks, Mum. I'd definitely go back alone as I really think it would be great to just sit in parks all day long reading, drawing and writing.

    Thanks for dropping by, Paula. Paris has now definitely become one of my favourite cities!

  7. It sounds as if you had a wonderful trip, Vikki, with lots of ideas to fuel your writing! I love Paris, and it makes me want to go again.

  8. Thanks for dropping by Jean. I want to go again now too!

  9. I've devoured every word of your post, Vikki. Paris is my favourite city in the world (of those I've visited). I never leave it without wanting to go back. Your post has made me want to go back soon!

  10. Thanks Joan. I want to go back too! Sorry I didn't get to speak to you much at weegie last night - hope you had a good time.

  11. Wow,

    That is such a good idea... Just go!

    Lucky you:-)

  12. Was a great experience, Kat! Highly recommend:)

  13. Great post, Vikki - and lovely photographs. This reminded me of just how much I love Paris.

  14. Thanks Suzanne. I watched a film set in Paris today where they wandered around outside the Louvre - brought back good memories!

  15. Paris is such a wonderful city and you've captured it so well.A story or two there??

  16. Thanks for dropping by, Myra. I actually just completed a short story a few weeks ago inspired by my trip! (and actually sent it out, rather than leave it sitting on my computer)