Sunday, December 18, 2011

Paris right

If I never spend another “last Saturday before Christmas” in Paris stores, I’ll be okay. More than that – I’ll be delighted.

Who knew that to Parisians, this day is like Black Friday, December 23rd, last day before all stores close down everywhere and forever – all rolled into one. Whereas yesterday I may have written – gosh, Parisians aren’t that into shopping, today I’d have to cross that one out. They’re just into last minute shopping.

And maybe it’s the weather. It was to rain on and off, but really, for the vast bulk of daylight hours, it was lovely. My friends were having a light day and so I set out on my own, on a path that is so pathetically familiar and repetitive that even minor adjustments and detours can’t take away the feeling that when in Paris, I really am a very boring person.

So follow along, if you wish. I’m concentrating on the right bank today. Only half of it – forget l’Etoile, Champs Elysees, Louvre -- all those right bank standards. Move over to Bastille and the Marais. But not just yet.

First, the morning stroll past high school students who, unfortunately, being French, have school on Saturdays.

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Sorry, guys. I feel for you. Just remember, you have free Wednesdays. And you can look forward to long vacations eventually when you work. (At breakfast, the waitress grumbled that the hotel only gives her 30 vacation days per year.) So, off you go. The bell is ringing. Throw down your cigarettes and turn off your incessant friendly chatter. You’re already too good at it.

I cross the river to get closer to Notre Dame. If it’s Christmas (season) and if I’m even mildly going along with the traditions of this holiday, then surely I ought to pay my dues here. It's lovely in the morning light.


Alright. Cross over to Ile St Louis, where it’s quiet on a Saturday morning. You get the feeling that people are only now emerging. Doing their morning routines...

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Picking a nice scarf for that walk with the pooch. You never know who might see you.

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Cross the river on the other side of the island and I am in the Bastille – Marais neighborhood.

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Christmas trees for sale everywhere. What I like about the French trees is that they’re sold in stands. Natural ones, made of timber logs. You don’t have to put the darn thing up. It’s already up. But it can be heavy, so you may want to use your shopping cart to roll it home.

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Place des Vosges. My kids used to ask – mom, why do we always go to Place des Vosges when we’re in this city? Easy answer: because I like it.

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These days, the walk from it, back toward the center of town is quite different. The streets have gone the way of gentrification and it’s one of the nicer shopping areas in Paris. Except, of course, on this Saturday. When it’s crowded.  Still, there's plenty to admire. Some window displays, yes that. Here's a brasserie that's done up for the holidays (though the woman with the white poodle seems indifferent to it all.)


And Zadig and Voltaire -- a quite nice clothing chain -- is pushing penguins, which, I suppose, can stay in place well beyond the holidays. Efficient and cool.


I go in one shop -- Maje -- and note that they're focusing on bright orange in their clothing selections. Here's a salesclerk, a mannequin, oh, and me there in the mirror.


I take a pause from the craziness of stores. Inside the courtyard of one of the museums  (of old books) there's an area where you can take a restful moment.

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Back to the tumult. And still, it's really all so lovely and the people seem delightfully energized. (Or maybe they're all on a sugar high. Incapable of resisting the seasonal delicacies. These modern yule logs are drop dead gorgeous.)


Eventually I reach the Centre Georges Pompidou. Here’s your basic photo of the open space before it.


I'm just passing through. On my way to Les Halles -- or rather the blocks to the north where you'll find the best stores with cooking supplies. (Perhaps you know that this whole space is under construction now. You can expect a beautifully designed new Les Halles here in a few years. Here's a dad explaining it all to his kid.)

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Insanely crowded today. I don't bother with my camera. Just one photo. Of soup ladles. They're pretty soup ladles. Shiny and bright.

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Okay. Out and weaving my way through the neighborhood to get back to the river. It feels almost warm now, in the high afternoon. Almost.

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As I pause, deciding on which bridge to take, I notice the clouds. The stuff of yesterday. Yep, there'll be rain.


I'm in my neighborhood now. People are partial to their neighborhoods in this city. I surely am. In fact, keep your fancy pastry stores and perfect yule logs. I love this place just two blocks away from my hotel. And if I were to eat anything from it, it would be this cake. Fraise de bois (wild strawberries, for lack of a better translation) and me go back a long way. To the days in the Polish village where my grandma picked and served them with honey for dessert.


It's late afternoon. The rain does indeed come down. I'm tired, cold and hungry (not in that order). I pause at a tapas bar. Why? Because it's there. I order a snack of grilled prawns with a glass of wine (even though the place is called "Jambon Jambon," which translates into "ham").


The streets are wet now. A question that I mull over in my mind: how is it that the French manage to stay upright and avoid crashing into each other? Even when streets and sidewalks are wet, they scoot around on their bikes and motorbikes with reckless abandon. Rosie would be delighted -- she'd be among her own! And I haven't seen a crash yet. I think it's because they start practicing early. Kids routinely go shopping with maman taking their scooters along. It's amazing how good they are at zipping along on crowded sidewalks!

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I have a quick errand at the department store. There. Done now. Out again, among the heavy traffic of pre-holiday shoppers.


And finally, I'm back in my own neighborhood. My friends and I are heading out to supper. I'm returning to a place that actually is an Ed discovery. Weird, I know. It's behind the oyster stand on Rue de Buci.

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The Bar-Brasserie is called L'Atlas. Good, solidly French, very unpretentious. The star on the menu is, of course, the fresh Brittany oyster.


But there's more going for L'Atlas. It's a lively place with a stellar waitstaff and a wonderful casual air to it.


And the rest of the food is nothing to sneeze at either. A good steak frites, a wonderful creme caramel...


...all good. And still, what I have to admire, perhaps over and beyond the food, is the camaraderie -- the stuff that brings people together over the dinner table. Here, this small group has had an evening of pleasure being in each others company. You can see it in their faces, in the relaxed slouch, in the appreciative laugh.


Perhaps it's infectious because our own table is much the same. Shared humor, stories told and retold in the comfortable manner that you can have after sitting down to many meals together. It's been a wonderful run of shared meals. One more on Sunday. Just one more and then we return to our separate homes across the ocean.