Monday, August 21, 2017

Paris vignettes

they all went south

Paris, like Warsaw, grows quiet in August. Oh, it is a busy tourist month here, but contrary to what a stroll down the Champs Elysees might suggest, tourists make up just a small fraction of the Parisian scene. And in August, millions of the true Parisians head out for les vacancees. (Many actually leave in the middle of July, but August remains the most popular month to be away.)

This week, they start trickling back to town. I see restaurants and shops posting their opening dates, even as most are firm about this Monday: still closed, even if only for one more day!

But this isn't necessarily so terrible for a visitor who is here only for a short while. The streets have far fewer cars (they say that the average daily speed limit on the Périphérique  -- the ring road around the city -- increases by 50% in August). You can actually get a table at a popular eatery. The hush in the side street allows for a contemplative mood. Everything slows down, in good ways too.

I go to Les Editeurs for breakfast and I see most of the places are empty at what is normally a very popular meeting time there (around 9:30).


It's not unpleasant to look out on the quieter little square outside.

The air is mild, the skies are mostly overcast. Not too hot not too cold not too crowded but not deadly still either. Add August to your good months to be in Paris.

first day of school

If I have any agenda at all, it is to find a simple but sweet dress for Snowdrop's first day of school. The little girl will be moving up to the big kids' building and so it really does feel more and more like she is rapidly approaching her high school diploma hour.

It is not hard these days to find nice (and inexpensive) kids clothing in the US, but I do love looking at shops in Paris and I haven't anything else to buy and so I spend a wonderful morning sorting through pretty fabrics. I'm not sure shopping for boys has the same appeal. Pants are pants. But dresses have a certain music to them that is actually quite charming.


Of course, shopping is really an excuse to canvas broadly the familiar neighborhoods of Paris. Today, I'm entirely on the left bank.


And again, I follow a route that lets me cut right through the heart of the Luxembourg Gardens.


If you move to the southernmost parts of the park, you'll nearly always find quiet and empty spaces. But especially on a Monday morning, and especially in August.


Such serenity in the heart of this enormous city!


The park has a section partitioned off for bee hives. Lots of them! Small wonder -- there are always flowers here, even in December. But it seems that bees travel, because a few blocks away from the park, I come across a flower shop where bees are hungry for what these painted daises have to offer!


And now it's early afternoon and the cafes and restaurants are becoming more animated. The French stomach needs food, always between noon and 2:30. The tourist may groan at this inflexibility but food habits are strong in France and suddenly I hear much more French around me as the French men and women crawl out for their afternoon meal.

Well, I'm hungry too. At home I rarely pause for lunch, but at home my breakfast is something more than just bread product with coffee, and besides, I have not stopped walking since I left the breakfast table.

So about lunch...

flipping things around

The food plan for today had been that I would eat pizza for dinner. Weird, right? Well, I needed to save a bit and, too, all my favorite restaurants were closed for the summer and so why not just eat a good, fresh pizza.

But then, lo, an eatery opened just one block from my hotel and it's a place that I like quite a lot -- a creperie that goes over and beyond the traditional Breton buckwheat pancake. Out went the pizza idea and in came the crepe.

But then comes the lunch hour and despite what my smart phone tells me, my favorite lunch place staff are still out on a beach somewhere in the south of France. Cafe Varenne is closed until next week.

Hi, nice pizza place (Pizza Chic)! Would you mind canceling my reservation for tonight and instead feeding me a pizza now?

The odd thing is that many of the reviewers complained that at dinner time, Pizza Chic has been taken over by outsiders. Not so at lunch! All French people. In August. I have no answer for it.

(A mother and son...)


(A very good tomato and anchovy pizza...)


Satisfied, I meander around the neighborhood, popping into shops for my age bracket, not to buy, but just to admire. (I also admire the mom who is shopping here with four young children in tow -- one is in her arms.)



i am a tourist

It's late in the afternoon. I consider my options. I'm done with stores, I'm done with heavy duty walking.

Let me give the Pantheon a third chance. I mean, at some point it will be open and I will be allowed to climb up to the top of the rotunda, right?

(Here's the Pantehon -- a monument (and a crypt) for the acclaimed men and just a handful of women of the France's past.)


I'm in! There is a group scaling the several hundred steps at 4:30 and there is room for one more!

I kill time waiting for 4:30 by watching Foucault's Pendulum swing back and forth, back and forth...


Finally, I am up, up, up and looking over Paris.

And it is a beautiful view.


And very personal, too, as only 50 people are allowed up there at a time and there are plenty of quiet spots where you can retreat with your camera to take that glorious photo of Paris, or of yourself and Paris...


Looking in at St Sulpice, you can take note of the beautiful Parisian rooftops and chimneys....


Oh, I took about a dozen photos of this view and that view, but frankly, just one or two will give you an idea of what it's like to look down at the city from the Pantheon.

And now that I've done that very touristy thing of catching a splendid view, I think I may as well go down to the crypt to see the graves of France's famous writers, warriors and scientists: Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo, Zola... the list is long. But until two years ago, of the 73 there, only one was a woman. (Two women resistance fighters have just been added.)

It is strangely moving to see the resting place of that one woman who held her own here for so long  -- Marie Curie. Or, as the plaque rightly states -- Marie Sklodowska Curie. (She is buried along with her husband Pierre Curie.) I admit to shedding a tear. I've read books about her ever since I was a little girl and my interest was intense not only because she was so accomplished but also because, of course, she came from Poland.


I'm not the only one who lingers here. Of all the famous French buried here, hers is the grave that is photographed most (by my count).

and suddenly, there are crowds

It's remarkable that I should be hungry again, but I am and I walk with enthusiasm (the two minutes it takes me to get there) to the new addition to "my" neighborhood: Cafe Breizh.


So new is it that you wont find mention of it yet on the website of the Cafe Breizh. This is an eatery from Brittany, but in recent years it came to the city's Marais neighborhood, and then -- hold on to your hat -- it opened a restaurant in Tokyo!  There is a decided Japanese influence now on the Cafe's buckwheat pancake. You can purchase it as a roll!

Forget about wine.  The Bretons drink (hard) cider with their buckwheat and you'd be foolish not to follow in their stead.

(My roll comes with prawns, tomato and zucchini.)


For dessert, I get the buckwheat special: crepe, with buckwheat honey and buckwheat ice cream. It's just excellent!


I'm sitting by the open window, or really open door. The place is airy and modern and it looks out onto the little square that it shares with Les Editeurs and two other eateries. Every restaurant is full of very happy people (mostly French speaking, though I admit to spying more than one Japanese person at the Breizh).

Wait, isn't it still August and quiet around here? Where did all these people come from? A line is already forming at the Breizh.


The evening is young. Business everywhere is brisk. Yes, I think the people are coming back to Paris. Maybe not to work just yet. I suppose you have to ease in. Give yourself a few days to get into the city vibe once more. A few nights out with friends, a few good meals, and only then -- let the new work year begin.