I started this series talking about the incomparable experience of  walking through Rome before the sun rose. It seems fitting to end the narrative of my solo trip by saying that a Parisian sunset is similarly unparalleled, especially when experienced ('seen' seems too small a word) from one of the city's many bridges. It inspired me to stop thinking about writing, and put pen to paper. I wish I could say more, but I'm trying to save it for the book. So for now, I'm going to resort to telling you other peoples' stories of Paris; focusing on the ones you don't hear about as often.

The oldest bar/cabaret in Paris, Au Lapin Agile was, and remains, a haunt of 'unknown' artists. Picasso, Utrillo and Modigliani, among many others, were patrons at one time. Picasso painted Au Lapin Agile and gave the painting to the bar owners who later sold it, in 1920, for US$20. It was auctioned at Sotheby's, in 1989, for US$42 million!

Abbesses is one of the only two remaining Art Nouveau stations designed by Hector Guimard in Paris. I was surprised to see an elevator in the station - the only one I saw in Paris, a city which gave my legs a thorough workout. It was only after climbing down about 150 of the curved steps Guimard had designed (and seeing no end in sight) that I realized I should have taken it.

The Père Lachaise cemetery was founded in 1804, when the need for a new Parisian burial ground became urgent for reasons of space and hygiene. The cemetery wasn't too popular, so as a marketing move, the body of Moliere was shifted here. Moliere was the French comedian who ironically suffered fatally while performing the part of a hypochondriac in a play. More than 1 million burials have happened here since, and space now has to be leased out and renewed.

Le Palais Royal is one of those buildings which could be used as a history text book. Louis XIV lived here before Versailles. It became the HQ for duc d'Orleans, who used to host 'debating clubs' here, the precursors to political parties. In 1781, he had to rent  it to raise money & Madam Tussaud's first wax shop was built here (you should read about her part in the French Revolution; it's grisly to say the least). It became a 19th century mall. Today, it's a government building.

Le Bon Marche is 'the other building' created by Eiffel. The oldest department store in Paris, it contains the exorbitant, the exotic, the over-the-top. I was particularly fascinated to find over fifty different kinds of salt, and furniture that looked too decorative to be used - this place really does sell everything.

A special shout-out to a couple of places which aren't often on visitors' agendas, but should be. The first is the Memorial des martyrs de la Deportation, which provided me with the most evocative sense of life in a Jewish ghetto, and absolutely has to be experienced. The other is the Petit Palais, a free museum boasting an impressive collection of pieces by Cassatt, Monet, and others. If the building had nothing at all in it, it would still be worth seeing, especially for its indoor garden.

Most tourists know to go here already, but it must be said - a visit to Shakespeare & Company will change the pace of your day, even if you're not a book-lover. At the funeral of the owner, George Whitman, it was said 'He lived in a way that made the rest of us ask, “Why should we be afraid of life?”' You'll find yourself reveling in that simple optimism for as long as you're in the store's vicinity.

For more logistical details about these/other sights and how you can fit them into a day's sightseeing, here are my notes. Here's my FAQ doc on Paris; and here's the last installment of my photo-stories. 

And some day, when I finish my book, I hope you'll read what I really want to say about Paris, because something this objective definitely isn't it. Not all who wander are lost, but when you wander the streets of Paris, you may unexpectedly chance upon yourself.

No comments:

Post a Comment