About a month ago (yes I’ve really been procrastinating about writing) I went to Paris. It was really lovely, and whilst I was there I wrote down some of the things I saw and heard. So I thought it was high time those scribbled notes became some words. Here is my account of my first full day in Paris, for whilst it may be about the journey rather than the arriving for some, I just don’t think I can make seven hours on a megabus sound quite so interesting…
Day one: Paris is Overwhelming!
On my first morning in Paris I stood in the lobby of the hostel looking at a map with absolutely no idea where I was going. I’d been really busy with work so I hadn’t had much time to decide on where I was going or to discover what was worth seeing. I did have an idea that I might like to go to the Centre Pompidou, mostly, I’m ashamed to say, because of a song by Art Brut called Modern Art, in which it is mentioned. Alongside the fact I do actually like modern art. Have a listen, you’ll get the idea.
So as I gazed perplexedly at the vast map, I decided the Pompidou was as good a place to start as any. Except I couldn’t find it, I looked and looked it but it just wasn’t appearing to me. Finally, in frustration, I turned over the map. And there was a list of popular attractions and co-ordinates. Oh.
So I took a Metro ticket from my carnet and headed to the Pompidou, and when I emerged, there it was in all its colourful piped glory. I later learnt that the different coloured pipes each served different functions within the building, but overall it is quite a thing to look at.
I went in, figured out how to get my free ticket (hooray for being under 25 and a European citizen) and went to look at the art. Which was pretty damn cool actually. Highlights included Shadow Play (Paris) by Hans Peter Feldman, which consisted of rotating platforms of traditionally Parisian knick knacks lit by lamps that threw dramatic, ever changing shadows onto the wall. And upstairs in the modern art gallery I saw one of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountains, a signed urinal, thought to be the first “readymade” and integral to the Dadaist movement. I was, however, rather perplexed by a video of a DJ playing records to nobody on a rooftop in the rain on New Year’s Eve whilst photoshopped fireworks exploded in the rain. The sign said the artist claims that there is no meaning to the work. Quite.
As you can maybe tell, I like my modern/contemporary art. But apologies, Art Brut, it didn’t make me want to rock out.
And with that the Pompidou was ticked off the list, and so I found myself once again out of the air conditioned halls and onto the humid streets of Paris. It was about two in the afternoon and I was starving so I headed into Dia, which is sort of like a French Lidl and bought myself a baguette and some boursin-style cheese, which came to less than two euros. And then I had to decide where to eat it. Once again my map, which makes you look so embarrassingly like a tourist, came out and I had a look at what was nearby. I worked out that I wasn’t that far from Notre Dame, so quite literally stuffing my baguette into my bag, I set off in what I thought might be the right direction.
After a few false starts I found myself down streets of tourist shops, and it was at this point I realised that my head was really rather hot. It seems that I arrived in Paris in the midst of a heat wave. So I perused these shops with their berets and their variously sized Eiffel Towers and found a straw hat that I thought was quite nice, so I bought it. And then I tried to wear it. It might have been humid in Paris, but it was still windy, and it seemed nothing short of constantly holding onto the hat would keep it on my head. As I approached the very large Notre Dame, crossing the road to get to it, a large gust of wind picked up the hat and blew it up the road. Fortunately I was able to grab it before it went too far, but that was all I could take with the hat and it spent the rest of the day tied to my bag by its ribbon.
Notre Dame was big and cathedrally and incredibly hard to take photos of even from the wooden steps that had been placed in front of it for people to sit and admire the view, and to listen to concerts in the evening. It was nice, I suppose, and quite different from English cathedrals, but I couldn’t be tempted to join the incredibly large queue to go in, even if I could have a tour for free.
I walked around it and sat in the gardens that sat in the shadows to eat a little bit of baguette and to consider my next move as surreptitiously as possible, once again pulling out my blatantly touristy map. I spied Jardin de Luxembourg, which a friend had recommended to me, and realised a short walk past the Sorbonne would take me there. So I walked past the impressive university, had a bit of an incident with a button on a pedestrian crossing (turns out they are for blind people and a highly annoying French woman will tell you the name of the street you’re crossing until it’s safe to cross. I think I’d prefer the spinning knob we have in the UK if I was blind). And then I walked into Jardin de Luxembourg, which was lovely and allowed me to finally eat my baguette and cheese and to read Trainspotting sitting in one of the portable seats with my feet on a bench. Around me several people slept.
When I’d had my fill of the Edinburgh accent, and garlicky cheese, I promenaded around the gardens and sat with my feet in some very dirty water idly watching small, French children pushing model boats around with wooden sticks. The boats were all assigned a country and at first I couldn’t work out why so many French children owned such similar boats. But then I spotted the stall hiring the model boats, which were powered only by the wind, and I understood. I wonder if British children would enjoy such a simple pleasure.
I returned to the hostel to have a shower and upload some photographs, and then I decided to walk back to the so-called university district where I had been told that food was cheap. Walking along the Seine I was briefly accosted by a French boy on a bike, who alerted me to the fact my laces were undone and then proceeded to follow me down to the banks of the Seine and to ask me lots of questions. This was just a little creepy so after telling him my name was Isobel (which, in case you didn’t know, is not my name) and that my French was “tres mal” I saw my escape up some steps, which he would not be able to navigate on his bike. I was then asked for directions in French from a car, at least I think that’s what I was being asked, but having such little French I just shouted “Je ne comprends pas!” and walked off, which was terribly rude really.
I crossed a bridge and spotted a sign on a shop at the end of it advertising “padlock engraving”. I turned back to look at the bridge, and sure enough it was covered in padlocks! I’d read about the relatively new European tradition of couples writing their names on padlocks, locking them to bridges and throwing the key into a river, but I’d forgotten it took place in Paris. It was quite a sight to see the padlocks fighting for space on an overcrowded bridge, and interesting to later read that many Parisians thought this went against the French idea of love. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre would certainly not have “locked themselves together”; indeed they did not even live in the same house. But they were certainly still very much in love, despite not following a life of monogamy.
I struggled with finding somewhere cheap to eat as I found reading menus quite hard. My comprehension of written French really isn’t that bad at all, but there were certain words that I thought might mean “meat product” and so I didn’t really like to risk it. In the end I plumped for pizza, a tartilette de pommes and a can of beer for twelve euros, which I took with me to the banks of the Seine, where I passed a nice half an hour eating and people watching as tour boats sailed past. And then I walked back past a man playing guitar at Notre Dame, and daring tricks performed on roller blades and felt a little less overwhelmed by everything.
Tomorrow: The underwhelming Eiffel Tower, Northern Irish humour at the arc de triomphe and the perfect Paris-ness of the canal.