Sunday, June 18, 2006


It always takes me a while to get acclimatised to being in Paris. I have to get my bearings. First I go and say hello to the Seine. On Friday night I got down there at 9.40pm. It looked like this:

I chased the sunset as far as the Pont du Carrousel. This was taken at 10.20pm. Unbelievable. If anything incredible had happened in the other direction, no one would have noticed. The whole of Paris had their necks craned towards the setting sun.

With all my sunset chasing I’d forgotten to eat. I thought of going to Vagenende, recommended by a friend and also by Jane Birkin (not personally!). I knew it was on Boulevard St Germain but since I didn’t know where, I could’ve been in for a long search. The first place I got to on Boulevard St Germain was Café de Flore. I was so hungry I thought why not, be a cliché. I was quite surprised that the clientele was mostly French, not tourists. I out huffed the huffy waiter who was taking his good old time to serve me. By that point I was so hungry I could have eaten the table, but I settled instead for a glass of Saint Emillion which tasted like thick vinegar, and crottin de chavignol on toasted Poilane bread. I don’t know what all the fuss is about with Poilane bread. I like their little raison buns but their classic loaf is dry and hard, but somehow chewy at the same time. My dish also came avec un cheveu noir gratuit. Ew.

Yesterday morning I continued my ritual. I picked up free listing rags En Ville and GOGO, and Pariscope (0.40c) so I know exactly what’s going on and where. I went to the Marche des Enfants Rouges at the end of the street for cherries (noticable darker and sweeter than English ones) and ate a delicious Portuguese custard tart.

Against my better judgement I had a quick browse in all the usual stores along Rue VieIlle du Temple. I know I shouldn’t do this until I’m used to being in Paris again, but ever the stylist I have to know what they have in stock. As usual I am unprepared for the frosty service, and the necessity of sharing a changing room mirror with a bevy of pouting, scowling size 0 Parisiennes. I just realised why Parisians never smile.
Try pouting and smiling at the same time - it’s impossible.

So what are they (fash-ettes) mostly wearing in Paris this week?
Slouchy, baggy long vest – maybe two or three layered in charcoal or black, baggy shorts or leggings – charcoal or grey, scuffed ballet shoes – black.
How to get the look: What you’re aiming for is to look as if you haven’t done anything other than roll out of bed, light a cigarette, pull on yesterday’s crumpled clothes, scrape your hair into a loose messy bun and stumble to the nearest café. Not washing your hair is a bonus, as is not removing old eye make up. Under no circumstances must you look as if any effort has been made. As with the ‘no make up look’ this takes hours in front of the mirror to perfect. You may add a pair of black A.P.C wedges for evening, but don’t push it. You don’t want to look like you’re trying.

It’s all a bit too reminiscent of grunge for me. The layering, the sludgy colours…maybe it’s just too easy to look beautiful in a city where beauty is par for the course, and sartorial elegance is easily accessible. I have a theory that the youth of Paris suffers from Paradise (Stendhal) syndrome. How else to explain their penchant for Café la Perle, (3eme) still going strong and as popular as ever, despite being a complete dump? I wouldn’t mind, except it’s a stones throw from here, so I am forced to ponder its allure every time I negotiate the hordes spilling on to the pavement outside.

Yesterday I popped in to book shop Shakespeare & Co to see if they had a copy of Edmund White’s ‘The Flaneur’. I overheard the Dylan Moran – esque cashier telling a woman about a discussion of travel writing going on at that very moment, with Tim Parks, Dervla Murphy and Geoff Dyer. Geoff Dyer. Where? Geoff Dyer my hero, whose articles and books often makes me weep with laughter? The programme notes of the ‘Travel in Words’ literary festival say it better than I ever could:
Geoff Dyer is a writer of fiction and non fiction, travel, philosophy, art and comedy…all at the same time.

I join the throng spilling out of the small marquee where the talk is being held, in the little park next to Shakespeare & Co. The sun is beating down on my back, Geoff doesn’t seem to be able to get much of a word in and when the Q&A begins critic types begin asking deliberately oblique questions and my longing for an ice cream overwhelms me. Geoff will be speaking at the festival again tomorrow. Three scoops of Berthillon’s best – cherry, blackcurrant and pistachio were worth the half hour queue and the lovely gentleman and his wife who barged in front of me, then stood behind me slagging me off in French when I didn’t let them. I get so frustrated in situations like that, my French nowhere near good enough to say what I want to. I blurted ‘There’s a queue, it’s behind you.’ The death stare is thankfully international so I made good use of that too.

Dinner at La Fee Verte, at the quieter end of Rue de la Roquette – away from the neon and happy hour signs was lovely. Described in GOGO as a gastro-zinc, it's not as poncy as that sounds. Tuna steak and asparagus risotto, followed by lavender creme brulee was scrumptious, but the real reason to go back was the service. Genuinely friendly, by the time I left I wanted to hug my waiter rather than scratch his eyes out as I usually do. Sod it, most Parisians make me want to scratch their eyes out.
So much so that when someone smiles with their eyes and treats me like a human being and - paying customer I am eternally grateful.

An itinerary of sorts:
Today: Canal St Martin
Monday: Alesia
Tuesday: Belleville

All areas I've never explored before. That's what I love about Paris.


eurobrat said...

Thank you for this post!

I feel like I'm in Paris.

Bombay Beauty said...

Yes, you are providing much needed vicarious travel while I'm grounded here in New York. I've often been in Paris in June, and the endless evenings are inspiring. Have great fun.


Anonymous said...

can't speak

am swooning


more please, more more more


Julia said...

Oh this is great reading these posts - easing my post-Paris blues. Ok, should be my post-European vacation blues...but, it's always Paris that lingers in my mind the most...

I walked past La Perle one night (I stayed in the Marais) and it didn't have me craving to go in. I grabbed a falafel at L'as du falafel and walked the streets instead.

Serena said...

I had no idea I looked French (messy bun, old eye makeup)! Thanks ; )

IdaTH said...

ôh geoff dyer: that must have been just before i asked my funny question to him!
that wasa good talk he did the last day, b t w...