DAY 4 began in the rain. I set off on foot from our hotel in St Germain des Pres and walked to the Marais in under an hour, with frequent stops to take in sights ranging from stationer’s shop windows to Notre Dame. I passed through both Ile St. Louis and Ile de la Cite, and strolled down Rue Rivoli, pleased to note that two or three of the old workingman’s cafes (zincs, they’re called) I remembered from my last visit in 1998 are still there.
The Marais is gentrifying, and I have no use for the designer boutiques that now occupy 400-year-old buildings. But it contains what for me, in a city of abundant beauties, is the single most harmonious, eye-pleasing public space in Paris: the 18th century Place des Vosges, below, with uniform red brick buildings and deep mansard roofs, a square that always seems to be serenely above the human fray.
I sat for a bit, then went around the corner to Musee Carnavalet, the history museum of the city of Paris. I was there primarily to see the special exhibition of Eugene Atget’s late 19th and early 20th century sepia photographs of Parisian buildings, architectural details, and citizens at work — more documentation than art, though 43 Atget photos from Man Ray’s personal collection (nudes and mannequins, mostly) have a distinctly surreal quality. I had limited time for the permanent collection, which starts in the Neolithic period, so I had to choose. I chose the 20th century, and ran to see Marcel Proust’s bedroom, below, a little world unto itself; and the amazing painted interior of a 1920s hotel.
Metal shops signs from the 16th century onwards at the Musee Carnavalet
Courtyard gardens at the museum
Art Deco hotel interior
Square Georges Cain in the Marais — one of Paris’s many tucked-away public gardens
Lunch was a treat, with the one person I actually know in Paris: a former teacher of mine from the Pratt school of architecture. Pascal took us to La Coupole on the Boulevard Montparnasse, a cavernous Art Deco space where lobsters and shellfish are served on three-tiered platters and birthdays are celebrated (twice in the time we were there) with lights out, sparklers, and loud, lusty singing. The place is Balthazar, essentially, but the real thing, not an artful re-creation. Fabulous.
My dessert, above: apricot gazpacho
Walking “home” from La Coupole, one of my favorite corners in “my” neighborhood, above
After a brief rest and a change of shoes, it was on to the Park Monceau on the Right Bank. I’d read about it, I’d heard about it, and I wanted to see it. A private garden in the 18th century, it’s now a well-used public park of an acre or two, with grand iron gates, studded with the ruins of stone follies: a colonnade beside a pond, a pyramid, arches. It’s a charming place.
There’s an adorable vintage carousel, pony rides for kids, young lovers carousing among the antique follies, massive old trees, and mysteriously unmown (compared to all the other manicured Paris parks I’ve seen) grass.
There are fantastic mansions on the side streets around the park. Although the immediate neighborhood doesn’t seem terribly fun (not much cafe life or shopping), Susan and I decided that we would take an apartment in a house like the one below if it was offered to us.
Toward the end of the day, we were sitting at a sidewalk cafe (wine is 5 euros a glass and I haven’t had a bad one yet), contemplating our next move. One of us said, “We haven’t done the Eiffel Tower yet! Let’s do the Eiffel Tower!” We didn’t go to the top; who wants to wait on line with all those tourists? But you get a powerful sense of its majesty and bulk just from walking beneath. I would have liked to see the twinkly lights that begin after dark, every hour on the hour, but though we were there after 8PM, dark was still two hours away. Maybe tomorrow night.
Having seen the Eiffel Tower up close, I now know I’m really, really in Paris.