We’re in another time zone.
Day 1 was good food and good wine to get over jetlags (and hangovers from some binge-Raksha-bandhan-drinking in Mumbai) and to set the mood for the days to come.
Charcuterie, cheese, house-wine (served in a carafe and made by the guys who run the cafe, I’m told).
And an older sister who has become hotter than ever.
The love-hate relationship with Paris has begun on day 1.
It’s such a beautiful city. But being relatively unattractive is hard to deal with.
(And to think that everybody from back home wanted me to hook up with a French guy or an Italian or a Spaniard… and oh! How I’m going to have disappointed them)
Snails are tasty. The butter garlic sauce is something people here love. Me, not so much. The meat, though, is chewy – almost like mussels. It has a texture and a distinct flavor that I quite enjoyed. More snails in the days to come. May be Basque style or Spanish. Ummm… Well, Basque (as the web tells me) is a fine mix of Spanish and French, so let’s see what I can lay my hands on.
Day 2 was Weight Loss 101 class. I walked up 43 storeys. 21 to the first level of the Eiffel Tower and another 22 to the second level. Thankfully, after that, we’re only allowed to take their super cool hydraulic elevator. And all this, on one ham-and-cheese sandwich. See, it’s a pretty cool program. Blow up a tonne of money on a trip to a few cities in Europe, and walk everywhere you need to so that you come back looking hot… ummm… visibly thinner and eaten away by the stress that the bankruptcy has caused you.
So, when you’re up on level three of the Tower, at 281 metres (281 to 324 metres is the antenna and the part where visitors aren’t allowed to venture), you have the romantic option of sipping ‘champagne at the Sommet’, as they call it. But some people are single. And traveling alone. And you know, let’s not get to the depressing bit.
My cousin lives in Paris. We grew up together. Therefore, picking a place where I’d get bed and breakfast for free worked out pretty well for the Gujjuness in me. She took me to Marche des enfante Rouges (Marketplace of the Red Children) for a stroll and some food and some happiness. Red Children almost makes the city sound racist, or that’s what I thought, until I figured the marketplace is one of the oldest in Paris and is called so because of the children clothed in red (the color of charity) who were cared for in a nearby orphanage.
The marketplace, usually bustling with life and activity, seemed rather dead on a Tuesday afternoon. We ate some Moroccan food because neither of us had had any in a long time and both of us were craving some.
Delicious. There’s something about couscous served with lamb that I’ve always loved. If you go back to my Zerza post from NYC, or from any Egypt references on the blog, I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about. But then, I like almost any kind of food. So, that’s that.
We walked down to the Notre Dame and sat around at a cafe before we did that, sipping Perrier (posh soda water), watching a bunch of college kids play the saxophone and the contrabass and a pretty girl sing songs, and what-looked-like-mime-artists work roller blades with immense ease. It was wayyyy past ticket-selling time, so I *do* plan to get inside the Notre Dame to look at the stained glass this coming week, but let’s see how all of that works out. The title of this blog post comes from a song someone was playing in the streets that afternoon, and I couldn’t agree more.
And then, two cousins who hadn’t talked their hearts out in a long time, sat on the banks of the Seine, laughing and gossiping and feeling mildly awkward about the dozens of couples sitting across the bank because we might have loved to be in the same place, possibly, with doting boyfriends. The day ended with a cruise on the Seine and passing out when we got home, because our tired feet wouldn’t allow us dinner or wine or anything else.
Day 3 was about walking down the Champs Elysses, the most expensive neighborhood and shopping hub in the city, looking at what Parisian fashion is all about and feeling mildly out of place. One end of the Champs Elysses is the Arc d’ Triomph, a massive gateway built in memory of the soldiers who lost their lives in the first World War. And then, there’s a loooooong stretch of pretty road and trees and a million stores, from a Louis Vitton to a Mc Donalds… a street right off the main stretch of the Champs Elysses, called Avenue Montaigne which has all the big names in fashion – Christian DIor, Dolce & Gabbana, Ralph Lauren and so many others that I never even knew existed…
The architectural beauty that the Arc d’ Tiomph was built with the intention of being, nine roads converging at it, and the disaster it often ends up being in the modern day, owing to poor foresight (and understandably so!) of the traffic congestion that it now results in, amazes me.
Walking all the way down the Champs Elysses again, to the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais (the Big and the Small Palaces, respectively, d’uh!), the Concorde and the Obelisk, the National Assembly… and all the way down St. German to St. Michel.
St. German might be considered important in French light, because the cafes on the street were home to several authors who met to discuss ideas and write what ended up being famous pieces of work.
The true delight of the day was quaint and absolutely adorable St. Michel, a street that has small shops that sell the million little beauties that make up the wonder that Paris is, that won my heart and burned holes in my pocket.
The evening involved teaching my aunt what falafels are about and ending up doing dinner with her, my uncle and my cousin, talking about things that matter in life, eating melon and ham, sipping wine, enjoying some pasta and gorging on tiramisu. Ok, we ate at Maoz. It may not be as authentic as authentic goes, but then it’s good stuff nevertheless.
(Pictures of St. Michel when I’m more-normal and less-overwhelmed by it, hopefully after subsequent visits there, which happen the end of next week.)
Today, we finalized details of everything I intend to do starting tomorrow, until the end of my stay in the city. And you’ll have to wait for blog posts to know more. The cousin and I left for Mont Martre around late afternoon, stopped by outside Moulin Rouge (my aunt tells me Crazy Horse has better and more expensive cabarets than Moulin Rouge, followed by Cabaret Lido on Champs Elysses) for a photo-shoot.
Mont Martre won my heart, and I’m finally in love with Paris. We walked through steep cobblestone streets to a little square where a few dozen artists sat and sketched portraits of visitors and show cased their works of art of the little township that this hill is. That’s when I remembered that @unrudhshastry had once told me that a lot of renowned artists had their studios around here, back in their time. I’m not sure I have words to describe the thirty minutes I spent inside the church atop the hill – Basilique du Sacre Coeur or the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris – the stained glass, the organs, the candles, the prayer, the silence. An instruction outside the church that expected us to maintain silence made me realize the power of collective action. It made me think of several things, far more deep rooted than just finding peace inside a church, but I’ll leave that for another day.
Outside, we sat on the lawns with my cousin and a couple of her colleagues and ate dried sausages, hummus, rye bread, olives, goat cheese and everything we thought was suitable to bring to a picnic. And red wine. Brouilly, I’m told.
And though the day ends with me typing this blog post, waiting for my cousin to get back from seeing another friend, while I finish that bottle of the Brouilly we’d opened.