We'll always have ParisFriday, November 22, 2013
So, Paris. We went, we came back. It was good.
Travel writing is not my favourite, as I've confessed before, but I thought it would be wise to record some snippets before the whole thing disappears from my memory completely. (Fin accuses me of having early-onset dementia, and only half-jokingly. Hang on, who's Fin again?)
We stayed in a perfect little Airbnb apartment between the Marais and Canal St Martin. It's a strange thing, staying in a stranger's flat. There were photos on the wall, babies and cousins and grandparents smiling out at us, full of love meant for somebody else.
We had fun trying to piece together our hosts' personalities, sleuthing through their collections of books and music, working out who was the geek and who was the chiropodist and which one was the Catholic and why would two "friends" live together in a one-bedroom apartment oh wait, never mind.
It's probably not polite to be so nosy (don't worry, it's not like I was rifling through their underwear drawer or anything), but it was fascinating to get a brief glimpse into someone else's life, especially when that someone was a glamorous gay Catholic chiropodist living it up in Paris.
When we weren't sitting around the flat speculating about our hosts' private lives, we were walking. And walking. And walking. We'd sit, have a coffee, then get up and walk some more. Fortunately I'd planned ahead and brought my high-top trainers with me. For years I've mocked tourists wandering up the Royal Mile wearing bumbags and bright white running shoes, but I have to tell you: trainers are the business. I may never go on holiday without them again.
By our last day, though, even my trusty high-tops were starting to feel the burn of pounding so many miles of pavement, so we thought it might be time to try out alternative means of transportation. We were next to the canal, the terrain was flat, and the segregated bike lanes made the idea of cycling the city's streets marginally less terrifying. We'd heard Paris's bike-sharing programme was excellent, so we decided (after some persuasion on my part) to go for it.
The bike-sharing programme is indeed excellent. So excellent, in fact, that all the functioning bikes within a five mile radius were already in use. We'd see two bikes at a stand up ahead and get excited, only to get there and notice a flat tire or a missing seat. Or there would be one perfect bike, and only one. We must have circled round and round for nearly an hour, becoming increasingly tired and desperate for a break, before our luck turned.
It was a miracle. Someone had returned two pristine bikes to a stand we'd passed maybe half an hour before. Fin protected our noble steeds from lurking predators as I fumbled with my card in the unfamiliar machine. How long, how many, insert your card, press the button, et... non. Votre carte n'est pas accepté. Try again. Press button. Non. Non non non.
That walk home from the bike stand was the longest, saddest walk of all.
Other things we did while in Paris, besides walk, include admiring French girls' glasses, eating a lot of well-cooked meat, and visiting many, many churches.
We visited one chapel that housed two embalmed nuns and a statue of Mary whose halo of stars actually lit up. The guidebook described it as "kitsch," but actually, it was lovely. All blue and gold mosaic glittering in the light and the gentle hum of a group of teenage boys saying the rosary. Fin bought a medal and had it blessed by young nun (a live one), whose job was to stand outside the chapel all day and give blessings. I can think of worse ways to spend a day.
One day, we got up early and caught a train. The grimy suburbs and criss-crossing tracks of Paris gave way to Normandy fields, shrouded in mist. Fin had come to see the home of St Thérèse and the enormous basilica erected in her honour. I had come because I love Fin. I had not come to see the framed and mounted display made from Thérèse's actual childhood hair, but it's not something I'll forget in a hurry. Neither, to be fair, is the quiet reverence of the pilgrims, or the hush of the Carmel, or the row upon row of prayer candles burning steadily in the darkness.
Powerful places, churches.
Our trip also overlapped with Paris Fashion Week. After Fin dragged me to Lisieux, I dragged Fin to the Tuileries to find some famous people to gawk at. Despite my best efforts, we saw nothing but badly-dressed tourists (in which category I include myself). Defeated, we retreated to our apartment for a little light stalking, then ambled out for a late dinner at a pavement bistro in the Marais.
As we sat watching the world go by, it started to dawn on us that the world was unusually tall. And slim. And blonde. And clad almost exclusively in black angular clothing made from leather and felt and fur. Turns out the restaurant we had stumbled unthinkingly into was right in the heart of fashion land, and we had front row seats. Twiggy was seated a few tables over, and we think Vivienne Westwood walked past, although it was hard to see anything but the orange hair.
This particular evening also led to the invention of a new game: "Fashion/Not Fashion." The aim was to split unsuspecting passers-by into two categories: Fashion or Not Fashion. Simple.
Of course, what started as a way of pointing out the most fashion-y of fashion people soon deteriorated into one of those in-jokes that holidays always seem to spawn. For the rest of the trip, the damning verdict of "Not Fashion" would be delivered by one of us (to rapturous giggles from the other) the moment some unfortunate sweatshirt-clad American had passed out of earshot, in a style reminiscent of Alan Cumming's bitchy air steward (oh, 1995, you were so innocent).
Some examples, so you can play along at home:
Nothing says Not Fashion like temporary fencing.