Today’s post arrives courtesy of Julian Stone – the man and brains behind the “He Thought Of Trains” blog. Today, he thinks about Paris and reaches a conclusion that most of us must have reached before.
A few weeks ago, back when the trees still had leaves and you could comfortably turn in for the night with less than seven layers on, I was spirited away for a solo jaunt to the city of lights, and all because the laddie liked Eurostar on Facebook. This jammy dodger scooped a prize to go to the Rock en Seine Festival courtesy of my favourite conveyor to continental Europe. So off I went with a trumpety trump and said hello to the circus that is gay Paris.
I’ve been several times already but never before had I witnessed such a catalogue of curiosity. It all started when I arrived at my Hotel, La Martine in the 9th Arrondisement (dontcha love the sound of that word? I know it’s quicker to type ‘district’, but honestly I could say it all night. I think this song started my love affair with the word.)
The hotel is named after the poet and statesman Alphonse de Lamartine, widely hailed as the first French romantic poet. But that’s not the source of inspiration behind the name. Well regarded in his prime he spent the last 20 years of life in sad decline and humiliation apparently. Aha, now that’s more like it.
As I stepped into the cluttered entrance cupboard and waited several minutes for acknowledgement, I wondered if a spell languishing in this very hotel during those final, tragic decades was what did him in. The room itself was a distinctly unloved and unlovely place even at € 65 a night. Here is an establishment which eschews the outdated notion of the pillow chocolate, replacing it instead with the plus outré pillow peanut. And instead of turn down, they proffer an innovative turn out service. I arrived a good hour after check in to be directed towards the street.
No matter, there are many worse streets to be pilloried into than Rue de Martys, a lively hill of enticing delis, cafes and designer children’s fashion boutiques which winds its way up to that uniquely Parisian locus of tourist tat, sleaze and impossible charm and beauty that is Montmartre. I struggled feebly to resist the urge to snap everything in sight as I walked around for my hour’s reconnaissance.
On my return you might think that my room would be all shiny and new. Think again friend. Around 3pm the cleaner burst in unceremoniously and sternly ushered me into the bathroom while she made the bed. I cowered and clung to the broken shower screen while she whipped the sheets about like an angry lion tamer. Really the script editors of Fawlty Towers would balk at this place, with its strange reception staff babbling down the phone to each other in surly Arabic tones and insisting that I settle my bill the night before check out.
I did a lot of walking and consequently got lost a lot. This is fun in such a diverting city, to a point. There are an inordinate number of signs for Post Offices. They seem to greatly outnumber those pointing to major attractions or metro stations. Why is this please? Are all Parisians plunged into a perpetual state of postal panic? On the third and final day, having spent all weekend pounding the pavements, as I always do when travelling alone, and after doing grim battle with an obstinate street toilet (and did you know that Paris now has just one solitary pissoir in existence?) I began to tire, and as I wryly noted turning into Avenue de Sufferin I recognised that being grumpy on your own lacks a certain catharsis. I was hungry too and after being stopped and asked inauspiciously where the nearest McDonald’s was, I inspected this menu.
This state was brought on by a detour I made to Avenue de Motte Piquette and Rue Grenelle. I’d heard it was a charming, quintessentially Parisian market area, and as it was a halfway house between the hotel and the festival venue in Parc St Cloud anyway I went along to kill a few hours. Really I could not see what all the fuss was about: behold, real French men selling real French fruit and vegetables! Sorry, but it brings me out in Gallic shrugs. I finally settled on somewhere to sit down to have a nice cuppa cappuccino (when in Rome, no?) And just look at the preposterously overblown confection I now had to feast my eyes on at Cafe Zinc.
Suitably unrefreshed I strolled along to le Champ de Mars. For several minutes I could hear the strains of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ and so was lead, Pied Piper-like, to investigate the source. This was the oddest sight yet. Tightly clustered around a square of barriers was a huge crowd of Jacko clones while a DJ blasted out MJ’s greatest hits. They were all peering in expectantly like a dog at a butcher’s window…at absolutely nothing. I lingered for a good 15 minutes in anticipation, but nul points. I checked the date; it was no birthday or death day memorial.
Wending my weary way up towards Gare du Nord I was on my guard for rogues and robbers, having obsessively read all the bad press this stretch gets. When I got to the station I stopped outside for a celebratory ciggie, having made it back in one piece. Just at that moment a fairly scary looking, junkie ne’erdowell type approached me and requested one. Uh-oh, I thought, the bubble’s burst, here’s some preamble to an altercation. But I’m pleased to say I was wrong. He asked me in croaky English where I was from and on hearing my answer relied: ‘Ah, God save the Queen!’ before saluting me and shambling merrily off.
Yes indeed, Paris is strange when you’re a stranger, faces come out of the rain. But of course these are just deliberately selective highlights, specially curated for readers of this fine blog of roving oddities. Don’t get fooled into thinking I had anything but a great trip to what is inarguably one of the Europe’s most spellbinding cities, if not the world. Freebie or no, I wouldn’t keep returning if I didn’t love it so dearly. But to suck up all that good, more everyday, stuff you’ll just have to look out for my forthcoming post on my own little blog now wontcha?
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