Can you imagine travelling in the cold, the rain, the fog and the mist in early January? In conditions the complete opposite for anyone living in New Zealand or Australia, the latter currently where bushfires have been blazing. Impenetrable heat and soaring temperatures and here in the Batignolles, 17th arrondissment, I am at home.
Paris is a city to fall in love with. It is a beautiful city. And living away in what many would say a little ‘village’ like area where everybody knows everybody and you can make friends with the locals at the boulangerie (which is indeed on every corner) and parks and bookshops and little pubs are hidden around every corner how could one not want to stay here?
Alas, I was here only a week. An absolutely superb and incredible week thanks to a number of wonderful people in Paris who shared so generously their time and hospitality to make this little Kiwi (with terrible French, even though we have French ancestors) welcome in this special place.
I owe my experiences to Axel, a dear friend who despite the distance between Australia and New Zealand has still been in relatively regular contact. Having family and friends in Paris he organized a place for me to stay with some of the most delightful people I have ever met. Aurore, who despite her busy work schedule, still made time for me, gave me the best Parisian Sunday I could have asked for – with her family. That was such a highly memorable day that included not only meeting her parents and nieces and nephews but also seeing the youngest perform the haka for me! I have tucked it away in a special place in my heart and hope that one day those three littlies will come visit me on my side of the world.
Arriving in Paris on Friday after catching my 7.00am Eurostar connection from London meant that I had the whole of Friday before me. After coming into gare du Nord (and thanks to Aurore’s excellent instructions) I was able to make my way to her office at Haussman St Lazarre and then onto beautiful studio that she had so generously given to me for the week.
There was an unforgettable sensation when I stepped over the threshold and looked outside – on the eight floor overlooking the rooftops of Paris – I could see the Eiffel Tower! I was so terribly excited and that view simply eclipsed all my tiredness and hunger. Not that the latter wasn’t rectified easily with a quick stop and chat with the boulangerie owner 10 mn from the apartment and a quiche in hand I was on my way to explore. That first afternoon I wandered the streets of the Batignolles, visited Martin Luther Kind parc and in general had a simply lovely time discovering the specialities of my new neighbourhood. I also found an amazing diner of salmon and vegetables for an unbelievable six euros and tons of advice from the young man who served me who spoke almost perfect English.
That night I chose to walk down to the Champs-Elysees and the Christmas markets were still in full swing so a few hours spent there and an hour spent each way meant that I certainly had done more than my average daily exercise required J
Every day in Paris involved a museum – when you are travelling alone, time and the audio guide are excellent companions and I visited the Grand Palais’ Edward Hopper exhibition, Le Chat Noir at Montmarte, spent hours at the Louvre and in the company of the very knowledgeable and very friendly Carole we visited Versailles.
Being with someone who loves and appreciates art and history gave me experience of Versailles a portal to revisiting history. Not only the actual Palace but the apartments of Marie Antoinette and the stunning gardens which despite the weather still captured a very unique sense of time being held still, especially in the fog. The other advantage was the fact that travelling in winter meant there were hardly any people around and treading the paths ;aced with hues of orange, gold and brown beneath an icy sky was an eerily delicious experience, especially when walking through the woods with a close friend solving the problems of the world.
I quite dislike the notions of being a ‘tourist’ and I prefer being a ‘traveller’ as one who learns and explores and shares experiences that don’t involve the slightly ridiculous (in my opinion) notion of having to tick off a particular list. Indeed I visited Notre-dam but being Catholic I feel also gives you a slightly different experience, one of awe and inspiration; but also as an artist to observe the detail, the craftsmanship of the sculpture, the history and the context, they all echo in the most alive manner and especially during mass.
Thanks to the recommendations of my lovely friend Stephanie (who is now back in Australia) I also explored Le Marais, visited Shakespeare and Company, walked all the way from Segour to Rue Mouffetard and went to Pere Lachaise cemetery where Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde are buried. Obviously, not all on the same day when you consider museums were a huge part of this particular experience but there is also something very appealing about this particular cemetery. Not only is it a historic site where you can wander and get lost (quite easily if you didn’t take a photo of the map at the entrance) but it is indeed a site of those passed on and those who come to remember them and in some ways keep the spirit of what they were best known for alive …in many sense of the word.
I also met others along the way, including Romaine, thanks to whose help I managed to find the elusive cheiche for my friend Axel. While it is lovely to travel alone it is very enjoyable to spend time getting to know a city through the yes of its people and I have learned and been offered such unique perspectives that I feel truly very very blessed.
I thank you Paris and you’re people for giving me such a special space to be in for this last week and I feel that some very deep and personal connections have been made with this very lively historic city of France.