Just as Paris abounds with “tourist attractions”, there are many books depicting the picture postcard view of the city; so let’s get off the coach and look for something that will uniquely define our visit.
Paris is a great city for walking in, if you don’t mind the traffic. Almost all of the historic and cultural sites are accessible on foot from the center of the city; although the Metro is a fast and efficient way to cover longer distances.
A good map is essential; a guidebook is also helpful although guidebooks always want to show you someone else’s Paris rather than let you discover your own. Personally, I find that compromise is the best solution. Let the guidebook suggest which areas might be of interest to you, then put it back in your bag and explore the area for yourself. That way, you’ll have an experience that is truly yours.
I did warn you about the traffic. Crossing the street in Paris can be a hazardous undertaking. If you stand timidly on the footpath waiting for the cars to stop, you’ll be there all day. The locals simply set out to cross the street with resolve and determination and the cars stop for them – usually!
The bookstalls, lining both banks of the river Seine, particularly those near the Latin Quarter, are right in the center of town and the locals go there, so it is a good place to watch and perhaps even meet people.
The stalls not only sell books but old postcards and prints, which you can often pick up at bargain prices. For me, however, the photograph below is a priceless memento.
I was browsing one day along the Left Bank near the Pont de la Concorde when I came upon this lady taking her cat for a walk. Somehow, I don’t think the stall owner wants her hanging around.
And on the subject of cats…
I found this little kitty lurking around the statue of Acis and Galatea, part of the Medici Fountain in the Luxembourg Gardens.
Another place to go to watch the locals at leisure is the Stamp and Coin Market that is located on the avenue Matignon, just off the Champs Elysées near the Elysée palace.
Some photographs are totally contained within their borders but I particularly like the one above because the real point of interest, (ie that which has caught the attention of the young woman in the center of the picture whilst all around her were focusing on the coins), is outside the frame, leaving the viewer with no choice but to exercise his or her imagination. I wonder what she was looking at…
Embraced by the arms of the Louvre and stretching right up to the Place de la Concorde are the Tuileries Gardens, an expanse of trees, flowers, fountains and statues right in the heart of the city.
Chairs and benches are placed in abundance throughout the gardens at the disposal of visitors who wish to relax but in 1973, whilst the fixed benches could be used free-of-charge, a fee was levied on the use of the movable chairs. A park official, usually in plain clothes, would approach unsuspecting occupants and issue a ticket in exchange for a modest sum. The trick was to spot the official coming and move before the demand for payment was made.
In the photograph above, the woman in the coat with the dark collar is collecting the “chair occupancy fee” from the elderly woman who is checking her coins, the lady to the left has just paid up, the man to the left of them is looking is if he has no intention of sitting (until the collector goes away, perhaps) and the couple on the right are making their escape before they too are confronted by the park official.
Parks in Paris are very popular and a good place to watch the natives. My favourite is the Parc Monceau but the Tuileries are closer to the tourist attractions and there is always something going on there. For example…
Also known as pétanque, the object of the game is to throw a small cannonball as close as possible to an even smaller white ball that has been tossed down at the start of the game. Unlike British bowls, boules is played on rough ground and the ball is pitched, usually with heavy backspin, rather than rolled.
I found this group of players and spectators in the Tuileries gardens near the Louvre.
After a long day wandering the city, there is nowhere better to relax than in a sidewalk café, quietly observing the locals in action. The trick is to find the cafés where the action is.