Arriving in Paris and feeling every hour of the 30 odd that we had spent both in flight and in the 5 airports en route, we were warmly greeted at our ‘home’ for the next four nights by our host. How fortunate we were to be able to rent this amazing loft, just a few hundred yards from the Arc de Triomphe. The Avenue (Rue Faubourg Saint Honore) is famous, not least for all the fashion houses that inhabit it, but it seems our near neighbours include a French President, and various Ambassadors. We were told there was a lot of security around. We didn’t ask any further details, but kept a keen eye out in case I saw Carla Bruni.
Our days in Paris passed in a blur of seeing sights that cannot be missed. Some sights are obligatory such as Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Arc and of course Champs Elysees and we did all these both on foot and courtesy of the hop on-hop off bus. We also broadened our horizons and metro’d it out to Pere Lachaise Cemetry – final resting place of Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Chopin, Sarah Bernhardt, all with a story that adds to the complexity of Paris.
One of the most touching sights was the monument dedicated to the Communards, in the sense that it is a truly remarkable monument artistically, but that it also made me think of all the times the French and Parisians have had to stand up and be counted, rebelling against wrongs for whatever reason - in this instance, being starved and repressed, fighting for equality, fraternity and liberty.
We toured the city from the open top bus and whilst chilled to the bone (springtime in Paris?) saw the cities architecture from above, something you often miss if walking. We came to Place de la Republique – close to where some family members had stayed previously, and most recently the venue for ‘Je suis Charlie’ mass demonstrations and showings of public support for freedom of press and speech and solidarity for Charlie Hebdo victims. Although it is now over 2 months since these atrocious killings, the Government has left all the stickers, graffiti and cartoons in place. No doubt there will come a day when it will be wiped clean, gone but never forgotten.
While these sights and so many more are ingrained in our memories, my most perfect memory is of a pre-dawn, awaking and watching from the loft bed on the 4th floor, watching the avenue below, the patisserie coming alive (I can clearly see the delights being placed in racks ready for patrons), early commuters scurrying along all rugged up, the restaurant across putting out the tables and chairs and in the midst of all this – a homeless man finds the bag of yesterdays unsold bread and opens it, scattering some for the couple of pigeons in attendance, ties up the bag and along come another half dozen pigeons, so out comes more bread to be scattered.
By this time the night has turned into day, the patisserie is open for business and the street is filling.