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Paris: Theatre at Large
Arthur Miller said:
The structure of a play is always
of how the birds come home to roost.’
For those of us who like to wander or just sit and observe … our play, our theatre, surrounds us.
We can imagine the endings, the relationships, the possibilities – and sometimes we just observe the stage itself and watch how its actors draw from the environment – as with the two great stages of Paris shopping: Au Printemps and Galéries Lafayette – both, I think appropriately – on Boulevard Haussmann.
The Galéries Lafayette are cameos of fashion, layered as if they are opera boxes beneath a glass and steel dome.
You reach them either by Art Deco stairways or the more traditional elevators and escalators.
The elaborate glass dome illuminates the whole stage of this unique Paris shopping experience.
In Galléries Lafayette, I saw that they understand that a gentleman accompanying his lady on a shopping spree needs sustenance – and there is a small bar for just such a purpose, placed close to the escalators so the lady with her parcels may glide down to collect him.
At Au Printemps – with their marvellous tagline
Modernity as a Tradition
there is also a marvellous view from their lofty Restaurant Le Déli-cieux – or you could dine right under the dome in the brasserie.
The stores are magnificent outside and in.
The entrance of Au Printemps is as tempting as what is inside…
..although I find the extent of choice in such emporiums rather overwhelming and tend to roam about for a short while absorbing the theatre of it all - and then leave without purchasing anything.
I rather thought on my last visit that these shoes characterised how ridiculous fashion can be, and how the necessity to shop for “Brands” can be some sort of collective tribal lunacy.
Rather than shop in the big stores, I like to “window shop” there, and then follow my ‘Paris Par Cher’ (“Inexpensive Paris”) to seek out a treasured place meant for the locals and a little ‘off the beaten track’.
The version here is in French, check for the 2011 English version Paris pas cher 2011
‘Paris Pas Cher’ will tell you where to buy Louis XIII or 1930s furniture; which ‘Ready to Wear’ shop handles what sort of style; and suggest restaurants (by arrondissement) with notes on their specialties and samplings of menu together with indicative prices.
In Paris there are lots of places to sit and read it: or sit and feed the birds, or watch the passing parade, or think – or just, simply, to sit!
I once read a quotation of Anatole France that struck a chord with me - a wanderer:
Wandering re-establishes the original harmony
which once existed between man and the universe.
I think wandering in a foreign place does bring you in harmony with it, for you have opened your mind and your senses to meet the new – and have no expectation of what will follow.
Wandering in Paris draws one eventually to the Seine and it was in one of its more remote marinas that a piece of theatre unravelled - one of the stories that make travel so memorable.
Here we saw ‘the chickens come home to roost’ in a small impromptu performance.
We were leaning over the railings watching a fully grown Rottweiler dog who was standing watch on a Seine barge that was obviously a houseboat. Actually he was sitting on watch when we first saw him, chained on a long runner chain that, once he decided to get up, enabled him to have the ability to roam freely over the deck but not to stray ashore.
Then, he saw a man walking too close to his boat. He barked a warning. When the man continued to walk along the quay parallel to the barge, the over-enthusiastic dog, leaning on the barge railing, slipped and fell overboard.
We gasped, expecting him to be hung. However, the chain had a release catch for just such a contingency, and he fell in a massive belly dive into the Seine.
The problem that followed was that there was no foothold for him to climb ashore on the high concrete canal.
The man against whom he had been protecting his territory now became the dog’s saviour, reaching down to catch the now increasingly desperate animal whose paddling was slowing after two laps of the barge. He seized the collar and by an enormous physical effort, heaved the sopping wet dog up to safety - to be promptly rewarded by a shower of Seine water as the animal shook himself, shivering both in shock and in response to the biting wind on his now soaked fur.
The play continued to unfold.
The man brought the dog back on deck and hailed the owner, who eventually emerged. He immediately grasped the situation, taking the dog by the collar and gratefully shaking the hand of the rescuer.
The dog however, had no intention of letting his rescuer leave. He wriggled free and cavorted around the man, licking his outstretched hand and nudging him back every time he went to go down the gangplank.
The two men laughed, the dog was recaptured and looked on forlornly as the walker returned to the path.
Later we returned the same way and through a porthole saw the owner drying the animal off with a blow dryer!
Jean Cocteau once said that in Paris, everybody wants to be an actor - nobody is content to be a spectator… but in my travels I have been a happy spectator to the theatre of life.
I believe that interesting places are interesting, as much for their history as for the stories that you bring home with you, stories that mould the character of the place forever in your memory.
More Paris pages:
Paris Notre Dame Cathedral
Paris Notre Dame Tower
Paris Eiffel Tower
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