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Paris. People asked me why I was going in winter. I replied that it was still Paris – winter or not: just Paris without so many tourists - a perfect travel getaway.
My short break in Paris used to an annual OECD Conference – always in January. I thought I would make the most of it. Where most people are attracted to the January sales, my interest was different.
I wanted to dance in every tango bar in Paris - for this is the city where the dance was reborn in the 1920’s and rose to the world’s view. It was a worthy goal and though I think we missed a few - ah, how we danced: Argentinean tango and real Cuban salsa.
Most memorably, with a captivating student I met in a tango bar on Saturday night, who made me promise to come to a big salsa event on the following Tuesday. When he saw me there, he brought me to the dance floor and we danced as if connected, though we had only met once before.
So it can be with a Latin dance.
I shall never forget the meringue, a saucy Latin dance where one can play ‘cat and mouse’.
A man was eating dinner as he watched us on the dance floor– and paused for fully 5 minutes with his food laden fork half way to his mouth. It was theatre at its best.
After all, it is the city of passion, the city of love.
Sadly I had to fly out the following morning so my passion was restricted to the dance floor – but I havea burning memory of a wonderful, exhilarating night of dance.
One should build as many memories like this as one can in a lifetime – and who knows when paths might cross again – or where?
Colette, in 1944 in ‘Paris from my Window’ said...
The true traveller is he who goes on foot,
and even then, he sits down a lot of the time
In Paris there are lots of places to pause, to watch the passing parade, or just to absorb the reality that you are here, in Paris - the stuff of romance.
When we arrived on the Roissy Bus from Charles de Gaulle Airport, we stopped at a traffic light and from our high coach window saw a romantic scene that spoke of the city’s reputation.
A man knelt before his love beside a flower kiosk and presented her with an engagement ring - right there beside our bus, on the street corner. It was as if we had stolen onto a movie set where the best of our expectations would be satisfied.
Usually I am a single traveller, but this time I came with one of my first two teachers of Agentine Tango. They inspired me with the passion of this wonderful dance.
Though a dancer, she had never been to the ballet, so, in planning the trip I checked the Opera Garnier programme. Fate would have it that the perfect ballet was being performed when we would be there: Paquita.
We had to go, for it is not often one attends a Ballet with the same name as yours.
It seemed a good omen – and I believe in omens!
I was not disappointed. It was ballet at perfection, costumes worthy of any of the best Parisian design, and an atmosphere to match the gilded beauty of the building itself – even if the only seats that were left were ‘In the Gods’ (in the very last row at the top of the theatre).
One leaves an event like this glowing with the music, the spectacle, the magic of the ballet world unfolding exquisitely before you.
We celebrated with a late night crepe from our favourite ‘hole-in-the-wall’ crêperie and chatted briefly with the owner. He wanted us to go dancing with him. How did he know we were dancing our way through his city?
A kind offer – but we declined!
Paris is a city of dance…as posters seemed to reflect…
…or just forming a perfect framework for a nearby restaurant, with its copper pots outside declaring its authenticity.
Of course there are all the icons to greet like old friends, for even if you have never been to Paris before, something like the Arc de Triomphe is so familiar that you are sure you have seen it in real life before.
It looms above what used to be officially named Place de l'Étoile - or of the Star - named for the star-like convergence of roads at this point. It has now been renamed Place Charles de Gaulle – though still referred to by locals as “The Star”.
There is a lot of patriotic bas relief on the arch but I wonder what other nation would show their proud youth nude as they go to battle against forces fully clad in battle attire of chainmail?
It is not to study these marvelous nude figures that people come here in their millions, but it is a bonus.
The tomb of the Unknown Warrior lies beneath the arch and even Hitler followed the respect shown by all parades on the route on which the Arc de Triomphe stands, by having troops march around and not through the arch itself.
I always think the visitors on the top look as if they are part of the bas relief.
Hopefully none of them will break off – as reputedly did the sword in the hand of the figure of Republic - at the start of the Battle of Verdun in the second World War.
Fearing that this could be interpreted as an omen against the success of the battle, the damage was quickly covered with canvas.
In Paris it seems that around every corner is some interesting detail to be enjoyed, like an old shop sign…
…or the chestnut vendor warming himself over his brazier.
I can’t resist a hot chestnut on a cold day...and I think it is part of the charm of Paris that there are so many chestnut vendors to warm you.
It is always somehow something particular to Paris to buy a small cone full of hot chestnut, waiting patiently behind others with the same idea...
… and munch as you wander.
I find so many fascinating things to see, but had I been the driver of this illegally parked car, perhaps some of the charm may have fast worn off.
Mental note: Never park illegally in Paris.
No messing about here.
The truck comes and just picks up your car and carries it away.
This was all accomplished with incredible speed and in five minutes the offending vehicle had been uplifted, secured and disappeared to be impounded.
There are so many stories unfolding as you wander – and one never has to walk far to find something unexpected, like a Japanese garden in the centre of Paris.
It was not open at the time which was a pity.
UNESCO donated the garden and I was would have liked to see the rocks that had been specially selected by an artist, Noguchi, in what is reputedly a garden metaphor representing the world.
I pondered what was so relevant about rocks, and then recalled astronaut Neil Armstrong once saying:
Geologists have a saying:
So perhaps their careful selection had more meaning than their artistic shape.
I shall have to explore the theory further when I can explore the Japanese Garden on another visit.
In strolling along with my chestnuts, I saw something that reminded me that Paris has always been a city of innovative finance.
The Bourse - the Paris Stock Exchange - was the second in existence in the world after that of Amsterdam (although early records of what effectively operated in the same fashion as a Stock Exchange took place in Jonathon’s Coffee House in London in the mid 1600s.)
It retains the name “Bourse” as that was an early location, although before finding its current home, there were several locations, including at the back of the Opera.
Stock Exchanges have been the source of varying levels of individual investor success, for as John Maynard Keynes commented:
Markets can remain irrational
longer than you can remain solvent.
The scene that prompted this digression of thought was the sight of one man’s financial vehicle: a dog and cat snuggled up in miniature bed and successfully charming money from the pockets of those passing by.
Besides the delight of people-watching, or just admiring the elaborate facades of the buildings…
…there are all the landmarks - like the July Column in Bastille Square.
…or the golden statues of the Pont Alexander III - the four ‘Fames’ – those of Science, Industry, Commerce and the Arts.
One of the Fames is restraining the winged horse Pegasus - who himself was a god of fame and wisdom – and of inspiration, for in myth wherever the hooves of Pegasus struck earth, an inspiring spring was said to develop.
With Pegasus kept here in restraint but in glory, it could be said that he is helping us to drink in the inspiration of Paris – an inspiration that continues to draw creative talent from around the world.
Fame is having a busy time holding the earth-bound creature but I am always glad she manages to keep him here on the bridge over the Seine.
The name Pegasus always makes me smile because when my big brother was small, for some reason he thought stepladders were called Pegasus – and it led to considerable consternation until the mismatch in terminology was discovered.
No-one ever did discover how such a confusion of what to an adult are unrelated objects could occur in a six-year old.
On the Seine, it was getting to be time for the booksellers to pack up…
…as the silhouettes of Paris landmarks were imprinted against the fading colours of day.
As the evening wrapped Paris in softened pastel colours, the shops burst forth in carefully crafted illumination.
Gazing into the window of an antique shop…
… I wondered about the Parisians of the past who had laughed and talked – and danced – with their guests beneath these beautiful chandeliers.
At dusk the icons of Paris line up for you as dark silhouettes on the banks of the Seine by the Pont Alexander III.
Here, I love the fact the lion seems to be roaring a puff of steam into the cold night air as the one lonely cloud of the pastel blue twilight drifted into position behind him.
At this hour - or in fact at any hour - this is always one of the interesting places of Paris - for here you can capture images of the Grand Roue (the Big Wheel), the bridge lion above a golden METRO sign, l'Obélisque and Eiffel Tower.
Aligned as the Pont Alexander III 18th century lights are lit: you can have all these Paris icons all in a row, and beautifully framed.
This is my secret place to align blurred outlines of the monuments of Paris as they stand out against the sunset.
Paris is not a city.
It is an experience, an affair, a lifting of the spirits as you share her secrets and build your memories.
Audrey Hepburn was also captivated by the charm of Paris - and as she said:
Paris is always a good idea.
More Paris pages:
Paris Notre Dame Cathedral
Paris Notre Dame Tower
Paris Eiffel Tower
Paris: Theatre at Large
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