Thursday, 24 May 2012

France, Day 3: Paris

30 April

 Paris - every day a new and wonderful experience.

Today, after another yummy breakfast and coffee served to us by the delightful Iris – and with the morning greetings exchanged with our fellow diners from Italy – we headed down the road to rue de Rivoli, a street which you would recognise if you saw it because it pops up in just about every movie or television show set in Paris.

Named after one of Napoleon’s victories in Italy, rue de Rivoli will take you from one end of the Jardin des Tuileries past the beautiful Hotel Maurice, the golden statue of Joan d’Arc, the lovely Hotel Regina, past a million souvenir shops, along the side of the Louvre, past countless eateries, down to the amazing Hotel de Ville, the Paris Town Hall, and beyond – no, not to infinity and beyond, just “beyond”.  Anyway, this isn’t a history lesson; this is our second day in Paris, the third day of our wonderful trip, and it’s the little fun parts of that which I want to share with you here.

Eglise Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois,
Place de Louvre

So, from rue Saint Roch we turned right onto rue de Rivoli. I have to confess, we hadn’t gone too far before I was lured into a ring shop. Yes, that’s right, this shop sells rings only. Now, as you have no doubt heard, copy goods are absolutely banned in France, and you will even hear stories of tourists having their fake Gucci handbags which they picked up for a song in Thailand or Bali confiscated at Charles de Gaulle airport. These people are serious about rip-offs. I think that’s quite okay, actually. Let’s face it, French design is something they are rightly proud of, and it accounts for a big chunk of the gross national product. It’s perfectly reasonable then that they have a right to be protective of such a valuable commodity and don’t want it devalued by $5 copies. But here’s the funny thing. While you can’t have rip-offs being openly sold in France, you can actually have copies of designer stuff as long as it doesn’t actually pose as the original. Have I confused you totally? Well, put it this way: this ring shop specialises in costume jewellery which is ‘based on’ or ‘copied from’ the rings produced by famous jewellery houses; they just don’t label them as the genuine article. Oh, and of course, the price is very attractive. The designs were amazing, blow-your-mind stuff. I squeezed in between a few well- heeled American ladies whose own diamonds probably could have bought the whole shop, building included, and feasted my eyes on the wonders to be had there. Well, suffice it to say that I left that shop with two lovely, lovely bits of bling in my handbag.

And another view of the same beautiful church.

A bit further along rue de Rivoli we came to rue Castiglione. Now, I don’t know about you but there are certain combinations of letters, certain words, and certain placenames which I just love. I don’t know what it is but they are to my mouth as treacle or fine shiraz. They roll around my tongue in such a way that I can taste them. Castiglione is one such word. I can’t even say it without shrugging my shoulders and raising my eyebrows in a show of delight, and my hands – quite without any conscious direction on my part – simply raise themselves and open out like the petals of a flower raising itself to the sun. Okay, okay, I know that that’s a bit much, a bit silly, but you sort of get the picture: I love that word, Castiglione. Needless to say, I took my man’s arm and turned us away from rue de Rivoli and down rue Castiglione.

Yes, it is indeed part of the gardens of the Louvre
(amazing on the outside as well as the in).

Now, one of the guide books which I had purchased a few months previously was Suzy Gershman's "Born to Shop Paris".  I had been through the book many times, marking stores which appealed to me, those that sounded distinctly Parisienne, small stores where the shopping experience would be different to the normal shopping malls and department stores to be found at home. One such shop was Catherine’s. I didn’t have Ms Gershman’s book with me that day as I had intended to leave shopping until just before our holiday came to an end, and of course I hadn’t noted addresses of any of the shops I planned to visit. But – serendipity, people, seriously – there, on rue Castiglione, just beyond the beautiful Hotel Jolly, it was, Catherine’s.  Believe it or not, though, we almost missed it. A tiny little shop - one which you would miss if you were busy on the phone or if something in the passing traffic distracted you for a few seconds – with an entrancing window display that stopped me in my tracks, it wasn’t until I looked up at the sign above the door that I saw the name. I couldn’t believe it. See, serendipity indeed.

The Louvre suits B&W methinks.

Through the door we went and into that charming store. Make-up and beautiful bottles of perfume were elegantly arranged everywhere we looked. There were two assistants, although advisors would be a better term. One was busy attending to an immaculately dressed French woman, and so my man and I had the benefit of being looked after by someone who will remain always in my mind as the best sales assistant – God, she was so good I hate using that term for her and wish I could think of something more fitting – I have ever come across.  In my poor French and her wonderfully accented English we discussed what scents I usually like, my lifestyle, my skin type. She spent quite some time examining my hands and arms, talking about acidity levels, before selecting various perfumes which she assured me would actually last on my skin – something so many perfumes fail to do. She would chose a spot on my arm and apply a little bit of perfume. I was then instructed to hold my arm straight and we would wait 2 or 3 minutes. She would then raise my arm to her nose, and rolling her face from side to side so as to ensure she got a good noseful, would inhale deeply. If she then tapped my arm, I knew she liked it. No tap, a downturned mouth, a gaze off into the distance, and I knew that perfume was not right for me. I mentioned a particular scent which I had been fond of in years gone by, and so she tried that on my skin. Aghast at its effect, she declared that the smell of that lovely perfume on me was like a Chinese restaurant. Oops, sorry, bad suggestion.  We settled on one particularly stunning perfume, by Lalique, and of course the bottle in which it came was itself a work of art.

It really is VERY photogenic.

It was then my man’s turn. Now, you need to know, he is an extremely shy person. Huh, not in the hands of this woman, I can tell you. He was as captivated by her as I was, and he was more than willing to have her spray his arms, his wrists, even his chest with a huge variety of colognes, which of course she then nuzzlingly checked to find just the right one. Actually, I think that was one of the highlights of his stay in Paris. Believe me, on our next trip he couldn’t wait to revisit Catherine’s.  Of course, she selected a cologne which was absolutely perfect for him, Hypnose Homme by Lancôme, and backed it up with some fantastic after shave balm. 

People just add the human touch -
making it real, not one of its own treasures.

With our selections dealt with, I then decided to purchase a couple of bottles of perfume to bring home for gifts for special people. I had in mind to buy a bottle of Joy for one of my sister’s. Our fabulous expert asked me to describe my sister – her hair and skin colouring, her occupation, her age, her lifestyle. I was then firmly told that, no, Joy was not the right perfume for my sister as it was a night perfume and more suited to people with a different colouring and lifestyle. Wow!  We then went through the same process for a special niece, and again a particular scent was recommended. Needless to say, both choices were absolutely perfect for the people they were given to.

And I love the pyramid, and think it works beautifully.

As our purchases were being wrapped – beautifully, I must add – I happened to mention that I had read about Catherine’s in Born to Shop Paris and that a visit to this store was on my list of things to do during our time there. Our lovely attendant smiled, thanked me for mentioning that fact, and extended to us a very generous discount simply because I had done so. The moral here: if somebody, or some book, recommends a particular shop or service to you, always mention it to the store or service giver. There may be no more reward than a smile – that’s a pretty good reward, actually – but you never know.

Thank goodness for digital, is all I can say.

Absolutely delighted with our purchases, we headed back towards rue de Rivoli, crossed the road into the beautiful Tuileries, and strolled around the grounds of the Louvre for some time, admiring the wonderful architecture, and falling in love, it must be said, with Mr Pei’s fantastic pyramid. I can’t for the life of me understand why people have a problem with it. Yes, it’s different; yes, it’s almost futuristic; yes, it’s almost anachronistic; but, yes, it works.

In the Tuileries you are not allowed to sit, or walk, on the lawn; on the lawn in the grounds of the Louvre lovers lay around kissing, children kick soccer balls, shirtless young men show off their browning pectorals, intense American university students read Proust, and those cute little Japanese girls in their tartan mini-skirts and long socks make their endless V signs for snapping photographers. You don’t even have to enter those hallowed halls to feel tingles, to feel privileged, to feel as though you have won the lottery.

The Louvre's own wonderful Arc de Triomphe du Carroussel

All that happy wandering and retail excitement had made us hungry, and so – little creatures of habit that we become so quickly – we walked down to rue du Louvre to revisit the café Corona. Yes, I know we were there yesterday, but that’s what we tend to do: we like it, we come back.

After lunch – a light and lovely omelette and a pichet of rosé – we crossed the road and made our way down the old stone steps to the quayside, where we bought tickets for the batobus, a sort of waterborne version of the hop-on-hop-off bus. A trip to Paris must always include at least one cruise up and down the river, and this one is recommended as a great introduction. With eight stops at which you can get off to explore, it makes perfect sense to use the batobus to visit the major sites of Paris. I know, I know, you are probably saying, “What about the metro?” Well, while the metro is a great way to get around, and fantastic if you are in a hurry, why would you want to be underground unable to see anything when you are in this magnificent city?

Just one of my favourite photographs
taken at the Louvre

Where we were? Oh yes, the batobus. If you’re in Paris, stroll along the quayside on either bank of the river and you will find a batobus ticket office. The tickets are reasonably priced, and we bought ones which lasted for five days. In this way we were able, whenever the walking got a bit too much, to jump on one of these boats and cruise to our next port of call. It really is a top way to get around when the feet go into protest mode.

Because the day was so gloriously warm, we got to see the way the locals relate to their river when the temperature rises. All along the riverside people were sunning themselves, sitting on the quaysides with their legs dangling over the edge, or stretched out on the warm stones. I live in a city built on a river, but we don’t relate in the same way to the river as they do in Paris. Perfectly suited professionals were stripping down to their underwear, reclining on benches and soaking up the rays. Young men, sans shirts, were strumming guitars to slim brown women in gaily patterned sundresses. These people were just BEING, and it struck me that that is a fantastic state to be in.

After a full day walking, shopping, cruising, we made our way back to the hotel for a freshen up before heading out again to dine. Well, you can’t win all the time, can you? We sure as hell didn’t win that night. I won’t mention the name of the restaurant we ate at, but I can tell you the food was revolting, and most of it was returned to the kitchen. The waiter really didn’t care whether we ate or not. You just knew that this was a place where the chef had no personal investment in the business – or he had gone home with some terrible disease and the cleaner had donned the big white hat for the evening.

Ah, just lovely.

Thank goodness for a great bottle of port and a lovely package of divine chocolates back in our hotel room, because we needed them after that.

Sleepy, sleepy, and so to bed, looking forward to the morrow.  Catch you later.

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