I insist that you play this generic french cafe accordion sound bite and replay it in your head while reading and looking at my frenchy photos – it’s only right that you do.
Paris is everyone’s favourite city. Or, perhaps it’s every girl’s favourite city. Or, perhaps the city belongs to every girl or boy who spent hours sitting cross-legged on the library carpet all through double history period, leaning against the book stack with their nose buried in art books. I reckon Paris is one of those cities where you can leave the Lonely Planet behind – the beauty, history and endless creative activity is immediately apparent, it’s as if the streets and buildings are whispering sweet and strange stories in your ear with a heavy french accent. You want to find a cafe tucked in an alley somewhere, no need to look it up – you’ll find it. You’re after frenchy fashion with little red bows and cutesy animal patterned blouses, juxtaposed perhaps with the ideas of some edgy up-and-coming contemporary designer, no stress it will present itself soon enough in the streets of the Marais or along the Boulevard Saint-Germain.
So Paris may as well be called Mecca for those of us who consider themselves to be ‘aesthetes’, but two little pieces of advice served me so well when I spent a week (yes a week!!) strolling around the streets of Paris, and I’d like to share them here. The first came from my friend Alice, who lent me Hemmingway’s first novel about his life in Paris called A Moveable Feast. And yes, I was one of the hoards of people who went to see Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris last year, which I loved – but this book taught me so much more about the hipsters of the twenties. Who knew – and sorry dear reader if you’ve read the book, like, 5 years ago and this is old news – that F. Scott Fitzgerald was an alcoholic with a crazy wife who was jealous of his work and success, and so deliberately got him drunk so that he couldn’t write, and that Picasso and Matisse were frenemies? The book opened me up to the lives of people like Gertrude Stein and I navigated the streets as if I were Ernest in search of his next meal, even if it meant that lunch was skipped and spent instead at Shakespeare and Company book shop.
The next Paris tip I need to share comes from my friend Eris, and it is the Musée du quai Branly. Having once before trod the worn path of Paris museums, and having also sniggered at the signs that sadly point the eager tourist ever toward the Mona Lisa in every room of the Louvre, like every other painting in the place is just support material, the Branly was a breath of fresh cultural air! So while my time in Paris has motivated in me a crazy spate of reading, including the autobiography of Gertrude Stein and a fascination of all things associated with the life and times of the hipsters of the mid twentieth century, one of the most profound (woaa!!) experiences for me during my travels happened at the Pompidou. After seeing a beautiful Gerhard Richter show, I went to buy a postcard to take home as a souvenir, as is my custom after seeing an exhibition that I particularly like. I found that not one of the postcards did any justice to the work I had just seen. It drove home to me how different it is to know an artwork in reality, than it is to know it as a page in an art book, while sitting cross-legged on the library carpet, leaning against the book stack, all through double history period.