Today the weather has stopped me in my tracks. I awoke to grey skies and gentle, but heavy rain for the first time since I have been here and so, also for the first time, I am contemplating spending the day at home dans mon atelier. I am thinking that perhaps I will begin some oil painting today ……….. so I guess the honeymoon is over!
|Entrance to the Cite|
Paris is an amazing city of huge contrast and I have had the most incredible two weeks here. From ugly graffiti to the splendour of the great buildings, from stinky pavements, to scented gardens, from very visible expensive addresses, to the quiet, forgotten back streets, from the homeless sleeping on the streets and digging in bins, to the perfectly coutured, cioffeured and headily scented madames et monsieurs walking their snooty little dogs.
I am still getting used to the idea that my time is my own – that I am free to do with it what I want, when I want to. So, if I feel like eating cherries for supper at Place de Voges and then taking a stroll home in time to watch the sun set over the Seine and Notre Dame, from Pont de la Tournelle, then I simply do!
The summer evenings here have been warm and festive, with la Plage in full swing, right on our doorstep. This is when certain areas alongside the Seine are closed to traffic and a wonderful recreational area is set up, complete with sand, deck chairs, brollies, swimming pools (offering aqua-aerobics), live entertainment (besides the latter!) and restaurants etc. A ‘beach’ resort in the heart of the city. Of course, it has nothing of the breathtaking beauty of our exquisite Cape beaches, and I’m sure you would all be most amused to see this attempt at a ‘beach’, but I suppose it does console those locals who couldn’t get away for what seems to be the obligatory vacation month of August. Many shops are firmly closed and shuttered up at present. With Paris swimming in tourists, I would have thought it would be a good time for business, but apparently not??
|Place des Voges|
I have quickly adapted to the local lifestyle of starting the day late and ending it even later! When I first arrived, I thought it odd that so many businesses were only open between 10am (or even later in the afternoon at 2 or 3 pm), until 9pm. Now I understand and after a typically very late night, happily wake at 8.30am (at the earliest) to start my day, without any responsibilities, other than the minimal goal I set myself, of at least one sketch a day – sheer decadence!
Memories of my first two weeks here are fleeting. Everything seems a blur. What I do recall, especially from the first week, is desperately rushing around all day long, trying to see as much of this beautiful city, in the shortest possible time. I quickly learnt to negotiate the metro and the very efficient bus service. And of course, my walking legs were well utilised, blistered feet and all!
I feverishly sought out art shops for supplies, Ros having told me about BHV (Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville) and Rogier & Ple and discovered the charming and olde worlde Sennelier shop on Quai Voltaire as well, where I spent a disgraceful amount of money. I couldn’t resist finally buying myself the watercolour paintbox I always wanted. Apparently this shop has been operating since 1887. Unfortunately I have since discovered, in my wanderings, an even more alluring art shop, Dubois, on rue Soufflot, right near the Panthéon, which, like Sennelier (but on a bigger scale), is a treasure trove of old wooden cabinets with antique silver handled drawers, home to countless gem like pastel sticks, every imaginable drawing pen, crayon or pencil and rows and rows of glittering tubes of paint, not forgetting the trays of aquarelles, wrapped up like so many tiny sweets. All to just die for! Aladdin’s cave has nothing on this! Thus, it is now definitely baguette, cheese and fruit for supper for a few weeks. Not that this presents too much of a problem ……….
With the help of a wonderful South African friend who lives nearby, I have discovered charming local haunts and a wonderful market which is set up at Bastille along the very aptly named Boulevard Beaumarchais, every Thursday and Sunday morning. Here one sees fresh produce beautifully displayed and the friendly stall holders carry on an amiable banter as they cajole customers into buying their wares, which are generally very reasonably priced. All such a feast for the eye and of course the picture book perfect onions, garlic cloves, lemons and peaches etc., made me immediately want to capture it all in a thousand still life paintings!
|Room with a View|
It is here that I discovered the most delicious fruit, la pêche plat which indeed is just that – flat peach, and tastes like a mixture of a peach and an apple. I also happened upon the best fromage à l’emmental. Les Boulangerie et Pâtisseries are (unfortunately) just about on every street corner and are deadly! Of course, at the first opportunity, I had to try un croque monsieur (a toasted ham with melted cheese on top – very yum!) et aussi des macarons, light as air – vanille, chocolat, citron et pistachio. Les glaces are also delicious and so refreshing on a hot summer’s day, but expensive at the price of €2.50 for one impossibly tiny scoop. Incidently, one can also pick up une bonne bouteille du vin blanc for €4, which means that a glass of wine is cheaper than an ice-cream!
But la baguette is the staple and I prefer mine traditionale, which is made from less refined wheat. Yoghourt, butter and milk is rich and creamy and the French do pride themselves on their cheeses. You will find low fat or processed dairy products with extreme difficulty. Not that one wants to buy that insipid stuff anyway! My friend has informed me that if you ask for it the shopkeeper will look disparagingly at you and inform you very vehemently that that is only for babies and people on diet – d’accord!
I have made friends with Leonie Louw, a fellow South African, who lives across the hall and who hails from Limpopo. Leonie is a lovely warm, friendly person, with whom I can practice my Afrikaans, and we have been on a few outings together. So now I can say I am ‘drie-taalig’. Well, after a fashion. My French is coming along slowly and I am encouraged by the fact that I now understand a little better, what is said to me. I have had to speak French quite often – when ordering or buying food, or trying to get my phone card and Navigo ticket (for bus or metro access) sorted out, or simply ask for directions. It has gone well enough and I do enjoy hearing the language spoken. I have found the local people are quite helpful if they realise you are trying, but I’m afraid there have been plenty of occasions when there was definitely much that was ‘lost in translation’! Like the time I lost my glasses in Jardins des Tuileries and couldn’t read my metro map. I asked a lady at an information booth if she could help me and only after she had very indignantly shooed me away, did it dawn on me that I had perhaps asked for her glasses and not just for help with reading the map! So now I have learnt to always carry 2 pairs of glasses in my bag, with the all important map and Navigo ticket!
So far, I have used the excuse of good weather, to be out and about every day for as long as possible, just drinking in the sights and sounds – all that makes this such a beautiful city. Just as well, now that the weather has turned.
|Sunset on the Seine|
I have done so much and there is so much to tell, but that will have to wait. Tomorrow I leave for a few days in the country, Néré to be exact. Carol and Bill Ross have very kindly offered me their hospitality and I am looking forward to a change of scene. I’m not packed yet, but have time to throw a few things into an overnight bag tomorrow morning, not forgetting my paints and sketch books!
Au revoir until next time!