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With love from Paris – Wyn Rossouw


It is a very warm evening and it has been a hot day here in Paris. It feels like it is about 35 degrees C and rather humid as well. It is 11.30pm and I can’t sleep. Most of the young residents at the Cité are chattering outside in the courtyard, enjoying the balmy evening. So, a good time to perhaps catch up on correspondence.
I spent a wonderful few days in the country last week, but those experiences will have to wait until my next exciting chapter! Let me first catch up with the week before ……………………. 
Colonne de Juillet at Place de la Bastille
During my first 2 weeks in Paris, one thing I have done to excess, in spite of carrying a Navigo ticket everywhere with me (that and a map), is walk. I have trekked from Place de la Bastille, down the aptly named boulevard Beaumarche and boulevard des Filles du Calvaire. Central to Bastille is an imposing column, the Colonne de Juillet.  From his mighty perch, a winged, very gilded Juillet looks down on humanity (he just can’t be missed – talk about over the top). Seriously though, la colonne is a monument to the fallen. It is beneath this column that the victims of the 1830 and 1848 revolutions are buried. Apparently, due to some mix up at the Louvre, where the victims were lying in state before their burial, they were joined by two Egyptian mummies, who were also buried with full military honours! And of course the area is the place where the infamous Bastille once stood.  What I never realised was that when crowds stormed and destroyed the Bastille on 14th July 1789, there were only 7 inmates.
Apartments down ave Beaumarchais
 The first time I walked down boulevard Beaumarchais and boulevard des Filles du Calvaire, I marvelled at all the beautiful old doors. Most parts of Paris have, I’ve since discovered, hundreds of them and every one different. Some are elaborately carved, some are wrought iron with gilded decorations, some are painted bright red or blue, some are quite dilapidated and others are in very good repair. I am fascinated by them. I also love the wrought iron balconies adorning the apartment windows, all opening inwards to accommodate the shutters. And so many flower boxes adding a bright splash of geranium red to elaborate facades.
Hôtel de Sens
I have walked the streets of the Marais, especially the quaint Village of St Paul, right on the door step of the Cité and admired the medieval gem, Hôtel de Sens, which has an intriguing history. Apparently it was built at the end of the 15th century for the Archbishop of Sens. Here Henry lV banished his first wife, Marguerite de Valois, when he objected to her promiscuity. Marguerite happily continued her rather questionable lifestyle, but in a dramatic twist to the sorry tale, a jealous ex-lover murdered her current beau and so she promptly had him beheaded outside the house. Mon dieu!

Back of St Paul

Red door and florist on rue de Rivoli

I have traversed both sides of the Seine for miles; I have walked down avenue des Champs-Elysees, along avenue Winston Churchill, past le Grand Palais and le Petit Palais, over the beautiful Pont Alexandre lll and then on down to the Hôtel des Invalides. I have been lost many times and once found myself at the architecturally grandiose Opéra and imposing église de la Madeleine, which that day had the grand front steps almost entirely covered in red and white flowers – stunning!

Galeries LafayBalconies and part of 
stained glass cupola inette
I happened upon Boulevard Haussmann and stumbled into Galeries Lafayette. Now that was a mistake – and I thought the streets were busy. I was immediately engulfed by a tidal wave – no, tsunami, of thousands of people and couldn’t get spat out of there quick enough. Not before I managed a photograph of the beautiful circular domed cupola though.
I have walked down rue St Antoine and rue de Rivoli (full of very expensive shops) to the sumptuous Hôtel de Ville. The rue St. Antoine, a wide straight road, was once a site for jousting tournaments. In 1574 Henri ll was knocked off his horse by his Scottish Captain of the Guard, Montgomery. He suffered a severe blow to his eye and in a drastic bid to save his life, Henri’s physician ordered the immediate decapitation of every prisoner on death row so that he could experiment on their heads. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t succeed and Henri died 10 days later. Montgomery also lost his head!
From Hôtel de Ville I walked to the famous Louvre (again, hugely impressive buildings, amazing fountains and Peϊ’s spectacular, iconic glass pyramid) and the Arc de Triomphe du Carousel, a really quite beautiful pink and green marble arch, topped with a massive bronze statue of horses accompanied by gleaming gold attendants or gods of some sort!
Jardin des Tuileries
From there, I ambled through Jardins des Tuileries to Place de la Concorde, central to which is an elaborate fountain (as I said, so much in Paris is over the top) and the Luxor Obelisk, with its impossibly sharp gilded tip.
I have strolled across Pont Marie (our nearest bridge) to île St Louis, and then on to île de la Cité, staring in awe at the exquisite Notre Dame, warmed by the setting sun.
I have explored the charming Latin Quarter, seen the Sorbonne and Panthéon and been amused by the name of a little café – Le Chat Huant. I thought it might mean the haunt of the cat or something. Anyway, there is a giant wrought iron flea perched on the wall outside! I will have to find out more.
Walking aside, I have also used the metro and bus to get around. I prefer the bus, since it is more scenic and one really does get more of a sense of place. It is slower, but then, I do have the luxury of time! I have travelled to the Tour Eiffel and Place du Trocadero, St Cloud and Montmartre, all places I need to visit again and explore. Thus far a fleeting visit to these places has had to suffice.
I have also had the pleasure of visiting many parks and gardens. In fact, Paris is full of parks and little gardens, which you suddenly happen upon, all beautifully manicured, flower beds ablaze (all colour co-ordinated of course) and always decorated with beautiful statues. Surprisingly, these are not often defaced with graffiti! I find these havens a delightful refuge from the bustle of life on the street. It is in these pools of calm that I have often sat and quietly sketched and had time to think and just ‘be’. A rare luxury.
Statue of Louis XIII at Place des Vosges
Some I have visited include Place des Voges, a charming square on which Victor Hugo lived from 1832 until 1848. Four lovely fountains surround an impressive central statue of Louis XIII. It also happens to be one of the few park where one is actually allowed to walk on the grass!
I discovered Parc Montsouris, situated on the south east of Paris, right near the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris. This is a large undulating park with plenty of trees and a lake. Apparently on the day the park opened, the lake suddenly drained and the engineer subsequently committed suicide. I however, spent a lovely afternoon there, languishing in the gentle sunlight.
During my first two weeks in Paris I also visited the famous Jardin des Tuileries and admired the lovely statues situated around the gardens, including a Rodin (le Baiser) and a Moore (Reclining Figure).
Flower beds in Jardin du Luxembourg
And of course, I loved the Jardin du Luxembourg. The flower beds are exquisite and the many beautiful statues are quite something. I was particularly struck by the statues of the queens of France. Around the central pool children rush about with long sticks, trying to push and prod their little sail boats into action.
Statue of a queen of France, 
looking down from the terrace
Pumpkin in the garden at the Cité
Right on our doorstep is a small but charming garden at the Hôtel de Sens, and the Cité also has a pleasant garden, sporting not only flowers, but herbs, fruit trees (apple and pear) and vegetables like pumpkins, chillies and even corn! And the little sparrows are everywhere.
Flowers in the garden and the Cité 
building in the distance

Jardin de Reuilly, off Promenade Plantée
 An interesting park was Promenade Plante, a raised park which runs almost the entire length of the 12th arrondissement. Leading off this are smaller parks and a shady forested area, where I managed a sketch or two.
Lit tunnel in forested area of Promenade Plantée,
 below street level
Square Charles-Péguy, off Promenade Plantée

Whilst walking along Promenade Plantée, I suddenly noticed a bit of activity in the street below. From my bird’s eye view I spied a fire engine and police and pompiers rushing about. Now you must understand that the pompiers are revered as heros here. And not without due regard either. These brave young men are called to fight fires, help trapped people, administer first aid and save cats from trees! One evening as I was strolling along the Seine, I came across a pompier station, opposite the Square De Vert-Galant. I was treated to the sight of delightfully muscled young pompiers undergoing strenuous training. They were pulling themselves up onto platforms bolted high into the wall along the river – no mean feat! Where was my sketchbook! Anyway, I’m becoming distracted.
Pompiers to the rescue!
Back to Promenade Plantée, where the action was in full swing. Traffic was stopped as far as I could see, in both directions, outside Gare de Lyon. Busy at the best of times, but this was Saturday morning. I couldn’t see smoke and wondered where the fire was. Then through the trees, I spied a car with the hood up. It appears that it had started smoking and in two ticks and much pulling out of hoses and bustling about, disaster was averted!
Disaster averted!
Garden at Port de l’Arsenal
There is also a pretty park alongside the Port de Paris-Arsenal, situated just below Bastille. A place where yachts and houseboats are moored, so plenty of interest to sketch.

But the most magical for me, was the little Square du Vert-Galant, a triangular park, right on the tip of the île de la Cité. A very good place to watch the sun set over the Seine.
Sunset from Square du Vert-Galant

A lovely interlude on my first Saturday in Paris, was a piano concert at église St Merry. Whilst wandering around the Place Georges Pompidou, admiring the great mechanical fountains, I heard applause. Upon investigation, I discovered a concert, free to the public. What an unexpected pleasure to listen to Chopin, Debussy and Liszt played so beautifully in the quiet coolness of the high domed church.
Wow –all too much. I haven’t even begun to relate museum and gallery visits during my first two weeks in Paris. Now I’m really tired and must get to bed.
Au revoir till next time.

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From Paris … with love … from Wyn Rossouw

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!