October 7, 2012 – this was our fourth day in Paris, and the only Sunday that we would be in the city. How do Parisians spend their Sundays? We thought we’d walk around our neighborhood to see if we could find out.
Instead of walking along the main boulevard (Avenue Kléber), we decided to try one of the back streets instead. The street we were on is called Avenue Raymond Poincaré; if you look for it on Google Maps Street View, you’ll find that it is kind of a back street, narrow and with 2-lane traffic, perfect for a Sunday morning stroll.
As it is all over the world, people go to church on Sundays. Here, we are passing by the Church of Saint-Honoré d’Eylau. I am guessing that these people just got out of the morning service and are catching up with their fellow church members. It’s nice to see smiling faces and babies. Coming from California, though, it’s different seeing so many people smoking everywhere, even amongst kids. I noticed this everywhere we went, not just Paris.
Soon, we reached a roundabout with a sign that read, “PLACE VICTOR HUGO”. Victor Hugo. The name sounded very familiar but we couldn’t quite put our fingers on it. Luckily, Google is our friend: Victor Hugo. “Oh! He’s the Les Misérables guy! Huh huh huh”.
On this Sunday there was some filming going on in the roundabout. It was an old Mercedes Benz convertible in front of the camera. I wonder what they were filming for? Maybe the company site has some answers.
Walking around an old city such as Paris is really awe-inspiring and fascinating. Where I’m from, there aren’t many buildings from the 1800s that have survived World War II (and these are probably some of the younger ones!). I suppose it’s not too surprising that these buildings have stood so long because they simply look so solid; they look like someone carved them out of a bunch of gigantic slabs of granite that conveniently formed in city-block sizes. Maybe that’s why Paris doesn’t have rectangularly-shaped city blocks, because the granite randomly formed all over the place!
Without new, there can’t be old. Here’s a newer-style apartment building, along with some creations brought back from the New World:
I don’t know why I like McDonald’s so much. I guess I like seeing what kind of localized offerings are available, seeing what the product managers at McDonald’s think locals will like. Don’t know about the Parisians, but I didn’t like that Red Pepper Burger too much.
From our seat on the 2nd floor of McDonald’s, we could see a store across the street called “picard”. The only thing I associate with that word is the captain of the Enterprise, and I ended up spending my lunch doing lame Captain Picard impressions (“Make it so”). After lunch, we went inside to take a look, and it turned out to be a frozen-gourmet-food market. No wonder their logo is a snowflake.
After picard, we headed south on Rue des Belles Feuilles (the Street of the Beautiful Leaves). Referring to Wikipedia, it seems that the street used to border a park which is no longer there, hence the “beautiful leaves”. Now, there are various culinary establishments selling everything from Chinese food to sausages to roast chicken to lemon pies. The place selling the chickens was packed and had a long line (apparently, the Bresse is a top breed of chicken in France). The lemon pie place was opened by a famous French baker named Frédéric Lalos. Why do I suddenly feel sick that I had McDonald’s for lunch?
Well, no need to feel sick because at the end of the street, at a roundabout known as the Place de Mexico, we got another view of La Tour Eiffel. It’s kind of neat that you can do your own thing in your neighborhood like shopping at picard, drinking Starbucks, and buying roast chicken, and then you look up and the Tower is there. It seems reassuring in a way. We made a right and proceeded down Rue Decamps and saw what I presume to be an incinerator with a giant chimney.
Soon, we arrived at Avenue Georges Mandel. Again, the name sounded familiar (maybe because of Howie Mandel?), but after checking Wikipedia it turns out he was a member of the French Resistance who was executed during World War II. The street sign said as much. Speaking of which, it’s pretty cool that some Parisian street signs come with a little caption explaining who the street is named for. Rue Decamps was named for a painter and engraver. Coincidentally (though under different circumstances), both Mandel and Decamps died before their time in a forest outside of Paris known as Fontainebleau; perhaps that is why the rue and the avenue intersect.
At this point we were pretty close to the Rue de la Pompe Métro station, so we decided to Métro instead of walk back to the hotel for a short break. Take line 9, transfer to 6 at Trocadéro, and get off at Boissière. Voilà!
Short break over, we were now on our way to the Musée du Louvre, but by way of a couple of pâtisseries in the 6th arrondissement (JC is a student of the culinary, particularly pastry, arts). If I’m not mistaken, we took the 6 and transferred to the 12, getting off at Rennes.
The first one was pâtisserie Sadaharu AOKI paris on Rue de Vaugirard. As can be ascertained from the name, this is a pâtisserie with Japanese origins, with stores in Tokyo and Taipei, in addition to Paris. You’re not supposed to take photos inside the store, so I snuck one in from outside.
Heading east, we found our way to Rue Bonaparte, which is where the second pâtisserie we went to is located. Pierre Hermé has been called “The Picasso of Pastry”, so naturally there’s a huge crowd outside the store:
It was a little too much excitement for me, so I went and hung out across the street, at the Fontaine Saint-Sulpice:
There was a little café nearby, Le Café de la Mairie, so we sat down for some espressos and some rest. When we first sat down, there were a couple of empty tables next to us and no one waiting. I sat next to JC, so both of the seats opposite from us were empty. Later, a party of 4 came and took the remaining tables, and after that a couple came in and stood around the bar. I was kind of in my own little world and not really paying attention, but then I started noticing that they were staring at us, and then the lady started shaking her head. I caught on and moved to sit across from JC, the couple sat down, and it was thumbs up all around (they literally gave me the thumbs up sign, hopefully it wasn’t the French way of flipping the bird).
From the café we walked over to the Saint-Germain-des-Prés Métro station to take line 4 and then line 7 to the Louvre. The cool thing about the station was that instead of billboards, it used spotlights and slides to create displays on the walls.
As it turns out, it was the first Sunday of October, so admission to the Louvre was free. Even though it was late in the afternoon, there was still a significant line to get in. Fortunately, the wait was pretty short and soon enough we were inside.
The only thing I know about the Louvre is that it’s where the Mona Lisa resides, so of course that was the first exhibit I went to. When I think about it, it’s kind of odd that people would crowd around a painting and take a bunch of photos of it, but that’s what people were doing. I couldn’t resist either and snapped a few photos. What are these forces that cause people to do odd things? Perhaps that’s part of the mystery surrounding this historic painting.
After the Mona Lisa I just walked in whatever direction my curiosity took me. One of the things that struck me was that people used to actually live in the museum before it was a museum. I wondered what that must have been like, thinking about basic human needs such as eating meals and going to the bathroom. When I think about it, I just shake my head at how incredible it is.
When I read history in a book, the timeline is arranged in discrete centuries and years, in black and white. One might be inclined to think that at the end of one era and the beginning of another, things immediately changed. In reality, change happens slowly, like how it is in the present, incrementally, and almost unnoticeably. A law here, a natural disaster there, and the way people live changes. A few hundred years from now, people will look back at today and say, for example, that the internet exploded in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. To someone in the future reading a history book it may seem like someone in our time flipped a switch and turned on the internet. In reality, we know that it was built a piece at a time, adopted by sections of the population at a time, built on and accessed with different and new technologies as they were invented. It’s like trying to grasp the concept of infinity and limits in calculus, very analog. I have to crane my neck and think really hard just to keep that glimmer of understanding in my head.
And so it is with the Louvre. Over hundreds of years, piece by piece, it has become what it is today. Here is a portion of the Louvre from the 12th century:
Later on, I stumbled into the Egyptian exhibit and saw some real mummified humans. The feeling I got when I looked at the mummy, knowing that underneath the bandages was a face, a body, arms and legs, was indescribable. And yet, I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about these displays. I imagined the family of the deceased saying goodbye to their loved one, mummifying the body and placing it in a place where it could rest forever. I’m not sure how I would feel if someone dug up someone I cared about and put her on display, thousands of years into the future. On the one hand, I’d be dead already, so it probably wouldn’t matter. On the other, I might take some comfort in knowing that my loved one could provide a glimpse of how we used to live.
JC and I had gone our separate ways at the Louvre and had agreed to meet at a seating area beneath the pyramid, but a security guard asked her to leave as it was closing time. I must have sat there for 30 minutes (strange that no security guard ask me to leave) before it occurred to me to go upstairs to see if she was there. As long as our day had been, though, it was still going: our next stop was Galeries Lafayette, a famous Parisian department store. Since it was just a few line 7 stops away from the Louvre, we figured we’d squeeze it in.
Well, it was bad news for me as it was just too crowded and I was tired and cranky. I took the Métro back to our hotel, but not before stopping by Carrefour Express again to buy some food and wine for dinner. JC came back a little while after, and we enjoyed a relaxing night at home after a long but enjoyable day 4 in Paris.