A Few Days in Paris
Paris in Spring
Searching for a poem about springtime, I came to Paris in Spring by Sara Teasdale (1884-1933). The poem praises Paris in such glowing terms that it set my mind rewinding to memories of the time that I have spent in this great city, reputedly the most romantic in all the world.
Sara Teasdale, an American poet, toured Europe in 1905. Her poem about Paris in Spring is reproduced at the end of this article.
A Visit to Paris in 1970
I first visited Paris as a young woman, in 1970, when I had organised a mini-bus camping tour with eight friends. We crossed the English Channel on the now-defunct Hovercraft, bound for the Spanish coast, via Andorra. On the return journey, our group stopped off in Paris for a couple of nights, camping in the Bois de Boulogne - on a site which at the time was quite primitive (earth closets!).
It was the height of summer and the start of the French school holidays. Many Parisians had already deserted the city for the countryside or coast, so it was surprisingly uncrowded. In 1970 we were able to park our mini-bus within yards of the Arc de Triomphe.
On this, my first, trip to Paris, determined to immerse myself in the culture, I smoked pungent Gauloises cigarettes (I know better now - obviously) and sipped pastis at a pavement cafe on the Champs Elysees (very chic and very expensive - we didn't realise that it costs more for an outside table). I bought Camembert cheese at a street market and later I climbed the Eiffel Tower, where I ate Salade Nicoise for lunch. Soon after, on an urgent mission to find a lavatory (was it food poisoning?), I recklessly dodged several lanes of traffic at the Arc de Triomphe (most definitely not recommended nowadays). My search ended at an unsanitary mixed-gender dungeon presided over by a fat and fearsome elderly Madame dressed in funereal black, who glowered over a bowl placed conspicuously for the bestowal of grateful tips of francs or centimes. Happily, this aspect of French culture has now disappeared into history.
I Love Paris in the Springtime
A Long Weekend in Paris on a Coach Trip
My second trip to Paris was forty years later, on an escorted weekend coach tour. The group met beneath the statue of the poet Sir John Betjeman in St. Pancras station. We were shepherded to a station platform and boarded the Eurostar train for a journey lasting just 2 hours 35 minutes, including 25 minutes under the English Channel. The train moved seamlessly on to French soil for a fast onward journey through the non-descript farmland to the Gare du Nord, where our party was picked up by coach. We were whisked to a Hotel Mercure located adjacent to the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles Showground where, coincidentally, the biennial Paris Motor Show was being held.
It was a glorious weekend - scorchingly hot October days and balmy nights, new experiences, and visits to places familiar from so many years ago. A night-time coach tour of the floodlit sights gave me the opportunity to stand underneath the massive edifice of the Eiffel Tower, which on that occasion was lit by thousands of blue led lights. It was a magical, never-forgotten, experience.
A day in Montmartre, climbing the hill to the Basilique de Sacre Coeur, provided a panoramic view of the city, complete with a haze of pollution that hadn’t been in evidence in nineteen-seventy. We strolled around the nearby Place du Tertre, frequented in past times by the fin de siècle artists whose work now hangs in galleries across the world.
A trip on a Bateau Mouche found us drifting past lovers on the banks of the Seine and by the flying buttresses of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. On Saturday evening we had tickets for a traditional French cabaret show, with dinner, at a nightclub in the Latin Quarter. My companion and I, we two ageing ladies, were slightly abashed when we found that we had signed up for a cabaret show that included a topless chorus line.Crossing the foyer, I was encouraged by the photographic black and white evidence that the parties of A-list movie stars from the 50s and 60s who had visited the place appeared to have enjoyed a jolly time.
The food was good and the champagne and wine flowed. Semi-nudity notwithstanding, we had a fabulous evening. Whenever the bevvy of beauties appeared on stage a single, slightly inebriated, middle-aged gentleman in our party applauded vigorously, loudly calling out 'Bravo! bravo!'. I wondered what the apparently ladylike and demure actress Audrey Hepburn gazing from the walls had made of the spectacle all those years ago.
A Day in Versailles
On Sunday the coach delivered us to Versailles, where we explored the fabulous produce at the open-air market, enjoyed a lunch of classic French onion soup at a pavement table, and purchased exquisite patisseries to later enjoy in the garden of the Palais de Versailles.
The Paris Motor Show
On our final morning, with a few hours to spare before the coach that would return us to the Gare du Nord arrived, I and my travelling companion strolled a few hundred yards to the Paris Expo centre to explore the Paris motor show, agog at the many luxury vehicles that were far beyond our price range. A lunch of Pivithiers and a glass of robust red wine in one of the Expo bistros nicely rounded off four fabulous days in La Belle France.
Communicating in Paris
Do not assume that all French people understand the English language. Au contraire! On my first visit, I still could remember most of the schoolgirl French that had been drilled into me for five years. But I had forgotten much of that by the time of my second visit so I resorted to the Michel Thomas language course to refresh and expand my vocabulary. I have written about the merits of the Michel Thomas method, which I have also used to learn both basic Spanish and Italian, elsewhere. His credentials speak for themselves - during his lifetime he taught many famous politicians and actors to speak foreign languages. The Michel Thomas CDs are certainly worth a few hours of your time if you are contemplating a trip to a European country. There are a couple his French language packages on sale - but should you want to try before buying you may be able to get them on a short-term loan from your local public library.
Despite the increased traffic and crowds, I have to return to Paris before I become too elderly to cope with the cobblestones – this time to see the cherry blossom in the Spring!
April in Paris
Impressions of Paris
Paris in Spring by Sara Teasdale
The city's all a-shining
Beneath a fickle sun,
A gay young wind's a-blowing,
The little shower is done.
But the rain-drops still are clinging
And falling one by one --
Oh it's Paris, it's Paris,
And spring-time has begun.
I know the Bois is twinkling
In a sort of hazy sheen,
And down the Champs the gray old arch
Stands cold and still between.
But the walk is flecked with sunlight
Where the great acacias lean,
Oh it's Paris, it's Paris,
And the leaves are growing green.
The sun's gone in, the sparkle's dead,
There falls a dash of rain,
But who would care when such an air
Comes blowing up the Seine?
And still Ninette sits sewing
Beside her window-pane,
When it's Paris, it's Paris,
And spring-time's come again.
© 2018 GlenR