The city's 18th century passages and a food tour of St. Germain. BY INA AMOR MEJIA
WE WERE IN PARIS almost five months ago, late in October. But it feels like we returned from our trip only yesterday. On our third and last day in Paris, we spent the morning wandering the city's les passage couverts (covered passages), and the afternoon eating our way through the St. Germain neighborhood---memories of which are particularly vivid. But someone forgot to tell us about this little detail about the time.
Daylight Saving time that is. The day before, clocks were turned an hour back. And so unaware of this, we headed out to the passages an hour too early. Everything was closed, and except for some guys cleaning part of the ceiling, and a few early birds passing through, no one was there (not even security guards).
We found ourselves walking slowly from one passage to the next, not minding the quiet so much. And the hour actually moved swiftly.
The passages are narrow shopping arcades that date back to the 18th century. There are about five of them, possibly more, in the vicinity of the Boulevard Montemarte. The Passage des Panoramas, Passage Jouffroy, Galerie Feydeau, Galerie Saint-Marc and the Galerie Vivienne.
You might miss the arched entrances to the passages if you're not really looking, but there will be a sign. Once inside, you could easily spend half the day browsing through the shops, and then enjoying a meal at one of the restaurants there. There's even a hotel.
The Hotel Chopin, one of the oldest in Paris, is neatly located in the Passage Jouffroy.
|The Petit Siroux bookshop est. 1826.|
|Catherine Andre's shop window at the Galerie Vivienne.|
|Passage des Panoramas finally waking up.|
|The restaurant No Glu at the Passage des Panoramas|
|Freshly-set tables at one of the bistros at the Passage des Panoramas|
We signed up for a food tour by Paris by Mouth, so later in the afternoon, we took the metro to near the Louvre, and walked with anticipation to the heart of the Saint Germain neighborhood and the Latin Quarter.
Our guide Sara, was smart, funny, and so informative. She took all that knowledge about French food and wine and made it accessible, even practical. It was a joy to walk (and eat, and drink) with her, and with everyone in our hungry group.
Beaufort (thumbs up). Also three wines, charceutterie, and cream puffs filled with a billowy, tangy fromage blanc (soft, white cheese).
I couldn't believe our trip was ending.
It was Sara who told us about The Paris Syndrome---an apparently real disorder that afflicts people "after realizing Paris isn't what they expected". It sounds funny, but it does reflect the truly great expectations people have, of Paris, in particular. I had great hopes. After planning for months I hoped, more than anything, for a safe and happy trip that would enrich me. And give me a deeper insight into the world in the unique way travel does.
What is most striking, is how modern Parisians live the way they do in such an old city. The key therefore, is not to forge blindly into the future to all things new, but to take with us the best of our past, so we live in a present that is timeless.
So much has been written about Paris, to the point that it's been pigeonholed. Don't take my word for it, and don't be compelled to go, if for instance, time and money were an issue and some other city were calling out to you more deeply.
But If you're wondering: Did Paris live up to my expectations? YES. Would I go back? I would love to. If I could spend many months there to shoot a film? That would be sweet.
We took the 9am train from Paris' Gare de Lyon to Geneva, where we would stay with my cousins for a few days. As the train sped away from the city into the countryside, the smartly-dressed gentleman in his 70s seated in front of me started to sing.
Maybe he was singing a naughty song, maybe he sang too loud. He would speak and then sing, over and over again. At some point his wife told him to shush.
Here's Part 1 and Part 2 of this post, in case you missed them.
And thanks for reading.
*All photos by Ina Amor Mejia.