We dumped our luggage, grabbed a light lunch and headed for Sacré Coeur. We saw it at its best, a mammoth confection gleaming white against a sun-bright sky, the crowds swarming like summer ants. A guidebook told me that the Musée de Montmartre housed a painting by Modigliani, so we set off to navigate the tracery of narrow alleys, leaving behind the street artists and souvenir shops. We passed a plaque marking Erik Satie’s house and touched the very doorknob that Rodin had used to enter his lodgings. We found the museum, a narrow multi-storey house with a tiny walled courtyard where a rheumaticky Labrador slept in the sunshine and a few ancient, gnarled fruit trees had been carefully wired and propped to ensure their survival.
We checked every room of the museum, but our quest was in vain. Finally, in faltering French, I asked the attendant if they had the picture. With a knowing look, he informed us it had been sold some years before and that the guidebooks were out of date. “Many people come here looking for it,” he added with a rueful smile. Oh well, the little courtyard was a memorable moment of time-travel and I did see some original posters by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. No doubt the Musée de Montmartre had to part with its Modigliani to raise funds – so perhaps the out-of-date guidebooks ensure a necessary trickle of tourist revenue; I’d like to think so.
We zoomed back to our hotel via the Metro before venturing out to the nearby Place de la République where we found a very pleasant restaurant for our evening meal.
Saturday morning saw us back on the Metro. We hopped off at Les Halles to give the shops a once over. From there we walked to the Pompidou Centre - a modern construction the concept of which is ‘a building inside out’: a love it or hate it kind of thing of innovative design which sits incongruously beside traditional buildings. Another flock of sketch artists hovered, tempting tourists to sit for a drawing. We soon fell into the pavement café habit, pleasant moments punctuating our various ports of call.
We saw Musée du Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, la Tour D’Eiffel and, of course, we walked along the Champs Elysées where the world and his dog gather to strut their stuff, a lovely place on a warm spring day that epitomises this vibrant city.
Sunday dawned fresh and bright and we strolled the pristine morning streets. We partook of the inevitable coffee before setting off to follow the route of the picturesque Canal St-Martin, which runs through the city. Where the canal and its pleasure boats disappear underground, the area above is given over to a huge street market where vast mountains of fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs are displayed. There was a busy trade in scallops, oysters, mussels and various fish, the containers of some declaring they were ‘Fresh from Scotland’. We shuffled through the mêlée of shoppers who were intent on hunting down cheeses, bread, and a miscellany of trinkets and household wares.
As we left the market behind a road sign announced that on Sundays people might use the cycle lanes to enjoy their roller-blades and skateboards. And enjoy them they did; young people whizzed along the designated area definitely having fun. Motorists were very tolerant and a general feeling of joie de vivre ensured Sunday was a happy day for everyone.
We walked on until we were alongside the Seine and there followed a path that led us under the famous archways. There was the occasional vagrant’s cardboard chrysalis tidily tucked into the foot of an arch. Participants in the Paris Marathon panted across the bridge at street level. Then we sat for a while in amiable silence soaking up the sunshine. I pondered the sad analogy of ‘above the bridge-beneath the bridge’ existence – two strata of society, the motivated and the melancholy superimposed on the backdrop of a bridge. Just then the haunting sound of a lone saxophone drifted across the water, a mellifluous sound which suited the ambience of the afternoon. The good, the bad, and the beautiful were contained in those moments at the river’s edge.
We spent our last evening in the restaurant where we had begun to feel like ‘regulars’. The after dinner dish of bon-bons had grown with each visit; the final offering was magnificent.
Next morning we walked to Gare du Nord, wheelie-bags snapping at our heels. With clockwork precision our train pulled in. As Eurostar rushed us through rural France I pondered my first experience of Paris. Many irksome things about our own cities had been noticeably absent. No chewing gum on the footpaths, streets were washed daily, and young people actually gave up their seats for me on the Metro. Parisians have a reputation to be proud of; they are eternally chic, and I’m glad to say have preserved their famous café culture.
With the dust of Paris still on our shoes we stepped out at Waterloo. In the not too distant future, I will return to linger longer in that lovely city.