In the past we have found 'Discovery Walks' a great way to see the sights of a city with a native guide and today was no different. While we waited we watched a big group of young Spaniards shaking breadcrumbs into each other's hair then taking photos of the pigeons scratching for them. There was general hilarity and many photos.
We chose the walk through the area of Saint Germain and the Seine but due to excessive heat (36c), we avoided the river and stuck to shady cobbled lanes of Saint Germain. We met our guide, Eric, in his pink vest, at the front of Notre Dame and were lucky to have only one other young English couple with us which meant we could hear every thing and ask questions at will.
The two cathedrals are representive of the original divisions of the city. On the left, Notre Dame belonging to the walled Latin Quarter where wealth and education was the norm, while on the right was the Romanesque Church of Saint Germain des Pres, (church of the fields), built in the poorer settlement outside the walls. The lower cost of living there attracted tradesmen, students, musicians and artisans.
Taxes were levied on the number and size of doors and windows, resulting in small buildings, with few windows, small doors and dark interiors.
Eric was a great source of local knowledge and pointed out the homes and haunts of many famous Parisiennes. Robespierre and Benjamin Franklin frequented the coffee shop below and Eric said the popular Piano Bar cabaret was an excellent, bawdier, alternative to Moulin Rouge! We planned to go until we realised it kicked off at 11pm and closed at 6am.... past our bedtime, especially after long days of sight-seeing!
Some interesting facts we learnt were
*Saint Germain grew up outside the walls of the Latin Quarter, where the university was sited, and was a tax-free cheaper living option which attracted artists, students, and musicians.
*cul de sac translates to 'arse of sac', a bit of a dig at gentrification!
* traditionally, the wealthy criminals were beheaded and the hoi-poli were subjected to the more painful death by hanging, until the revolution when all were guillotined. (Liberty, EQUALITY, fraternity).
*The cobbled streets slope towards the centre so when the 'slops' were thrown from the windows above, they would run into the centre and drain away when it rained. Before the slops were thrown it was mandatory to give three warnings to passers-by so they could move to the wall in the lee of the deluge!!
*during the Nazi occupation, Pablo Picasso, despite being Spanish, stayed in his Paris house (below) and painted his gruesome comment on war, 'Guernica'. When a Nazi officer asked " did you do this?", his response was "No. You did!"
As we walked, Eric drew our attention to the small theatres, many still in original condition, where old films, often black and white, are regularly shown. Paris has a huge movie audience, but the big commercial cinemas complexes, with multiple screenings are nowhere to be seen.
* lots of smokers everywhere, including restaurants.
* clean, efficient, affordable Metro system.
* mostly slim populace, walking and cycling. Electric bikes are available at convenient pick-up /drop-off points on street corners.
* electric cars and charging points everywhere.
* no road rage. Slow traffic, tolerant drivers.
Eric pointed out the advertising booth below and told us they are gradually being replaced with modern bill-boards. He felt it was another loss of traditional character in the city.
Wednesday June 21.
On the train there was an unpleasant incident when five railway police came through checking tickets. The young woman beside me couldn't produce a ticket and became very aggressive, shouting and gesticulating. She stood up and argued and yelled non-stop and at the next stop made a break for the door. The officers restrained her and then frog-marched her off at the next station.
We started the day with a nostalgic walk to Ile de St Louis where we stayed with the GGs in 2013, especially to take photos of Notre Dame framed with trees in summer foliage! Previous trips have been in winter so greenery is a novelty for us!
This little group of young students were under the shade of a bridge on the left bank of the Seine and were the first indicator of the Fete de la Musique, an annual event in Paris which encourages musicians to set up anywhere in public space to perform.
We revisited The Luxembourgh Garden too, to see it in the spring. It was cool under the big shade trees and we sat awhile watching the passing parade.
It was great at to be in Paris for the 'Fete de la Musique' which celebrates the Summer Solstice. It is a day and night of free gigs, of all music genres across the country. There were bands and individuals on almost every corner, park and square set up with their amphliers, watched by appreciative audiences.
The atmosphere was amazing, sometimes deafening when two groups were close. We ate dinner at a pavement table with a jazz band behind us and a rock band in the restaurant across the street. Beside us, in the spirit of the night, was a budding trumpeter!!
We called it a night and dragged ourselves home about 11pm.
Thursday, June 22nd
We caught the train out to The Bois-de-Boulogne, which is home to the racecourse and Roland-Garos Tennis Centre. It is also where the prostitutes set up their colourful tents and cars each morning in preparation for plying their trade.
It was very hot so we didn't stay long and headed back to our favourite watering-hole for a cool ale.
Before we left there was a burst water main in our street, sending a plume of water about three storeys into the air. The local kids were having a great time cooling off there and the gutters were overflowing. When we came home it was still spouting and we were concerned we'd be without water. Gratefully it is now fixed and all is well.