Monday, January 31, 2011

Day 4: Paris the Beautiful

I realized today that I have developed a very serious and potentially artery-clogging addiction to saucisson, especially when it is sandwiched between two, heavily buttered pieces of baguette and tiny, sharp tasting, extra-thin cornichons. Thankfully, I have not kept count of how many of these delicious sandwiches I have eaten, though today, writing this from the terrace at 7 p.m., I have already eaten three and I am pretty sure I have a saucisson canker on the inside of my left cheek.

“Not tonight, darling. I have saucisson sores.”

This morning we took a Taxi Parisien to Notre Dame ( The taxi ride was a compromise as I love riding Le Métro and Chris prefers walking. Chris is right; Paris is a city meant to be walked. However, with my buggered IT band and the San Francisco Marathon less than a month away, the occasional taxi taking is necessary in order to compensate for usual 10 hour long days of walking.

Notre Dame has been one of my favourite spots in Paris since I first visited during that cold, dark February of 2003. Today’s visit was no different as I shuffled on my tip-toes through the church's overwhelming interior, reminding myself to tilt my head upwards to appreciate all the incredible architectural details and the stained glass treasures hidden up high. I have visited Notre Dame, over 7,915 kilometres away from where I live, more times than I ever been to one single church at home.

Chris and I wordlessly shared our tradition of lighting church candles for our much missed loved ones; this has become another important Paris ritual for us and one that adds incredible meaning to our visits.

Notre Dame is a working church, but it is also one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world. With this fame comes a certain amount of overfamiliarity, often bordering on disrespect, from visitors . If you are ever fortunate enough to visit Notre Dame, or for that matter any other church, please do not do any of the following:

Talk Loudly: This should be obvious, n’est pas? There literally are signs everywhere, in every language and with visual aids (Shhh!), asking visitors not to speak. Today I heard two American women yelling to each other about the terrible pizza they shared last night. Maybe they couldn’t hear each other over the chasm between their massive fanny packs!?

Drink Starbucks: I wish I was making this up and I wish I didn’t have to write about this but today I saw a velour track-suit wearing woman walking around the inside of Notre Dame with a Venti Starbucks stuck to her lips as if she was out for a morning power walk in her suburban neighbourhood. I am, probably more than most people, an absolute coffee addict and drink Starbucks like water at home. But you don’t drink coffee in Notre Dame! And really Starbucks in Paris? You can do so much better!

Take Pictures of Priests hearing Confessions: The perimeter of Notre Dame is lined with multilingual confessional booths so that worshippers can confess in their respective languages. Today, I watched as tourists snapped photographs of the priests as if they were characters at Paris Disneyland. They are real, working priests. You would not appreciate it if someone showed up at your office and took your photo. And your job is likely far more mundane and less important than saving souls. Leave the priests in peace and buy a postcard on the way out.

Pose for Pictures like you are a Russian Supermodel circa 1985: In front of the Eiffel Tower, place your hands on your hips, cock your head, flip your hair, pout your lips and thrust your pelvis as the camera captures you but do not strike the same, taste questionable pose in Notre Dame. Take your picture quietly (no flash!) and move on. Better yet, support the cathedral by buying some souvenir postcards and whatnots at their volunteer-run gift shop.

Which leads me to my final “do not”…

Do Not Light a Candle sans Offering: If you can afford to be touring around Paris, you can afford the suggested 2 euros offering to light a candle. Entry to Notre Dame is free and as visitors, respectful visitors, you need to support that privilege.

Enough ranting about Notre Dame. We spent the majority of today wandering streets on the Left Bank, both of us delighted at finding the familiar, finding ourselves on streets, in front of brasseries where we had been before. Chris is frighteningly good at knowing Paris in his head and manages to lead us again and again to our comfortable favourites and wonderful new places.

Chris’ “Paris sense” is highly developed and also especially endearing to me as I know how difficult it has been for him to fall in love and surrender to Paris. Sometimes I think I have bullied him into loving Paris as my refusal to imagine, much less live, a life without Paris is so absolute. I know that living with me and my singular, expensive, impractical obsession cannot be easy at times. I keep catching myself in these perfect, shared Paris moments in which I honestly wonder how my life is real and how Chris and I are back in Paris, our third trip in as many years, with no sign of either of us tiring and already talking about “next year”.

We had late morning café crèmes at Les Deux Magots, 6 place Saint Germain des Pres ( where we were served by what would one would expect of a typical French waiter; petulant and not interested in serving another pair of tourists at one of the most famous cafés in Paris.

Les Deux Magots is next to the Left Bank LV store. Having now visited both Left Bank LV and the Champs LV, I can, without hesitation, write that Champs LV is the Las Vegas of the two stores. Or Champs LV is the Dolly Parton to the Left Bank LV's Audrey Hepburn. Champs LV is all about big, over-the-top, love me right now and buy me senseless; whereas Left Bank LV is classic, understated and refined. And you know its where real Parisians shop. I love LV and j'adore both stores - I lost my LV virginity at the Champs store! - but I admit that not having to stand in line with hundreds of motor coach tourists, staring across the street at a 24/7 McDonalds, is a lot less appealing now having visited the sumptuous interior of the Left Bank LV.
The store was quiet and we spent ages so I could visit all of my favourites and add a few new loves to my mental collection. Despite my best intentions to not covet, much less consider purchasing another LV bag, I am failing miserably. Especially after the price tag reality check at Chanel where their entry level bag could easily finance three, mid-size Speedys. LV seems practically affordable! And I swear LV bags look better in France, in their natural surroundings, free from preservatives and ugly shoes. Tonight I promise to not fall asleep rearranging my finances in contemplation of a new bag - Baking soda as toothpaste? Can I feed our horse on table scraps? Should I sell my eggs? - but rather fall asleep repeating my mantra,

“I do not need another LV bag.”

We continued shopping on the Left Bank. The new Ralph Lauren flagship store at 176 Boulevard Saint Germain has been on my itinerary for months. Ralph’s is the restaurant there and we have been unable to get a reservation before and since our arrival. I don’t know why I feel so obsessed with getting a reservation. It really is an awful lot of trouble and stress to eat an American hot dog in Paris and I blame a recent American Vogue article ("Places to Be - Paris") for my madness. Lack of hot dog aside, the store is a destination in itself and has some of the most incredible equestrian art I have ever seen.

The store is laid out so that it feels as though you are touring through a super posh, tastefully decorated English countryside manor that just happens to be overflowing with five floors of top-end Ralph Lauren clothing and accessories. This is not the Ralph Lauren you find at Bloomingdales or in the seconds bin at Costco. There was not a single single polo shirt in the entire store. Nor a pair of khakis.

After the Left Bank, we walked to Les Halles, one of Chris’ favourite places for brasseries and beer. I don’t feel the same affinity for this area of Paris as Chris does and truthfully find it a bit seedy. I like my Paris as a postcard; unimaginative, fully of sparkly monuments and clichés. In our beery haze we walked directionless and found ourselves in the comparatively refined courtyard of Palais Royal and literally fell into what I was truly believed was an urban Paris shopping myth...

Didier Ludot (, 24 Galerie Montpensier.

Didier Ludot might be the world's most famous vintage store. And since my first trip to Paris in 2003, I have read about it in various guidebooks, fashion magazines and Blogs and even seen it featured on an episode of The Rachel Zoe Project. But I had never been able to find it. Until today.

There are three stores (ready to wear, evening couture, and black dresses) and each store is smaller than an average North American sized master bedroom. Somehow Chris and I both squeezed ourselves into the ready to wear store, with me practically faint from being in the presence of so much fashion history. Chocolate brown vintage Birkin, Dior saddle bag, pink and black Chanel blazer, voluminous, exotic fur coats, etc., etc. I was totally unprepared and it was even worse because we were sharing the tiny space with a plastic surgery victim, her face literally stretched to the ceiling of the store, and her revolting, frothing at the mouth husband. She was trying on the vintage furs, tossing them all over the place like candy floss, while yelling alteration suggestions across the tiny space. Initially they muscled us out and I stood dejected outside the Didier's store front. All those years of wondering and searching only to lose courage and find myself standing back outside. Then I noticed a small, discreetly lettered sign in the window,

Hermès carrés

I suddenly found my French courage, my voice, my style, all motivated by the chance of finding vintage Hermès. As soon as I made the decision to go back in, I knew it was going to be an expensive one. Similar to Chanel, you don't browse at Didier Ludot. Monsieur Ludot was standing in an exasperated posture at the back of his store, watching his fur coats being tossed around.

“Excusez-moi. Avez-vous les Hermès carrés avec les chevaux?”

Monsieur grunted at me and then led me one-two-three, short steps to his office, the size of a North American refrigerator, and thumped a copier paper box onto his desk full of Hermès carrés . Still no talking, he gestured at me to pick through them. It was a thrilling invitation. At Hermès there is an unwritten rule that you don’t really touch le carré until your Visa has been approved but here I was digging through a box that must have contained at least 100 vintage beauties. It only took me about 15 carrés to find a beautiful 90 x 90 pink and brown Philippe Ledoux “Jumping” scarf too perfect to be real, patterned with show jumping horses. Sense and economy had long been forgotten and I stood on my tiptoes to hold up le carré for Chris, who was wedged in the doorway. I read his lips,

“Buy it.”

I will probably never know - and I don't really want to - if I paid too much or too little and I have promised myself that once I get home I will resist the temptation to search for my carré on e-Bay or similar web sites. It was all about the experience and fulfilling one of my most desired fashion fantasies; buying a carré Hermès that had a previous life, a history in Paris, to me is priceless and it has an immeasurable emotional value.

I have been writing this Blog for over two hours, sitting on our couch, with a slim view of the Eiffel Tower, and watching it fade through its range of sunset colours before becoming sparkly against the night sky. I can't get over how much I have been writing on this trip. And I am starting to believe that our impossible dream of living in Paris is going to come from me writing about our endless love affair with this beautiful city...

1 comment:

Licette NJ How said...

Erin -yet another masterpiece. I loved the "do not"'s and the artery clogging snadwich but most of all I loved the story of the second hand store and Chris mouthing to you "Buy it". Memorable utterly