Zut alors, we packed a lot in. Five nights, six days, in tourist-crammed Paris. Our visit coincided (unintentionally) with the English half-term holidays. Weather as changeable as Melbourne, or London. Downpours, and glorious autumn sunshine.
Paris art overload: the Pompidou Centre, just after it opens, straight up to level 5 for early Dada and surrealism. Spacious, quiet galleries, until the crowds come up from level 4. We find a reconstruction of a wall from Andrê Breton’s studio cluttered with objets d’art, exotic artefacts, works by Miro and Duchamp, curiosities and dust-traps. By contrast, three mesmerisingly spare paintings by Malevich. New names to investigate – Victor Brauner, Marcel Jean, Aurelie Nemours. Yves Klein’s blue tree, intense, solitary and strange, making me think of Waiting for Godot. Then riding the outside escalators up to the top for spectacular views of Sacré-Coeur and the Eiffel Tower under biblical skies.
On to the Musée d’Orsay, housed in a former railway station, now a stunning setting for an impressive collection of Impressionist paintings and more. First stop the café for necessary refuelling – two of our party tackle a 12 inch éclair! – and a spot of people watching. Then we check out Cézanne, Seurat, Valloton and Courbet. Oh, the guilt, as we rush past so much else.
The following day we hit the Louvre. Or the Louvre hits us. It’s vast and overwhelming. We target Aphrodite (Venus) de Milo, serenely towering above her admirers; and the Mona Lisa, which is a spectacle, an event, more than a painting: hordes jostling behind a barrier, security guards with enigmatic smiles flanking either end, and the world’s most famous painting embedded in a gold velour wall and suffocated behind two layers of glass.
And how many miles do we walk in Paris? From Ile Saint-Louis to Père Lachaise cemetery. Strolling its avenues to pause at Oscar Wilde’s tomb, the wall of the martyred communards, Colette’s grave. Exploring the Marais and St Germain. Ambling along the boulevards and quais, stopping at bookstalls (of course). Treading in dog shit, twice, for the full Parisian experience. Climbing three flights of narrow, winding stairs – 78 steps – to the door of the apartment we’ve hired; another 30 steps to our bedroom right at the top with its sloping, wood-beamed ceiling, and a skylight framing the full moon, and the vrai French windows showcasing Parisian rooftops and the tips of Notre-Dame.
Breakfast in Paris is rustic baguette, bought still warm from the boulangerie across the street (merci à mes compagnons de voyage who ran down all those stairs to buy it). We make tartines with butter and Vegemite (another travelling companion) or strawberry jam. We overdose on cheese.
Paris is all of this and more. In Paris I swing my niece round and round in the square outside the Pantheon, until she can rightly exclaim: “Oh my giddy aunt!’