To carry on directly from my previous post, having finally gotten out of the apartment around midday, I hopped on the tram and made my way into central Paris.
My first stop was the Jardin de Tuileries (by the Louvre), which was resplendent in reds and yellows and everything in between: it really is true that Paris does Autumn very well. It was well into lunch time by this point, so I perched on a little metal chair by a fountain and enjoyed a mini-picnic of fresh fougasse aux olives (a type of bread from Provence) with cherry tomatoes and grapes. I then walked amongst the sculptures that had been dotted around the jardin for a modern art weekend in Paris; some were really interesting, whilst others were downright weird. One artist’s work was made almost entirely from real crow’s feathers. The effect was somewhat disturbing.
Having had my fill of art (and perhaps ‘art’ in some cases), I crossed the Pont du Carousel and wandered along the quai towards the 5th Arrondissement*, drinking in the view from the other side of the Seine as I went. Just as the first drops of rain were starting to fall, I found what I had been looking for: the San Francisco Book Company.
Now, I realise that doesn’t sound like a very French place to be seeking out on my first weekend, but although it’s an English-language book shop, there is something extremely ‘Paris’ about this place.
As soon as you walk through the door, the distinctive smell of old books washes over you in a warm wave of nostalgia and familiarity. This is because the tiny shop is crammed, back-to-front and floor-to-ceiling, with second-hand books of every genre imaginable. Quite literally a labyrinth of literature. The narrow passages between towers of books are barely wide enough for one person to squeeze through – I was grateful to be the only person in the shop at the time as I’m not sure how two would coordinate passing each other without suddenly getting uncomfortably well-acquainted. It’s an amazing little place, every book-worm’s dream, and I fell in love at first sight.
After perusing the shelves for twenty minutes or so, I decided that I should probably decide what sort of book I wanted to find so I could actually look for something (as opposed to trying to look at everything). I remembered that I had been intending to get hold of the Robert Langdon books by Dan Brown, having been so impressed by the The Da Vinci Code.
Now, you are at perfect liberty to decide whether or not you believe me here, but I swear, the moment I had this thought, I looked up at the shelf/stack directly in front of me, wondering where on earth to commence my search (the shelving ‘system’ would have reduced my high school librarian to tears), only for my eyes to immediately fall on Angels and Demons – the first installment in the Langdon series. Nor could I find any more of Mr. Brown’s works – there was just the one, pristine copy of the exact book I had hoped to find. I am taking no liberties with the truth here; my creative license remains, as yet, uninvoked.
So, I emerged victorious from the San Francisco Book Co. and set off to find somewhere to enjoy my purchase. I soon settled on a small, bright patisserie with a couple of tall stools and a wooden bar-type fixture for customers to enjoy their wares. The place was all done out in white with gold gilding and it was beautiful and classic-looking. Exactly what I wanted. I bought un café and a chouquette and sat down to enjoy my new book.
If you’ve never encountered chouquettes, they are tiny puffs of golden pastry encrusted with large granules of ‘pearl sugar’. Light as air and deliciously sweet, restraining yourself to just one of these delightfully simple pastries is no mean feat. I had seven yesterday.
My final stop of the day was way over in Bercy, in the 12th Arrondissement. After nearly getting lost several times (Google maps doesn’t deal terribly well with paths that cut through parks), I skated last-minute into the Cinémathèque Française, rain-soaked and slightly out of breath. The Cinémathèque is a film organization showing old films from around the world in their original languages and I had initially intended to see a French film in noir (haven’t you realized how much I like a good cliché yet?) but they were showing L’Etranger – a 1960’s Italian film adaptation of a book by Albert Camus (who was French) – which I had actually read some years ago and was interested to see realized on the screen. Thus I ended up sat in an old-style cinema salle, the whole place done out in red velvet, watching an Italian film with French subtitles. It was in black and white. I was happy.
* If you’re not familiar with the term, the arrondissements are the numbered districts that Paris is divided into. Amazing how well you learn them when you’re apartment-hunting for seven weeks.