The Bastille still exists…in bits and pieces. Some visitors exit the métro at Bastille expecting to see a foreboding fortress. They should have stayed down in the subway station. When a disgruntled mob stormed the prison on that fateful night in 1789, sparking the Revolution, they didn’t actually tear up the massive medieval building on the spot. As early as the next day, pieces of the prison started being sold off as souvenirs, much like chunks of the Berlin Wall would be centuries later. Since most of those chunks have been out of stock for 200 years, anyone seeking the prison’s remains can track them down in the Bastille station on the northbound platform of métro line 5. There are also some artistic representations of the Bastille on the platform for line 1; nearby tucked into the bushes of the small Square Henri Galli at the beginning of Boulevard Henri IV; and further along the Seine, where a substantial amount of Bastille blocks were recycled to build the Pont de la Concorde bridge.
There’s more than one “Arc de Triomphe.”
Paris actually has several others Arcs that are completely overshadowed by the mammoth triumphal arch in the center of the Etoile roundabout. Many tourists accidentally wander past l’Arc du Carrousel that flanks the Louvre’s main courtyard. Completed in 1808, it was also commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate his army’s military prowess. However, he wasn’t the first French leader to love arches: Louis XIV, who built Versailles, constructed two of his own: Porte Saint-Denis and Porte Saint-Martin. Situated just outside the métro Strasbourg Saint Denis, they were built in 1672 and 1764 respectively to replace two toll gates along the old city walk, their imagery illustrating “Louis le Grand’s” military victories against the Spanish.
There are also three Statues of Liberty When cruising along the Seine on a bateau-mouche riverboat, at the tip of Ile de Cygne near the Eiffel Tower, you can spot a mini version of the Statue of Liberty—the original, designed by Italian-French artist Auguste Bartholdi. While strolling through the Luxembourg Gardens you may come across the next slightly smaller one on the west side of the park. The third replica, a small bronze copy of Bartholdi’s original maquette, can be admired in front of the Arts and Métiers museum.
Expect to say bonjour. A lot. Some visitors find the French, shall we say, rude—but they might be getting the cold shoulder because they didn’t say bounjour. The courtesy of saying hello is very important to the French, so unless you want to receive bad service, be snarled at or completely ignored, you should be prepared to say bonjour (or bonsoir in the evening) when first encountering someone at a restaurant, bakery, shop, market stall, or even an elevator. On your way out, to keep your good karma with you, be sure to say ” au revoir ” (goodbye) or the ultimate: “merci, au revoir, bonne journée ” (thank you, goodbye, have a nice day).
The French really do eat bread and cheese every day. Or almost. You’d have to work hard to find a French home without either. They take their bread very, very seriously—so seriously that there are even laws about it. There are strict rules on what constitutes a baguette, its consistency, length, and cost. An establishment must bake the bread on site in order to call itself a boulangerie. The capital itself has more than 1,200 bakeries and the ones in each neighborhood ensure that their weekly and holiday closures are different so that the locals won’t ever be without their daily pain. Cheese is also a daily staple. It’s rarely consumed pre-dinner: Instead, a mix of several samples is usually savored post-main course and often replaces a sweet dessert (or why not have both?).
Santé! There’s a correct protocol for cheers-ing. If you’re out with locals, don’t dare take a sip of your vin or bière without first toasting with everyone—yes everyone, and in the “right” way. It’s considered rude to drink before the cheers, though as everyone is chiming santé, chin-chin or à la vôtre , you also have to clink glasses with each person separately. Look him or her in the eye, while also being sure not to cross arms with the other clinkers. There are different theories about how this protocol came about, but it likely originated in medieval times—when clinking glasses spilled some of your beverage into theirs, ensuring yours hadn’t been poisoned. Similarly, looking someone in the eye is a sign of honor and trust.
Frank Sinatra sang about April in Paris. The city’s charm of spring will be in full swing, as café terraces come alive. Paris is the world’s most visited city. It has the highest population density of any European capital.
Paris has always been known for their food. Parisians rally around la table, and everything on it. It is the reason they get up in the morning. Many types of restaurants exist, like bistros, caves a manger and wine bars, creperies, brasseries, cafes, boulangeries, patisseries, fromageries, boucheries, traiteurs, marches, and cavistes. Stick around and you will find out a little more about these.
The latest and greatest trend to hit Paris and the culinary world is les vins naturels, or natural wine. Nobody agrees on what it means, as you may expect. In general, it means the wines are made with minimal human interference. Natural wines contain little or no sulfites, which are normally added as a preservative. The result is wine with a more unique personality or terroir, as the French like to say. The bad news is that these wines can be rather unpredictable, and expensive.
At least once in your life, you must see a cabaret, with boa feathers flying, dancers kicking high, and scantily dressed performers. Vegas had a version of the Folies Bergere for many years at the Tropicana Hotel. Paris also became a center for jazz and blues after World War II.
Napoleon never led his army through the Arc de Triomphe as he once planned. But it stands as the nest symbol of French patriotism. It is only 284 steps to the viewing platform at the top of the 50 meter high arch. Would you believe on August 7, 1939, Charles Godefroy flew his biplane through the arch in honor of French pilots who fought in the war.
No mention of the Louvre here, as I made my last and final visit to the Louvre a few years ago on a side trip from Wimbledon. For something a bit different, hit the Latin Quarter and its botanical gardens. The market street of rue Mouffetard is worth a stroll. And the area has excellent bistros.
The main reason for my return to Paris is the Musee d’Orsay, home of France’s national collection of impressionist, postimpressionist, and art nouveau movements. I thank former President Valery Giscard d’Estang who approved the project in 1977. The museum finally opened in 1986, with its busiest days on Tuesday and Sunday. Not sure why.
The Left Bank Literary Loop is an afternoon well spent. It retraces the footsteps of the Left Bank’s most famous writers. Among others, Gertrude Stein, Henry Miller, Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Oscar Wilde, and William Faulkner.
For you Francophiles, I am certain I have bored you. For others, this city is a place you may want to visit. It has never been a favorite of mine, nor has it ever treated me very well. Give me Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Montreal, Hanoi, Rio, Katmandu, Chicago, Sydney, Cape Town, Luang Prabang, Queenstown, or Seattle any time!!!