26 Nov 2014
Strolling hand in hand down Boulevard St Germain, we had stepped out into a different Paris. Only a single block south from La Seine and we were amongst smart professionals between meetings and sophisticated ladies out shopping. A fluorescent courier cycled past with a flat-bed pallet in front, loaded with deliveries.
We peered into the windows of designer homeware stores, sleek kitchen showrooms, and boutique shops. One was called ‘Caroll’. A few blocks further west and the stores changed to restaurants, bars, cafés, brassieres, bistros and Boulangerie.
“You’d never run out of places to eat” I marveled as we passed a line of people patiently waiting to get into a delicatessen.
By now we were behind the Sobonne (university). Stylish students were gathered in cafés with notes open animatedly talking in rapid-fire French.
“They’re so pleased with their language” chuckled David as we passed a group of particularly boisterous students. It’s such a beautiful language.
“I think if we could understand French, Paris would lose some of the magic and mystery” David laughed and agreed with me.
“Imagine having a Babel Fish in our ear translating everything into Aussie slang.” And then he proceeded to imitate my accent whilst dubbing the conversations of people around us. He had me in stitches.
We were walking to the Musee Rodin, a lovely little museum set in the chateau and grounds of the artist. Rodin was no starving artist judging by the estate. He was a very successful French sculptor of the late 1800’s. It’s a gem of a museum hidden behind a sandstone wall in a quiet street not far from the Eiffel Tower.
We Started by exploring the classically landscaped gardens and the bronze sculptures hidden within. At the tail end of autumn and under a flat white sky the garden was not at it’s best. But even then it was a delight to discover. A hand full of brave roses still bloomed amongst the last of the sienna leaves around them.
The first piece we discovered was ‘the Thinker’ perched on high, it represents Dante thinking about the fate of mankind.
At the bottom of the garden is a circular pond surrounded by various figures. Taking a seat by the pond we discussed how ridiculous it would be to live in a place this big.
“We’d have to communicate by walkie-talkie: …Carol. Where are you? Over.”
“I’m up here. In the east wing. Where’s my breakfast? Over.”
I’m sure Rodin had a sense of humour. The view from the bottom of the garden to the main house was straight past (up?) the bottom of a sculpture.
Wandering further through the autumn leaves and we looped back towards the house and found another series of pieces, looking horrified and defiant.
“He doesn’t look well pleased” I mused. They represented six delegates from Calais who sacrificed themselves to the English to save their city, during the hundred year war.
At the front of the garden was an enormous gate. Looking like the gates to hell, it was covered in figures in various positions of torment and sin. I was reminded of Heronimous Bosh’s paintings. Dante, The Thinker, was perched at the top. Smaller than the life sized version.
Entering the grand châteaux, the atmosphere softened from the agony and torment of the winter garden. Inside, the museum felt much more intimate, more domestic. The rooms were filled with working models and sketches, providing insight into the artist’s process. He was once accused of casting directly from his human model, the piece was so life-like.
The piece I was here to see, The Kiss, was no longer in the house. Unfortunately half the house is closed for reservations, but these sculptures were on display in a separate building.
The Kiss (1882) was a controversy at the time. Rodin was the first sculpture to depict a woman as an equal partner in love. And what a piece. It’s so fluid and emotional that I felt like I was intruding on their intimacy. It was a little disappointing to see the piece crammed in a corner of a temporary space, however.
Les Deux Magots looked like a good spot to stop for lunch. A black and white photo hung on the wall above our table. It was a photograph of our table with Simons de Bovior sitting deep in thought and writing. This place has been here since the early 1900’s and has been frequented by surrealist artist and literary intellectuals. It’s more of a curiosity now, although the inside tables seemed to be frequented by Parisienne’s.
We ordered a simple lunch before continuing our explorations of Saint-Germain-des-pres.
Back out on the street into a slight mist we meandered through the tiny cobble stone lane ways. We loved how the scale of the neighbourhood changed as the road narrowed, and shops grew smaller. And more unique, there are no high street chain stores here. It has so much character.
David spotted a really interesting perfumer: Le Labo. The little shop was set up so that it was a joy to explore with pre-sprayed cards for each fragrance. They were all so interesting a different from mainstream scents. My romantic husband bought me one called Rose 31. And we watched while the perfumer mixed the fragrance in a special glass room. The perfect souvenir a la Paris!
It smells mainly of rose but without the sweetness, with warm, spicy, woody notes, and cedar. Perhaps a light touch of citrus. It’s described as having a “disconcerting sence of mystery”. And I love it!
Continuing down lanes and into boutique art stores, second hand book stores, we pressed our noses up to Delicatessens and Fromageries. An old busker playing a trumpet in one hand and wheeling a trolley with a stereo accompaniment, strolled along the street with us. He made us giggle, we kept running into him. I had to give him a few euros.
By now it was nightfall and the evening lights reflected off the damp air. We were walking through the legendary lights of Paris. I love Paris in the evening rain.
“What we need now is vins rouge!”
“Oui, oui, mon cheri.”