“Paris is always a good idea”
May 25, 2018
There are many reasons to travel: to explore new places, to search for novelty and new experiences; to tick a destination off a bucket list.
There is also pleasure to be had from returning to somewhere familiar; a voyage of rediscovery, turning an unexpected corner. Cities especially are constantly changing and evolving, so to return is like getting to know someone better, strengthening your friendship. It’s more about the relationship, less of a transaction.
“Paris is always a good idea”.
I can’t claim it as original, Audrey Hepburn said it first. What is there new to say about Paris?
For me, revisiting Paris is the lure of familiarity. Emerging from the Gare du Nord to the taxi rank opposite the SNCF building, you couldn’t really be anywhere else.
For several years, in spring or autumn, we have rented the same apartment in the 7th Arrondissement. It’s reassuringly familiar as we unlock the door, and yet it’s always something of a surprise; the light from the high fourth floor windows reflected in the apartment’s many mirrors. We know where things are, there’s no need to inspect the kitchen. We open the shutters onto a little balcony, look to the right, and there is the gilded baroque dome of Les Invalides, the location of Napoleon’s tomb since 1861.
La Fontaine de Mars
We’ve acquired the habit of booking dinner on our first evening at La Fontaine de Mars, in walking distance on Rue Saint-Dominique. The waiters are charming, straight out of central casting, and often the guests are too: either chic Parisian couples or American academics. The American University of Paris is nearby (Barack and Michele Obama dined here in 2009, in the discreet little dining room upstairs). We’ve learned to ask for a table on the “Rez-de-Chaussée”, the ground floor, to be closer to the action. Tables are quite close together, the linen is red-and-white checked, and a dish of sliced saucisse sèche appears quickly with your baguette and butter. Our waiter brings a blackboard of the day’s specials; they specialise in dishes from the Southwest, so there’s usually a “véritable cassoulet, tête de veau”, and something-or-other with truffles.
We like to start with a glass of Lillet, white or pink, a rather retro aperitif from Bordeaux that comes on ice and slices of orange and lime. Then the waiter delivers a cheeky “his and hers” cliché, along with our carafes of white and red.
129, Rue Saint-Dominique, Paris 75007 0033 (0)1 47 05 46 44
As well as the kitchen, the apartment is equipped with a shopping trolley, and our first visit the next morning is to Rue Cler, for provisions. It’s a lively little street, unusually well served even by Paris standards: a butcher, three greengrocers, two cheese shops, two florists; a smoked salmon specialist as well as a fishmonger, and no fewer than four wine shops (les priorités des Parisiens?)
The “Ladies Who Lunch” like to sit outside the cafés, their salads left unfinished as they light cigarettes and sip a vin rouge (la cuisine minceur de nos jours?). Our favourite lunch spot is Le Petit Cler, a cafe owned by the same people as La Fontaine de Mars.
29, Rue Cler, Paris 75007 0033 (0)1 45 50 17 50
Opening hours on the street are a little complicated. Mondays tend to be quiet, shops close for lunch or half a day early in the week; the street is liveliest at the weekend, although the only bakery doesn’t open on Sunday (what’s the French for “keep ’em guessing?)
Avenue de Saxe Market
Another thing we’ve learned recently is not to over-buy in Rue Cler on arrival, since we’ve discovered the street market which takes place on Thursday and Saturday mornings, on Avenue de Saxe. As well as finding exceptional food, you can have your furniture upholstery repaired, or sell a neglected violin to the man who will restore it and give it a new lease of life.
“Plus ça change, plus c’est la mème chose”.
But it’s always a good idea.