There’s very little about Paris that hasn’t been said before, so in the interests of verbal economy, we’ll take it as read that yes, Paris is remarkable and everything’s beautiful and there’s lots of fashion and stylish people and what-not. Paris is a Great City, and the throngs of annual tourists certainly make sure it remains so. To keep things brief, here’s some of the things we did that maybe aren’t top of the radar for would-be Parisians.
The Georges Pompidou Gallery
We went on a recommendation from Louis and Sophie, Sarah’s friends who we met for breakfast on our first Sunday in Paris. The art and architecture of the building itself is stunning – and a nice concoction of expected big names and interesting exhibits. Also, the rooftop view is amazing, and the building itself has long had status as an ‘architecture as art’ defining moment in Paris’ 20th century post-war rejuvenation.
The European Photography House
The Paris Photography Gallery is well-hidden, but a treasure to find. We went there to pursue my love of all things photographic, and found some astonishing displays. The Herb Ritts retrospective was brilliant, ranging from fashion to celebrity to his time journeying Africa. A powerful series of portraits of the Latin Transgender community were striking and thought provoking, presented as full-size human images. Even the exposure of photographic film to radiation was an interesting concept. We greatly enjoyed this gallery.
The Musee d’Orsay is a perennial feature of Paris’ art landscape, but we were as interested in the building as we were in the art. As an old train station, the space has been redefined to show a staggering breadth and scale of artworks, and yet retains clearly the form of its original design, right up to the top-floor clocks. We particularly enjoyed the Second Empire exhibition, detailing France’s art history from the time of Napoleon III in the 19th century.
Sarah got us onto this tip. To dodge the crowds, visit the Louvre through the shopping centre at the rear of the building, at about 5pm on a Friday. We walked straight in, and had a reasonably spacious tour of the Louvre at our leisure. Of course, it’s always crowded (the space in front of the Mona Lisa is both impenetrable and unpoliceable) but this was a good tip to get in fast and see what we wanted to. It also helped us avoid the torrential rain!
Neither of us had been to Versailles, and it was worth the trip. Walking the halls of old power and grandeur leaves you with a strong sense of what the historical system and lifestyle were like. And the stunning and expansive gardens add not only depth, but outdoor exploration and decompressing amidst elaborately manicured hedges, gardens, mazes and more. We found some excellent art installations as well, by a Danish-Icelandic artist who made the grounds his canvas.
The Moulin Rouge
We went to the Moulin Rouge with Sparrow and Brad, and it strikes me now as one of the most awkwardly bizarre things I’ve ever seen. Part Eurovision performance, part revue and very stylised, it managed to take something which seems fun in theory (nudity, dancing, acrobatic feats, music) and combine them in a way that leaves you more surprised than amazed. The set pieces (a strength-based couple who lifted each other around the stage, the roller-skating contortionists, the comedic juggler) were the most impressive, but the background performance dodged sexy or charming, and sits firmly in my mind as a little (very) weird!
And of course we did a lot of tourist things like the Bateaux Mouches, Galeries Lafayette, Montmatre, Sacre Coeur, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Elysses, caught with fabulous people for wonderful meals, wandered the left bank and generally promenaded about Paris.
Oh, and a big recommendation – the folks at Espace Nikon fixed my camera instantly and for free because it’s a Nikon. Legends.
Well, that’s France. Next time, we’ll talk about what to do once your Schengen runs out and you have to abscond to Croatia.