Vive la France There’s nowhere like Paris to stir the senses

The French cap­i­tal re­mains the per­fect city to stir the senses, writes Yvonne Judge

The Irish Times Magazine - - FRONTLINES -

‘ C’ est bizarre,” ob­served the fe­male passerby as she looked in the win­dow of Ca fe Philippe along­side the me­dieval mar­ket of Car­reau De Tem­ple. She was watch­ing the pres­i­dent of France and the King of Morocco sit­ting down to lunch to­gether in the busy res­tau­rant. What else, af­ter all, do you on the last day of your ten­ure, the day be­fore the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Whether it was the oysters or the seabass, we can­not con­firm, but François Hol­lande sure looked like a joyful man as his se­cu­rity de­tail whisked him away for one last time.

( I am sure the irony isn’t lost on him that Cafe Philippe is lo­cated just me­tres from where Louis XVI, Marie An­toinette and the Dauphin were im­pris­oned from in the Tem­ple area, 1792 to the date of their ex­e­cu­tion in 1793. Care­ful now.)

We clicked our smart­phone cam­eras at the wav­ing pres­i­dent sur­rounded by um­brel­las and snap­pers, sur­prised that the se­cu­rity is ap­par­ently low key, and it was good to see such a re­sound­ing vote of con­fi­dence in an area that hasn’t had the best of times over the last two years.

The area is the north of the 3rd ar­rondisse­ment, on the edge of the 11th. As the crow flies it is less than a kilo­me­tre from the scene of one of the worst ter­ror­ists at­tacks in Europe – the Bat­a­clan the­atre and cafe; the for­mer of­fices of Char­lie Hebdo are only a few hun­dred me­tres fur­ther away, down a quiet lane.

Philippe is one of a plethora of restau­rants and cafes along Le Car­reau, in this now in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar quartier for Les Bo­bos ( French hip­sters) in HoMa ( Haut Marais). We lived here a few years ago, when such an Amer­i­can acro­nym would have been deemed as im­pos­si­ble as the ex­is­tence of a veg­e­tar­ian res­tau­rant, but this weekend we found tea houses, gourmet burger bars and even ve­gan pizza on of­fer in the area. Times change: there are fewer tourists in Paris, wait­ers speak smil­ing English with en­thu­si­asm; needs must.

We lived on Boule­vard Voltaire, along the axis of protest be­tween Place de la Republique and Bastille, just along from Rue Oberkampf. Hap­pily the area is vis­i­bly shak­ing off the legacy of events and get­ting on with its vi­brant mul­ti­cul­tural life.

Up the left be­low the hill is the be­gin­ning of Canal Saint Martin with its won­der­ful wrought iron foot­bridges, Ho­tel du Nord of the movie fame, and Quai de Valmy where Chez Prune is the per­fect spot for a cafe. Mec­cano Bar and Cafe Char­bon on Oberkampf are still drinks and brunch mec­cas for the Bo­bos, along with tons of new es­tab­lish­ments to sam­ple as you me­an­der to­ward Père Lachaise Cemetery to visit the lip­stick kissed grave of Os­car Wilde, as well as those of Si­mone de Beau­voir and Jim Mor­ri­son.

The canal heads some­what dis­ap­point­ingly un­der­neath Boule­vard Richard Lenoir, a mostly dull per­func­tory res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial stretch, on its jour­ney to emerge mag­i­cally as a basin beyond Bastille. But, the stretch is host to the best mar­kets in Paris. Thurs­days and Sun­days it has the city’s big­gest fresh food mar­ket; per­fect for Air BnBers, aparthote­liers or just a picnic. Oc­ca­sional Sun­days host the bro­cante or ran­dom an­tiq­ui­ties mar­ket. ( I got an an­cient Paris Mo­nop­oly there.)

The mag­nif­i­cent Place des Vos­ges, one of the old­est squares in Paris, is just off the other side of Boule­vard Beau­mar­chais; per­fect for eat­ing your picnic fare in the gar­den of the Sun King. You are now deep in su­per- chic Le Marais, the pre- rev­o­lu­tion­ary marsh area.

While there, pop into the cour of the Hô­tel de Sully or head back along the chichi bou­tiques of Rue des Francs- Bour­geois and take a right up to Rue Thorigny and the Musée Pi­casso. If you hit peak- art, and hap­pen to have ta­ble ten­nis bats with you, head around the back to the small park on Rue Vieille du Tem­ple with a per­ma­nent ping- pong ta­ble. So you can slice a serve while eye­ing Pi­casso’s goats be­tween the horns. ( Go Sports on Place de La Republique sell ta­ble ten­nis sets.)

Boule­vard Beau­mar­chais surely de­serves the most im­proved award for an artery in the area. ‘ Merci’, the eclec­tic, ex­pen­sive yet phil­an­thropic bou­tique shop and cafe has raised the bar and oth­ers have fol­lowed. Gra­zie and Le Beau­mar­chais ( orig­i­nal!) are ter­ri­bly trendy and this new brunch thing has re­ally caught on. Améri­cains in­deed.

I men­tioned veg­e­tar­ian restau­rants be­cause, as the part­ner of a veg­gie, we both still have mem­o­ries of be­ing a) po­litely but firmly ush­ered off a premises af­ter an en­quiry for veg­gie food, and b) re­fused a re­quest for the meat dish with­out the meat but with the gratin dauphi­nois. Non.

The lat­ter in­ci­dent hap­pened in Le

The Bat­a­clan has now re­opened as a the­atre and a con­cert venue al­though the cafe re­mains closed. Clown Bar, where Beau­mar­chais and Rue Amelot con­nect. It seems highly un­likely to oc­cur now since it rein­vented it­self in 2014 with a new modern hip­ster French menu, an ex­am­ple of the in­creas­ing gen­tri­fi­ca­tion of the area.

Next door, Le Cirque d’Hiver, the per­ma­nent win­ter cir­cus run by the Bouglione fam­ily, de­fi­antly survives the digi- en­ter­tain­ment age. Le Cirque bar also re­mains, where fully made- up clowns can be seen en­joy­ing a quick break from the ring, with a verre and a smoke, their gi­ant shoes crossed over. We en­joyed an evening glass next door out­side the new Pas­de­loup cock­tail bar, where they serve pop­corn and cau­li­flower pierogi, if you don’t mind. ( You get the tren­di­fi­ca­tion pic­ture.)

We no­ticed the tra­di­tional al­i­men­ta­tions or cor­ner gro­ceries are rapidly dis­ap­pear­ing to be re­placed by wine del­i­catessens and gal­leries. All this gen­tri­fi­ca­tion is off­set by the fact that cheaper ac­com­mo­da­tion is now a real thing.

Smaller cheaper ho­tels are no­tice­able and let’s face it, you don’t re­ally visit Paris to stay in your room or have the tepid cof­fee and bouncy crois­sant petit de­je­uner.

No bet­ter place for such morn­ing li­ba­tion is just across Beau­mar­chais and on to Rue Bre­tagne, one of the great foodie streets of Paris. Cheese shops, patis­series, cafes, the Greek trai­teur, the Span­ish ham tapas bar, all sit cheek by jowl per­pen­dicu-

lar to the small park in Square Du Tem­ple.

On Satur­day it was teem­ing with busi­ness and most were head­ing i nto Le Marche des En­fants Rouge, the old­est in­door mar­ket in Paris, to queue for bread and pas­tries or buy a plate of cous­cous and tagine with a glass of red to be eaten at com­mu­nal ta­bles.

Across the street is the great Cafe Char­lot; if you have been to cer­tain es­tab­lish­ments in New York it will look fa­mil­iar. It is the orig­i­nal of the oft- copied French style sub­way tiled and dis­tressed mir­ror restau­rants. But it’s a good one.

From the tra­di­tional to the trendy, we en­joyed an evening meal in Der­riere on Rue Grev­el­liers off Rue Beaubourg. Fur­ni­ture was eclec­tic; a bed, your granny’s ar­moire, paint­ings of bot­toms and of course a ping pong ta­ble, but the fish was great.

Fi­nally an­other word for art buffs. For a nearby feast of classic modern art, cross over Rue Beaubourg ( 3rd) to the Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou. As the Con­tem­po­rary Col­lec­tion is cur­rently closed for ren­o­va­tion, try the Modern Col­lec­tion for a se­lec­tion box of jaw­drop art. Matisse, Pi­casso, Braque, Miro, Kandin­ski, De­launey, Olden­burg, Gi- acometti, Pol­lock, Rothko, Warhol are your start­ing eleven. Al­low at least two hours for im­mer­sion. Then retire to Cafe Beaubourg for a glass of Sancerre and Pom­pi­dou peo­ple watch­ing.

Our friends liv­ing in Paris say it took some time for peo­ple to re­lax again in the out­door seat­ing ar­eas of cafes. They said they re­mind their five- year- old daugh­ter that the fre­quently seen groups of heav­ily armed po­lice are “their friends”. Paris and France re­main in a state of emer­gency. Armed po­lice and oc­ca­sion­ally sol­diers pa­trol the ma­jor tourist sites. Large gath­er­ings of peo­ple, for ex­am­ple at mar­kets, are usu­ally heav­ily po­liced.

Bag checks are the norm in all museums, de­part­ment stores and pub­lic mon­u­ments.

Restau­rants now com­monly em­ploy ex­tra dis­creet se­cu­rity per­son­nel.

Paris is dot­ted with plaques com­mem­o­rat­ing events of the sec­ond World War. Now there is an­other plaque on the wall out­side Bat­a­clan. The cafe re­mains eerily dark and shut, but the the­atre re­opened as a con­cert venue last Novem­ber.

We stayed in the small but per­fectly- formed Marais Home bou­tique ho­tel on Boule­vard du Tem­ple just off Place de La Republique. Rates for a com­fort­able dou­ble room with shower run from ¤ 120 a night. A Ne­spresso ma­chine in the lobby is a handy free­bie.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: BERNARD MENIGAULT/ CORBIS VIA GETTY IM­AGES

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