After landing at Charles de Gualle Airport, we hopped on the Metro towards central Paris and I was shocked at the sheer ugliness of the scenery as we were sped along. Massive concrete overpasses were covered end to end in graffiti (apparently the F-word is the same in English AND in French), square grey buildings erected in the post-war 1950's stood lifelessly behind rotting wooden gates that had been weathered to an unsightly shade of green, and patches of grass between these structures were dotted with litter of plastic bottles, soda cans, and wrinkled serviettes. It could have been any other city in the world, and I found it hard to believe that this area existed in relative proximity to such elegance as the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. But I suppose ugliness has to exist in order for beauty to be appreciated, and this was demonstrated to me right before the Metro headed below ground and the windows darkened, as I caught a glimpse of the peak of a castle-like structure and my heart fluttered as it finally hit me that we had arrived.
Having been to Paris twice before, I knew that this would be a rather chaotic leg of the trip. August is an especially busy time for the city as tourists from across the globe flock here to absorb some culture before the kids head back to school. Fortunately, we had the foresight to stay in an area relatively shielded from the madness, on a quiet street called Rue de Cherche-Midi in the Saint-Germain area of the 6th Arrondissement. La Belle Juliette was a lovely little boutique hotel, barely discernible from the residences surrounding it, hidden amongst trendy shops and cafes where the hipster locals hung out. We had been graciously upgraded to a junior suite and although I'm sure it was considered sizeable by Parisian standards, I had certainly never been more grateful for my small stature, especially since the toilet, located on the other side of the suite from the sink and tub, was housed inside what I can only refer to as a dimly lit broom closet. Yet I really did like our third-floor suite, with it's turquoise walls and matching accents, modernized clawfoot bathtub, and shuttered windows that opened out towards the street, offering us the sounds of fast-paced French conversations and the humming of scooters zooming by down below.
Following a quick shower and change of clothes, we ventured out, at which time it promptly began to rain. I mean pour. I mean tropical thunderstorm torrential downpour which took no mercy on my flip-flop- clad feet. It was painfully clear that autumn had already descended on this part of France, and I gawked in dismay at the nearly naked trees that had littered the ground with crunchy brown leaves. I was ill-prepared, save for the umbrellas that had been handed to us with a smile by the man at hotel reception.
We quickly ducked into le Cafe Nemrod on the next corner for some reprieve (having been turned away at two other bistros thanks to kitchens that had closed for the day), only to be greeted with a scowl by the head waiter who forbade us two from sitting at a table meant for four. The waitress was no kinder, ignoring us on several occasions and hastily plopping down our utensils and food, clearly not impressed at my attempt to speak en Francais. Well, we certainly weren't off to the greatest start.
We didn't have a strict agenda for our first day, and as we apprehensively awaited for the jet lag to set in, we committed to no more than wandering aimlessly through the city. The rain had paused so we meandered over to le Jardin de Luxembourg, which was akin to New York's Central Park, a retreat in the centre of a chaotic city, peacefully anchored by lush greenery and colorful flowerbeds. In the centre of the garden was a large fountain where kids and adults alike paid a few Euros to rent miniature boats which they sailed in the water amongst the unbothered ducks. However both the copain and I much preferred the other monument housed in the park, le Fontaine de Medicis, which had a tranquil yet haunting quality about it, depicting the Greek mythological figure Polyphemus, the cyclops son of Poseidon, watching over the doomed lovers Acis and Galactea. Jealous of the relationship between Acis and the sea nymph Galactea, Polypheumus later kills his rival with a rock. Ah, love....c'est belle, non?
The copain had been reading "A Moveable Feast" by Ernest Hemingway, which documents the author's time living in Paris in the early 1920's. Hemingwa had rented an apartment with his wife on the Rue de Cardinal-Lemoines, so we trekked to the other side of the city, crossing over the Seine, to find this historical spot. The copain's excitement was barely contained but as I followed him around trying to find this address, the rain had begun again and my cheery disposition was waning fast. We stopped for a brief photo-op, cowered under a doorway for some shelter until the hammering rain eased slightly, and, with limbs cold and wet, jumped intp a cab headed back to the hotel.
We had no dinner plans for the evening so we blindly accepted a recommendation from the hotel concierge for a rather unmemorable meal at le Cafe Breteuil, which was an easy walking distance away. I was surprised at the lacklustre food, given that the restaurant seemed to cater to an older and predominantly French clientele. But I barely had time to ponder, or even digest, before we quickly made our way back to our little haven in the city and crawled into bed for a night of sleep that rivaled that of the dead.