Being busy at work has never really prevented me from doing some serious trip-planning, so in between dodging questions and emails left, right, and centre, I researched some of the cool neighborhoods for us to explore in Paris. I narrowed it down to the Haute Marais in the 3rd Arondissement, Montergeuil in the 2nd, Palais Royale in the 4th, and then some Galeries Lafayette action to finish off the day.
Brunch that morning was a delicious little adventure at the Cafe Charlot in the trendy Marais area, most definitely a place to see and be seen. We squeezed into the back corner of the cordoned off patio, stuffing ourselves into the tiny chairs and hovering over a table barely larger than a dinner plate. From here we watched the chic Parisians saunter by, the ones who were too cool to care how they looked but had likely spent the better part of the morning painstakingly manicuring themselves to perfection. I had remarked a day or two ago about how unimpressed I was with the fashion sense of the women here, but firmly shoved my foot in my mouth after spending some time in this area, being bombarded by visions of silk scarves, showy purses and shiny hardware on necks, arms, and fingers. After our yummy brunch, we walked around the streets a bit but unfortunately, many of the stores were closed. We surmised that this was either because we had hit siesta time (the banks had closed for their daily two-hour lunch breaks), or because the store owners had decided to take off for the summer, as many do, without any warning for curious tourists like ourselves. However, to my delight, I did find some cute boutiques selling some recognizable brands, but alas, they were severely overpriced. So with that, we headed next to Montorgeuil, a lively, dense little area with narrow winding streets and bakeries, fromageries, and chocolatiers scattered throughout. I quite enjoyed being amongst the locals as we sat at a cafe for a quick breather, which, as in the manner of most cafes like it, had all of its chairs turned facing the streets to accommodate people-watching, which I imagine is regarded much like a sport here.
On the way to the Palais Royale area, which is known for its old fashioned covered passageways, under which several shops and boutiques reside, we stopped into a bank to see if we could convert some cash. The Euro had been high before we left so my genius copain exchanged our Canadian for some U.S. cash at a low rate to convert into Euros here. We walked into the Societe Generale; "Parlez-vous Anglais?" the copain asked the receptionist, who blinked and answered "non." "Okay then," he proceeded, "we need to exchange some American dollars for Euros." Great, I thought, so not only does she not understand what we are saying, but now she thinks we're American. "Vous-etes Americain," she said, with a hint of disdain, and I couldn't tell if it was a question or a statement. I could see that I would have to take over the talking from this point (my 2nd year university French had started to come back to me at this point). In the end it turned out that they did not carry foreign currencies and directed us to a money changer down a street called La Rue de Banques, in an area where La Bourse, the now abandoned French stock exchange, still stands.
With Euros safely exchanged at the local Western Union, we headed towards mecca, La Galeries Lafayette, a high end department store on Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th Arondissement. the French equivalent to our Saks Fifth Avenue, and I was nearly overwhelmed with excitement, as I pondered all that goodies that awaited me there. "I'll meet you back here in two hours," I said to the copain as we walked in the door, at which time I swore I could hear choir of angels greeting me. I wandered through the store, fascinated, in awe of the pretty things on the walls and shelves, smiling stupidly at the shiny knick knacks that stared blankly back at me from within the glass cases. Yes, perhaps I was daydreaming, but that was okay too. I ventured deeper into the throes of people in the store and on further inspection, something came to my attention. Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Chanel, all the players were there, but to my absolute horror, these sections were chock full of people from mainland China, all clamoring over each other, pushing and shoving, arguing loudly above the buzz of the overworked cash register as their purchases were rung through one after the other, the tab at a figure greater than any comprehension of mine. Out of their Dior wallets, came wads after wads of cold hard cash, which they exchanged for purses, wallets, and satchels. I suddenly felt my stomach turn, thoroughly sickened at the very idea of the blatant over-consumerism that I was witness to, and realizing that money can buy you a lot of things, but class is not quite as easily attained. I crinkled my nose at the bags of designer fare that they gripped tightly in their hands. Disheartened at the queues just to get into the designer sections, I turned to leave. But all of a sudden, my eye was caught by a beautiful gleaming grey-blue Chloe purse. Well that whole anti-consumerism thing didn't last very long. Fighting against the temptation as hard as I could, my will power eventually won out and I did refrain (I might come back for you later, though), and empty-handed, I sat myself down at the cafe which was the prescribed meeting point for me and the copain, waiting patiently for him to join me, with with cafe au lait in hand.
Shortly thereafter, he came into view, grinning like a Cheshire cat with his purchases proudly in tow. "What the hell?" I said jealously, as he sat down and promptly began to show off the two scarves ("very French," he had said, and not a stretch for a man who had been rocking a manpurse like nobody's business for the last three days) and shoes that he had bought. Ooooh was I ever envious at his success!
Dinner that night had been booked at Septime, a trendy place in a questionable neighborhood in the 11th Arrondissement. Decorated with unfinished wooden tabletops and bare concrete flooring, it had a raw minimalist flair (and decidedly less pretense than the white tablecloths of the prior evening;s choice of restaurant). The chef, young in his early thirties, had already been recognized and awarded for his culinary skill, and practiced a new trend in Parisian cooking referred to as "gastronomie," which as I understand it, is the blending of various and unexpected flavors in a virtual experimentation of cuisine. Fancy stuff but let's face it, I just wanted to eat. We opted for the chef's tasting menu, and after a sip of my rosemary-infused black cherry juice, I dug in. Tomato salad sprinkled with the shavings of frozen tomato juice and calamari on a bed of leeks blackened with squid ink started us off. The main, however, was chicken (chicken, seriously?) that was rather rubbery and altogether forgettable. Dessert was most definitely the highlight, starring half of a peach that had been poached in an infusion of green tea and herbs, which the copain described as "effervescent." I called it heavenly.
An interesting experience and yet another good meal behind us, it was off to bed for the sake of an early morning the next day, when our adventure brings us into Provence.