Friday, December 12, 2003

Paris - Pooh and Piglet

Yes, all you've ever heard is true - the streets of Paris are somewhat littered in merde-du-chien - that's dogshit. The Pooh of the title. Not at every step, but every now and then there's a quick sidestep. And more frequent are the dried and not so dry trickles running from a doorway or corner to the kerb. We aren't sure of the species (man or dog) which produced these - both, probably. Compared to 'our' part of London, Paris streets are very dirty.
We walk down to the Seine - a long walk down Rue Sebastopol past increasingly classy shops, the Pompidou Centre off to one side, looking quite squat and ordinary. The doors onto the street fascinate me: a great variety of massive doors, generally in arched openings with decorated stonework, and often with ground-level corner protectors of very ornate cast iron. Very beautiful.
As are the houses - mostly 5-7 storey apartments, but with appealing roof detailing (lots of round windows, reverse ogee curves) but of course at street level, the frontages have often suffered the usual appalling retail conversions.
Paris - The Island on the Seine - we arrive opposite Ile de Cite which contains Notre Dame, so that's the first stop. Queues everywhere, so we content ourselves with pictures and a gargoyle hunt. Notre is absolutely infested with them, and there's a spare parts yard out back with even more bits. Coincidentally, there's a pair of ex Notre gargoyles for sale back at a London antique shop for a cool 75,000 poounds, dating from the 13th century. One wonders - how did they get there? Fly? Those early mediaeval minds were surely possessed by the thought of all the dark things that could happen, to have festooned their churches with the variety and quantity of gargoyles that they did. Or perhaps it was just a release. Whatever, if God ruled inside and during the day, these little creatures surely rule the outside and the dark even yet.
All churched out, we wander east to Ile St Louis, which has some of the more exclusive housing in Paris. These islands are quite forbidding at river level: we walk around a quay and observe a lot of barred windows at a sub-ground level. Certainly, the Conciergeries at the far end of Ile de Cite had been an infamous prison and generally unpleasant place since the 13th century. The history lingers. We have a fabulous cafe et glace (coffee and ice-cream) at Berthillon in the south of the island, cross over to the South Bank proper and wander down Boulevard St Germain, just window shopping.
And here we find Piglet. At a food market with, in one cabinet, rabbits still in full skin, poultry with feathers intact, and Piglet. A whole, baked one. Piglet's bottom is being hacked off and sold off as we pass. Our own health gestapo would have conniptions at the general state of the market, but to us there's a healthy display of food in its natural state. I have to say - the salads we get (in UK and France) are very good: none of the browning lettuce and tired look we expected. Quite fresh, a surprising variety of ingredients considering it's mid winter.

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