On foot in Paris and London

"How are you going to blog about all this?" Stellou wondered towards the end of my vacation. Good question. She's done a better job of it so far than I have, with her accounts of my close(ish) encounter with the mouse, our visit to the Imperial War Museum (if not for working on the Army Museum of Singapore, I admit that I wouldn't know of the Imperial's existence), our practically nonstop chitter-chatter, and my last couple of days in London.

Across the Channel, my cousin records only the night of gay karaoke --- during which I did not sing, so you could rightly argue that I didn't earn even a mention in that blog entry.

Outside Notre Dame

How to blog this then, sixteen days spent six, then seven timezones away, listening to everyone whine about how they didn't get a real summer while I merrily danced between my choices of two jackets (one brown leather, one black cotton), four pairs of shoes (oh, alright, I only wore two most of the time) and countless combinations of sweater-over-long-sleeved-T-shirt. Some afternoons were warm enough to make me wish I'd snuck a tank-top along as well, and in London, Stellou was happy to loan me a pink-and-white striped one.

But I landed in Paris first, where I tried not to be the dork that describes everything as looking like a movie set, but sometimes it seemed that no matter down which little street I turned, there it was, a pretty movie set waiting for me to walk on. Must be nice, to live in a city where most buildings seem to be older than one's grandparents, if not their grandparents, and where so many neighbourhoods average at a comforting 4-5 storeys high. Plus there seemed to be a patisserie on every street corner (my daily walk to the Metro station took me past three, at least) and a balcony outside every window. How much more charming could it get?

Bicycles on Rue des Boulets

It was my first time in Paris, so I dutifully hit all the tourist stops: the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame, Versailles, Sacré Coeur, Moulin Rouge, Champs-Elysées, Arc de Triomphe --- plus the final jackpot of three museums on my last day: Musée d'Orsay, Centre Pompidou and Musée Carnavalet. Not that this means I spent any time queuing up to climb to the top of the Eiffel or the Arc de Triomphe. More like, I passed by and checked out the tourist spectacle as spectacle in itself, then maundered off to see some art or have a coffee.

So I also saw the Musée d'Art Modérne, which cousin Nardac says no one ever goes to --- and indeed there were not more than ten people there (excluding the security people) when I visited. Nardac's Dacnar took us on his personalised tour of the Père Lachaise cemetery, where we saw the greatest hits like Jim Morrison and Frédéric Chopin and Abelard and Heloise. But we had to give Oscar Wilde a miss because the cemetery was closing and an eagle-eyed security guard on a scooter was trailing us to make sure we really left the place.

Even in as tourist-infested a location as Versailles, Nardac and I blithely walked through a doorway that happened to be open and found ourselves this:

In L'Orangerie

See what I mean about feeling like I was on a movie set?

Actually, the word that kept popping into my head as I flitted about Paris was "stupendous". My aunt, with whom I was travelling then, had used it to describe Notre Dame on our first day, and the word kept recurring whenever I saw something amazing. The Louvre --- stupendous. Musée d'Orsay --- stupendous. Versailles --- stupendous. The gardens of Versailles --- even more stupendous.

And the art ... You'd think I'd have been all art-ed out after the Louvre on the second day, but no, the secret, you see, is everything in moderation. A couple hours of one kind of art, then a break for tea or the toilet or to take photos of tourists, looking at art.

Gawking at the <I>Mona Lisa</I>

And then more of the art itself. Géricault, whom I'd forgotten I liked, and David, whom I'd never really looked at before, and old favourites Matisse and Picasso and new possibilities Robert Delaunay and countless others I've forgotten. Art I loved and art I didn't understand, and art I stumbled upon in the park at Le Jardin du Luxembourg.

And not just in Paris, but in London too: in Sir John Soane's and the Tate Modern and the British Museum and the V&A. We didn't make it to the Design Museum , although Stellou assured me --- as she did repeatedly with many museums, she's the museum cafe queen, that one --- that "it has a very nice cafe". I think I understood even less of the Tate than I did of the Pompidou, so we stepped out for a breather onto the little balcony on the third? fourth? level. Millennium Bridge looked great, but what was up with the clangingly modern piece of music being performed there?

The dome at the British Museum

At least in London the museums were mercifully free, although Naomi Klein wanted to charge me £12 to attend her book launch (pish-posh, is what I believe Mary Poppins would say to that). But what really got my goat is that Macbeth opened three days after I left with Patrick Stewart in the lead. Also, that by the time we discovered during London Open House what a great little theatre the Almeida is, there were no more tickets available for its shows (with Stockard Channing in the lead!) during the remaining days I was in town.

Patrick Stewart! As Macbeth!

I didn't see any Shakespeare this trip, because none of the plays at the Globe were particularly appealing to me. In fact, I didn't see any shows at all unless you count a BAFTA screening of Hula Girls or an Institute of Contemporary Art screening of Helvetica (both were priceless in their own ways). Instead, I burrowed my way through parks and markets: Hyde Park and the neverending Richmond Park in Kingston, Borough Market for cheese and pies and UpMarket for "bohemian/indie" wares.

Since I got back, people have been asking me which city I preferred and I don't know that one can make a choice. Paris was fresh and new (my first time there), the French (people and language) were not as fearsome as some anecdotes had led me to believe, and by the end of my week there, I was thinking that if I had a reason to hang out in the city long enough to get my French up to scratch, that wouldn't be such a bad thing.

London was a grey and grimy second city, but I got to stay with Stellou and Olive, and Stellou and I got to hang out and giggle a lot like we haven't done since we were in university together. How does one weigh the relative appeal of a fresh pain au chocolat from the corner patisserie with that of a fresh pot of homebrewed coffee and all sorts of breakfasty marvels (Cantal cheese, fresh walnut bread from the corner bakery, fig jam or blackcurrant yoghurt) coming out of the kitchen where one can comfortably sit with one leg up on the chair?

Mint tea

I remember the first time I met Olive in Singapore, I asked him how he was enjoying hanging out with Stellou and her sister, to which he responded, "You never know where you'll end up, but there will always be something tasty there." Which is true, because with Stellou and Olive in charge, there was gastro-pubbing at The Charles Lamb, okonomiyaki in Covent Garden (we were keeping in the spirit after seeing Hula Girls), Pieministers from Borough Market, the brunch spread at Otto Lenghi, and finally French food in The Fox Reformed. Sure, Canteen did disappoint, but it was more than compensated for by the home-cooked paella and beef compote that Stellou and Olive respectively whipped up (despite their misbehaving oven).

With all this on the menu, it should come as no surprise that I did not once taste either shepherd's pie or fish'n'chips during my visit.

Yet London's offerings paled in comparison to Paris's, about which I'm certain countless cultural treatises and newspaper commentaries have been written. I will only add that under Nardac's confident tutelage, we had very lovely seafood at Le Chien Qui Fume (the one near Les Halles), Bistro Chantefable off Gambetta and her favourite restaurant somewhere in Belleville. Plus I OD'd on freshly made chocolate eclairs and pain du chocolat almost every day. Good thing I only discovered Nutella crepes towards the end of the trip.


On one of our first days in Paris, Nardac mentioned offhandedly that we should let ourselves get lost in Paris, since even the natives do. I didn't --- deliberately, because I didn't want to have to ask for directions in my mangled French --- but there were times between museums when I wasn't so much following street signs as loosely heading in the general direction that I oughta be.

London actually proved to be more of a challenge in this regard, maybe because I rarely had a map with me when I was on my own. Somewhere after heading south from Oxford Street for Piccadilly Circus, I ended up on the Strand, then near Trafalgar Square instead and it was only the providential appearance of a mounted tourist map that saved me from circling the streets endlessly (sure, I could've asked for directions, but where would've been the fun in that?). Then there was the time I came out of the British Museum and again needed to mosey south to Piccadilly Circus --- except that I wound up going north by mistake and had to get my bearings by navigating by the setting sun. Who needs a map when one has heavenly bodies on your side?

I guess I didn't quite get lost enough, because at the end of the day, I still had to make my way home.

The Louvre


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At 9/25/2007 3:56 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo! I'm glad you enjoyed Paris, and got to visit a cemetery to boot. I've given up on recommending cemeteries to my friends in Singapore because I'm always told it's such bad luck and why would anyone want to visit graves! I was definitely excited that one of my friends asked to go to the Catacombs at Denfert-Rochereau!

Not that I have a morbid fascination with death or anything.

At 9/25/2007 10:39 pm , Blogger Tym said...

Actually, I hit two cemeteries --- Montparnasse as well. Stumbled into the Jewish section there, which was rather sobering. I didn't know about the catacombs!

At 9/26/2007 4:35 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wah - TWO in 1 trip! I'm very impressed.

Yah, save something for next time: cemetery #3 (Montmartre) and the Catacombs. I think the catacombs have very limited opening hours, can't remember really.

At 9/26/2007 5:42 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Egads! I just realized I didn't post about you, or Ms. confirmation SMS. What a dingbat I am... but that's the Rentree for you... Anyways... there's something in the works about our night at the Baratin (brains!), and the park moment. Glad to hear that French cuisine is still coming out tops, but next come, minus the MCS, stay and my place and we can do the markets. ***

At 9/26/2007 5:58 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

next time come, minus the MCS, and stay at my place. We'll do the markets.

My head is mighty dizzy this morning.

At 9/26/2007 5:36 pm , Blogger stellou said...

Eeeyur, when I started reading I thought, "She's gone and blogged the trip by linking to me! CHEH!!!"

Eh I tell you. Just today I said to someone, "London's only failing is that it is not Paris." So let me assure you, you no need to think think think so hard lah! The choice is clear.

Also, you forget that your cemetery count is three, because remember that day we thought it would be a GREAT idea to take a gander through Abney Park on the way home? And remember I showed you the, um, scenic route?

Eh. I only take you to the best places.

At 9/27/2007 9:12 am , Blogger ragingyoghurt said...

ah! i heart museum cafes and i heart eating with one leg up on a chair (i realised the latter while eating dinner thusly -- at home -- just the other night). alas, never the twain shall meet.

At 9/27/2007 3:14 pm , Blogger stellou said...

when they open the ya kun kaya museum, my friend, i think it will be a case of done and done. (we can wipe the butter off our chins in between done #1 and done #2.)

At 9/27/2007 10:41 pm , Blogger ichoisarius said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 9/28/2007 12:11 am , Blogger ichoisarius said...

Hi, Tym!

This is Zengkun here; I'm just posting this before I forget:

Tor has a policy of allowing (and encouraging) interns to take as many books as they'd like, so if you'd like me to get you any books feel free to let me know. I know a bunch of people who are going home in December and they'd be happy to be couriers.

There are also warehouses full of out-of-print books, and the take-anything-you-want policy extends to them as well.

I've already brought home many many books (seriously, they have bookshelves instead of walls), and my supervisor's always telling us to take more, so I thought I'd extend the good fortune.

At 9/28/2007 7:34 am , Blogger Mag said...

Wow, looks like it was alotta fun :)

At 9/29/2007 5:57 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I finally worked up the patience to deal with my photographs. Some of the Versailles pics are finally on my flickr.

You know, I have been trying to figure out why I didn't blog about you the whole time. It's really something baffling... Perhaps I've become a non-commital blogger.


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