I woke up to overcast skies and an intermittent, sputtering rain. I decided to skip my planned day in the gardens of Versailles and stay in town.
Sunday mornings in Paris are lazy. The city wakes up slowly to hundreds of church bells announcing mass. Neighbors have long chats on the sidewalk as they head out to do their shopping for the big family meal. Even the ubiquitous nervous little dogs seem a little less nervous.
So I did as the Parisians do: I walked down the street and bought some cheese, a bottle of riesling and some smoked salmon. Then I went down a few doors to the boulangerie—the one run by the Algerian man who always greets me with a smile—and I bought a demi-baguette.
After stashing my groceries, I grabbed my laundry and joined a half dozen neighbors for that other Sunday-morning ritual. Laundry. A young man wearing a RATP tee helped me figure out how the machines worked. (RATP is the acronym for the Parisian transit authority. But I anglicize the acronym as “rat pee,” which pretty much sums up the smell of many stations.)
As I watched my laundry spin, the skies opened. Then almost as quickly they started to clear.
I decided to visit the Marais. It’s one of the few neighborhoods in Paris that didn’t get an extreme makeover from Baron Haussmann’s urban renewal project in the mid-1800s, so the streets and sidewalks are quaint and very narrow. As it turns out, on a Sunday they’re also very crowded. The population density reminded me of the State Fair, only the attendees were much better dressed. Great people-watching, but not my speed.
Within a few minutes’ walk I found myself back at the Hotel de Ville. Again. *Yawn.* For a moment, I was actually bored. Then I remembered that on Sundays, the city opens the streets along the river to pedestrians. I joined the thousands of people who were out for a mid-afternoon stroll.
When my feet got tired, I hopped a Batobus for a ride up and down the Seine. Some people sniff in disdain at these touristy boats, but I love them. Seeing Paris from the water not only helps create a mental map of the city, but it also helps me appreciate the architecture as it was originally meant to be experienced. After all, before there were cars, the river was the main route into Paris.
As the sun set, I stopped at the Notre Dame cathedral to watch its façade turn from white to gold, and then I started my trip home.
I was surprised to hear a bagpipe in the distance. I soon saw a young man—complete with kilt and sporran—playing on the bridge in front of the Hotel de Ville. I waited for his set to end. “D’où êtes vous?” I asked him. He parsed the question out loud. “Ou. Where. Vous … you.”
“Je suis écossais,” he said after a moment. “I’m Scottish too!” I answered in English. “I’m a Munro, from the highlands, near Inverness.” “Ah, yes, he answered. I know where that is. I’m from Glasgow.” Oh, how I love the Scottish brogue.
We chatted for a few minutes about Paris. He’s been here all summer but is going back to school in Scotland in two weeks. So I bid farewell to Rudy MeLeod—and to Paris, for another day.