One last Paris fling

New to HBlog? Welcome! Here’s what’s happening: After 10 days in Paris by myself, I’ve been joined by my husband Esteban, his dad, and his uncle Frank.

Our plan for Thursday was to meet for breakfast and then catch the train to Chartres. But somewhere between taking a shower and making my tea, I decided to opt out. I told Esteban and his dad and uncle that they were on their own.

I needed to go to Chris’ apartment to water his orchid and drop off his key. I also needed to move Esteban’s and my stuff into a different condo for the last two days. And for the sake of my sanity and polite demeanor, I needed some space.

As I wrapped up the household chores, I pondered my options. Should I try for the Catacombs again? Tour Les Invalides? Go shopping? Nope, not today. I decided to visit the Viaduc des Arts.

But as usual, I got sidetracked.

My curiosity got the best of me as I passed the St. Germain L’Auxerrois church. The gothic exterior has always seemed heavy and imposing, but I found the interior quiet airy and lovely.

In one of the small side chapels, I found a man carefully cleaning a statue. He was shy when I first asked permission to take his picture but within a moment he was back into the zen of his task. I loved his faint smile and the way the light played on his face as he worked.

Back on the street, I was making my way to the métro station when I spotted a sign for the Galétrie Véro-Dodat. Almost subconsciously, I made an abrupt turn and stepped in.

Like its cousins I’d already visited, this covered passage is a remnant of a different era, when shopping was an experience. Looking at the beautiful architectural details, I could easily imagine women in ornate dresses fanning themselves and twirling their parasols as they chatted with their friends.

The shops themselves were a mix of small art galleries and fine-goods manufacturers. One photographer’s atelier caught my eye. I marveled both at the skill with which he was setting up his exhibit, and at the beauty and originality of his images.

I also lingered outside an antique vendor’s window. If ever I win the lottery, I’ll be visiting his shop.

But for me, the highlight of the Galérie Véro-Dodat was the time I spent on the hidden staircase. The beautiful quality of the light on those stark white walls inspired me to play with some abstract compositions.

Still, I cut my visit short to let another photographer work the space.

I hopped into the métro and got out at Bastille. But when I emerged from the Bastille station, I immediately knew something wasn’t right. The streets were extremely crowded. In the distance, I could hear car horns and the shouts of a crowd. As I came around the corner, I walked smack into the middle of the disturbance: I had become part of a huge “manif.”

The French word for “protest” is “maniféstation.” But the French hold protest marches and rallies so often that they’ve shortened the word to “manif.”

I was very nervous at first. Manifs occasionally turn violent, and the cops can be quite ruthless. I saw a cloud of what looked like tear gas a couple of blocks away.

I decided to skirt the edge of the crowd. If the mood turned nasty, I could duck into a shop or run down one of the perpendicular side streets.

But my fears were unfounded.

The group I was walking parallel to reminded me of Mardi Gras revelers. Their smiles belied their angry chants as they marched with locked arms. One guy stepped out of the crowd to ask me if I was a journalist. “Not today,” I answered. “Are you Scottish or Irish?” he asked. “Scottish, originally,” I replied. He pointed to his eye and turned to his buddy, proud of his gift for discerning the ladies’ nationalities.

The smoke had cleared by the time I’d moved down the street. I realized I was approaching the Viaduc des Arts.

Set into the arches of an old aqueduct, these artists’ studios cover everything from ceramics to photography to antiques restoration.

Even if you don’t set foot in a single shop, walking along the Viaduc des Arts is a wonderful way to experience the vibrancy and diversity of Paris’ artistic community. (You’ll find the Viaduc des Arts along the avenue Daumesnil, between the rue de Lyon and the Jardin de Reuilly, in the 12th.)

As an extra-special treat, I walked back to Bastille on the upper level of the viaduct. The Promenade Plantée is exactly what the name suggests: An elevated walking path lined with beautifully landscaped gardens. It’s a lovely respite from the noise and traffic below. And as a bonus, it’s also a superb vantage point from which to see a huge variety of architectural styles.

I beamed when I finally spotted one of the yellow Mister Cat paintings that have become the trademark of graffiti artist Thoma Vuille. You’ve gotta love that grin.

During my travels today I also saw a tough biker dude with a Jack Russell terrier in his backpack …

… the #12 line’s beautifully tiled station at Concorde …

… and some lingering evidence of the now-departed “manif.” What a mess.

By the end of the day, I was happily worn out from walking.

I also felt very lucky to have seen so much: Because of a train mix-up, Esteban and his kin never made it to Chartres. They all seemed a little disappointed. I would have been, too.

Tomorrow is my last full day in Paris. Already I’m dreading saying goodbye.

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