Signs of France in a British World
Wandering Le Marais during Fête de la Musique was as much fun as it has been every past year. It’s become habit, almost, to take the same revolution, starting down rue de Turenne to the Place des Vosges, meandering in and out of the small streets going westbound, then heading north again to the Mairie de 3ème to end the evening.
The arcades of Place des Vosges lend themselves beautifully to Karaoke style singing by anyone who wants to chime in. The lyrics were passed out on sheets of paper, someone led the crowd and everyone just sang along to Serge Gainsbourg’s “La Javanaise”…just one among many others in both English and French.
In front of the Mairie (city hall) of the 3rd district, a Dixieland Jazz band was playing on a stage in front of a few hundred seated listeners. People on the sidelines were dancing to the beat. Although the musicians were French, their playing was quite accomplished and it brought back memories of my home town (New Orleans) — where I’ll get a taste of the real thing very soon while I’m there celebrating my mother’s 90th birthday (July 13th)!
The next morning I hopped on an early Eurostar to London to have a weekend of art and culture involving some personal business as well as the pleasure of several exhibitions. It’s still so amazing to board a train in central Paris so easily, relax as the countryside goes by for a little more than 2.5 hours, to exit the station in central London…totally hassle-free.
Unfortunately, as we say, “London is not Paris,” but it can be lots of fun in spite of the dreary weather (it rained all weekend long) and the exorbitant prices (everything is absolutely double the expense in dollars and even in euro value). We dared not shop for clothing (the sticker shock of a T-shirt will make you swoon) or dine in the better restaurants (even inexpensive sushi was a $45 tab), and tried not to take too many taxis (even the Underground is at the lowest £1.50 [$3] per ride compared to €1.09 [$1.45] for the Paris Métro and $1.67 on the New York Metro when you buy $20 worth of rides).
The wonderful aspects of London are of course, the theater life and abundance of great museums. We chose to see Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” (there we go…back to France!) which has played for more than 20 years at the Queen’s Theatre to a packed house. Three exhibitions got our attention and our visits: “Surreal Things” at the Victoria and Albert (known in London as the “V&A”), “How We are Photographing Britain” and “Hockney on Turner Watercolours,” both at the Tate Britain.
No matter where you turn in London, there are signs of France, much more than there are of signs of Britain in Paris. Whether they will opening admit it or not, the British are enamored of France, if not of the French themselves, evident by their copycatting of French style. You will see eateries “Pret à Manger” (pronounced incorrectly as “prette a manghay”), a nightclub called “The Pigalle Club,” one
of France’s best chocolatier, “La Maison du Chocolat,” a restaurant/brasserie call “Le Café Rouge,” the Salon du Thé “Ladurée” and ashamedly, a restaurant named “Maison Blanc” (don’t they know “maison” is feminine and therefore “Blanc” should be “Blanche!?”).
Back to the City of Light we came late last night and on route, my traveling companion and I agreed, both of us long time residents of Paris, that we still get no real kick or vibe from London like we do in other cities such as New York or Amsterdam and that there simply isn’t anywhere in the world quite like Paris. The moment we stepped outside the Gare du Nord to queue for a taxi home and saw the stone buildings along the boulevards so beautifully lit, we knew that the visual beauty of Paris would forever charm us and draw us always back to the city we call home.
A la prochaine…