Well, it might seem a bit cheeky of me to make comments about Parisians when I’ve been here such a short time, but here I go anyway! Overall it’s a pretty positive overview but there are some slightly odd things for us Australians to understand, so maybe I’ll get them out of the way first….
Bicycles – I have absolutely nothing against them, great way to exercise and good for the planet, but how on earth can people ride around in the death defying traffic, sometimes on cobblestones and NOT WEAR A HELMET?? The medico in me sees head injuries abounding. I even saw three policemen on bikes and only one wore any safety headgear.
Smoking – it still seems to be pretty much a national past-time and the butts still go onto the street. I had to leave the bistro a bit earlier the other night because the smoke from another diner who was at least outside, was getting to me. There is a shop near here which sells oxygen therapy – true! – you can see people breathing it via masks through the window. There is a whole lot of advertising about ecology, oxygenation and health in the shop front and on my first night there was some sort of function inside in the evening and all the party goers were out on the pavement lighting up!
Beggars – sadly, there are rather a lot and people sleeping rough in metro tunnels and begging on the street. I guess some of it is the migrant issue, most look African or Arabic.
Now for all the good stuff! two and a half days and everyone has been polite and helpful. Wherever I go, it’s ‘Bonjour Madam’ and ‘Bonne Journee’. I’ve been offered seats on the metro and been given right of way in queues. I have to say that it might be a positive being a 60+ woman, the French seem to have a lot of respect for older women (hurrah!).
It is an extremely multiracial culture and I have been pushed around with masses of adolescents on school excursions to museums and art galleries and they all seem to mix pretty happily.
French women are generally well dressed and groomed – any stretchy lycra or track pants and you can bet it’s a tourist. Men too. I like the ‘bearing’ of Parisians as well, there is a certain pride and a lack of self consciousness about them. Very few really overweight people and most of them seem to be men.
Children and pets seem to be universally adored and Parisian fathers seem to be very good with their kids.
Food in the supermarket is plentiful and fresh and prices seem to be similar to home. As you might imagine, it is pretty hard to go past the abundant cafes and restaurants with a wide variety of delicious food and there is usually a set menu (entree and main or main and dessert for about 20 Euros).
There seems to be a lack of ‘horn honking’ in their mad traffic and people do give way to others.
That is it on Parisian people watching. Now on to the rest of the cultural touring – Used my Paris Pass to catch the ‘hop on hop off’ bus which is a great way to get to see things and get out where you please. First was Notre Dame on the Ile de la Cite. A magnificent Gothic cathedral full to the brim with a heady mix of beauty, spirituality, history and the eeriness of past dark times. I was overcome with memories and emotion so lit a candle and said a prayer for my brother who died 22 years ago, my Dad 10 years ago and so sadly a boyhood friend of my husband who died only yesterday. RIP all you good guys!
Musee d’ Orsay was next – WHAT A GEM! It used to be a railway station and was converted into a museum in the late 70’s. Beautiful interiors and magnificent neo-impressionist paintings – Van Gogh, Bonnard, Gauguin and much, much more. Rodin’s sculptures and the Rousseau exhibition (photos not allowed in there).
Back onto the bus and off to the Champs Elysee, Arc de Triomphe (stayed in the bus – too many crowds for me) and then on to the Trocadero where I did descend – a fabulous view of Iron Lady (Parisian for Eiffel T) and lovely gardens.
Eating lunch n the gardens (and trying to sketch) when the rain came down (in buckets) ran for cover and accidentally found the most wonderful museum Cite de l’Architecture & du Patrimoine where France’s architectural history can be traced in real (huge) pieces of buildings along with some reconstruction models to show how they looked in the past (so many were destroyed in WWI after standing intact for centuries). Medieval church architecture was my ‘thing’ in art history at school and at one stage I wanted to be an architect, so I was in seventh heaven with all the romanesque and gothic buildings, the evolution of the barrel vault and the ribbed vault, flying buttresses, rose windows and all that!