Mon Amour Paris
An affair with Paris starts long before you actually set foot on its soil and continues long after you’ve left it behind. It’s nothing short of a mecca for those
interested in the works of the masters
Years back, while still in school, I sat through An Evening in Paris in a downtown Trivandrum theatre watching Shammi Kapoor serenade Sharmila Tagore. My adolescent mind was so besotted by the sights of the French capital that on leaving the theatre, I decided that if I ever travelled abroad it would be to the city of the Eiffel Tower first. The colours and sights of Paris remained imprinted in my young mind.
When I went to college I was introduced to the writings of Jean- Paul Sartre and made my second promise to visit the café where the father of existentialism and his partner Simone de Beauvoir often met – Café les Deux Magots.
Later came Mona Lisa, Rodin's The Kiss, the Louvre, Picasso, Truffaut… images of people and places which represented and were quintessentially Parisienne. Much later I said to myself: Paris mon amour.
On a cool July evening I was at last in Paris, nearly 25 years after An Evening in Paris, with my friend, confidant and muse, a struggling painter, presently an abstractionist, but initially influenced by Amrita Shergill.
There is something magical and mythical about Paris. The bohemian feel, thanks to artists, writers and pamphleteers, emanates from its parks and gardens, boulevards and backstreets, passages and arcades, bistros and nightclubs. Paris is maddening, sprawling
and chaotic, but by evening when most have left by the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, French for ‘high-speed train’) for their homes, some 100 kms away, it wears a different look. Having already done the big sights – the Louvre, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, Montmartre in the day – we wandered around, halting to sit on a park bench in the Tuileries and reflected on the wonders of it all and ultimately stopped at an outdoor café to hear the
inner beats of the city. As night stealthily arrived, Paris became stunningly beautiful, more so as the city's favourite iconic structure, the illuminated Eiffel Tower, gradually pierced the dark velvet sky like a glowing dagger.
The next day we started out with a crispy croissant and a baguette, like most Parisians do. Parisians love their food and wine and shower it with reverence unlike others. Regulars told us that never before has Paris seen such a vast choice of flavours, cuisines and styles of dining as it enjoys today. In Paris, you can get Indian dishes too. There is a new cosmopolitan charm, openness and warmth, a new sense of vitality and modernity. While tradition continues to be the bedrock of Parisian cuisine, it is now often the foundation for innovation. The willingness to expand a classical French repertory and include uncommon ingredients like touches of curry or coconut, Moroccan or Asian spices is relatively new to Parisian chefs. This fusion cuisine makes Paris more vibrant, dynamic and delicious
than ever before. Paris of the ’70s was bland in cuisine as compared to the present.
Paris still remains a city where people are left to themselves, as music composer Frédéric Chopin described it in early 19th century: ‘In Paris, you can enjoy yourself, bore yourself, laugh, cry, do all that pleases you, and no one casts a glance at you because there are thou-sands who do the same thing and each one in her own way’. Chopin is buried at Père Lachaise and shares space with Jim Morrison.
|We had hardly two days in Paris and so decided to do the sights which interested us and had consumed us all these years – the works of the masters. Where better to see the French masters than at the Picasso Museum, the collection inherited by the French Government to settle the taxes on the famous Cubist master’s estate. What is remarkable about the museum is the chronological display of Picasso’s work. Renoir once said: ‘I have a predilection for painting that lends joyousness to a wall’. You can experience this while viewing The Kiss, a painting inspired by Picasso’s marriage to Jacqueline Roque in 1961, his early (1901) self-portrait, and The Two Brothers painted in Spain during the summer of 1906. Then there are the fascinating pieces belonging to Picasso’s private collection including Degas and paintings by Cezanne, Matisse and Seurat. Viewing over 4,000 pieces including drawings, paintings, sculptures and ceramics, we exited to a Paris of post-noon and retired to our hotel.
Next day we did the Sorbonne, the famous university, with students moving around or chatting under trees. Such places make you nostalgic about your own college days. Having visited Sartre’s favourite café, where food is really expensive, we knocked on Victor Hugo’s door at Place des Vosges, one of Paris' finest squares. The writer of such classics like The Hunchback of Notre Dame lived at #6 (corner closest to the Bastille) and one can visit the place unannounced and without any ticket.
We ended the day visiting the Pantheon, originally a church built by Louis XV but now secularised. It is most famous for its collection of tombs of great French thinkers: Rousseau, Voltaire, Hugo, Zola and Malraux and also of scientists Pierre and Marie Curie.
There is so much to see; our must-see list sadly enough had a couple of deletions. We had little time and so we left the Charles de Gaulle airport throwing Paris a kiss and saying
Au revoir. I know we shall meet again...