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ON BEING FAMOUS? (Pottering in Paris 3)

 

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Today is our first attempt at a major excursion – well major for us that is – venturing out to visit some of the famous sites of Paris we have come here to see. Julia had a plan – she usually has – which involves taking the Metro out to the Église Étienne du Mont (the setting for one of our favourite movies), followed by a walk past the Pantheon, through the University district to the Jardin du Luxembourg, and then on to the Cluny Museum, ending up at Notre Dame. Fortunately, we are allowed to stop for morning coffee … and a picnic lunch (as long as it is somewhere on the banks of the River Seine). I feel exhausted already … and we haven’t even started yet? Despite the lovely sunshine of the previous few days, Julia is insistent that the weather is going to change drastically today … cold and wet at least (and probably gales, snow, typhoons … you name it)?! Consequently, I am wearing my warmest clothing including thermal underwear, hat, scarf and gloves, as well as my raincoat?! She has my best interests at ‘heart’ of course (did you see the joke there?) so I willingly comply!

Yesterday we stayed local and explored our bit of Montmartre, wandering up to the Sacré-Cœur through the artists’ quarter, and simply enjoying the ambience of the the area and the spectacular views from the Sacré-Cœur. I think that if I lived anywhere in Paris, I would live in Montmartre which in many respects it is a village in its own right. But today is very different. We walk down the steep steps to the Abbess, our local stop on the Metro, and go down to catch our train. There is a female violinist busking on the platform opposite. The music is spellbindingly beautiful. We wonder if she is famous since there is a bit of a trend these days, we gather, for ‘famous classical musicians’ to go busking. For the most part the majority of people ignore them, apparently? We sit and enjoy the music before getting on our train. We have only travelled a couple of stops when another busker gets on and starts playing to us – another accordion player of course – not quite as good (or as famous) as the violinist but quite jolly. The other passengers don’t seem very keen on him – he is making it difficult for them to listen to their own music through their headphones. We now realise why the majority of French people on the Metro wear the giant headphones that seem to be all the rage in Paris at the moment?!

We leave the Metro at Cardinal Lemoine and find our way to Église St Étienne du Mont, situated near the Panthéon. It is a spectacular building and contains the shrine of St. Geneviève, one of the two patron saint of Paris and the tombs of Blaise Pascal and Jean Racine. Jean-Paul Marat is buried in the church’s cemetery. But we are not primarily here to see the tombs of these famous people?! No! We are here to see the famous steps that play a key part in Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris! This is one of our favourite movies. In the film a mismatched couple engaged to be married go to Paris for a vacation. Aspiring novelist Gil Pender spends his nights falling in love with the city, while his fiancee Inez, criticises his dreams. One night as the clock strikes 12, whilst Pender is sitting forlornly on the steps of the Église St Étienne du Mont, he is transported back to the 1920s (his favourite era), meeting Ernest Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and many others. I won’t spoil it for you by telling you the rest of the story – get the DVD and watch for yourself!

We find the church, and before we look around, we go and sit on the steps in the very place where Gil Pender sat in the movie. Julia is taking my photograph when a tour party of Americans walk by. They stop and wonder what we are doing. I explain that we are re-enacting a key scene from Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris and that these steps play a central part in the film … and suddenly I am surrounded by American tourists all taking photographs of me?! I guess that I will soon be famous myself … on numerous Facebook pages across the USA?!

We finally manage to extricate ourselves from the midst of these admiring Americans and go and look round the church. It is very impressive and contains a relic of Sainte Genevieve – a finger bone?! We leave the church and walk through the University area, eventually finding our way, via the beautiful Jardin du Luxembourg, to the magnificent church of Notre Dame. Julia had planned for us to visit the Cluny Museum en route, but when we get there we discover that (contrary to the Guide Book) it is closed on a Tuesday, so we will have to come back another day. I can’t say I’m sorry about this – the weather is absolutely wonderful and I am getting hotter and hotter with all these clothes on. We stop for a picnic by the Seine and then it is off to Notre Dame. Notre Dame is also very impressive – the wonderful square outside with its great views of the facade of the church, and on the inside with its amazing rose window. We spend a very pleasant hour or so wandering around, taking in all the wonderful sites and sounds to be found in the church and its environs.

Eventually it is time to return to our wonderful shabby-chic studio in Montmartre, so we go to the Metro. We have become used to the numerous buskers performing on the streets, in the stations, and on the trains themselves … but today we witness something rather special. In the walkway to our platform the next best thing to a whole orchestra are busking. Now, they must be ‘famous’ judging by the size of the orchestra, the crowds stopping to listen, and the Gendarmes out in forces to keep order – the Paris Philharmonic or something of that nature!? They are wonderful and we nearly miss our train because we too have stopped to listen! We are still hearing the wonderful music in our heads as we board our train. A few stops further on another busker, with an accordion, gets on and starts playing? It’s not quite the same!

Jim Binney

 

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