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Not So Secret Paris
Are there any secrets left in Paris anymore? With the advent of the Internet, I venture to guess there are far fewer than there used to be. Still, we’d like to share some of our favorite places that most tourists might miss, places of color, quiet, intimacy or sensory delight.
Royal Gardens behind Comedie Francaise
Photo by MoonSoleil, 2007. originally posted to Flickr at http://flickr.com/photos/8027316@N02/803733466 under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Photo edited for clarity.
Have you been to the Palais Royal Gardens? Our daughter tells us that these gardens have recently been inaccessible due to work, but are now open. Compared to the Tuileries, Bois de Boulogne and the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Palais Royal Gardens are intimate, discreet, and even more classically beautiful. The Duchesse of Orléans, sister in law of Louis XIV, had them installed. There is an alley of trees, large rose plantings, and children’s playground, and one may have a little picnic in this “tucked away” corner, across from the Comédie Franćaise. Sit and imagine the royal children playing among the flowers, followed by anxious nannies, and Louis XIV entering the courtyard to visit his sister in law and nieces.
Sunrise on Sacre Coeur
Il y a belle lurette, or a long time ago, one of my French friends, Bénédicte, told me about going to see the sun rise over Paris from Montmartre - Sacré Coeur to be exact. She and her brother ascended the hill in the not so wee hours (the sun rises quite late in Paris in the winter), and watched as the light began to spread over the city. There had been a little bit of snow, and the effect was magical. It was quiet, and still, and there were few people up and around. Afterward, she and her brother found a little café - quite easy in that neighborhood- and warmed up with hot chocolate. It remained one of her favorite memories.
I too can attest to the magic of the stillness as the yellow-pink rays of light advance over the city, lighting it up quartier by quartier. I remember getting up (relatively) early, and climbing up the steps, to see the “rosy fingered dawn.” There’s never been a better description than Homer’s so we’ll leave it at that. It’s as though Paris belongs to you, and only you, when you can take in the sight with solitude. As the sun completed its ascent, we turned to go, and saw a beautiful young woman, in her bathrobe and slippers, hurry across the street to fetch her bread. It’s good to know that Montmartre is still its own little neighborhood, where families live and work, oblivious to the tourists crawling over Sacré Coeur. Fortunately for them and us, certain times of the day remain private and still, if we make the effort to find them.
Swedish House, or Le Café Suédoise
And no, we don’t mean the band! The Swedish Institute in Paris was established in 1971 as a unique cultural center for Swedes abroad. It hosts expositions, concerts, films, theatre and of course, courses in Swedish. Situated in the Marais, its café is a congenial place to meet friends, and offers delicious Swedish tea treats and meals in its folkloric tea room. At Christmas-time, the courtyard is decorated with a huge version of the traditional straw Swedish horse, found on Christmas trees and holiday decor.
You can find the Café in the Hôtel de Marle, at 11 Rue Payenne, in the Marais. Look for the stone courtyard and the blue door. Alternatively, follow the aroma of the fresh Swedish pastries and brioche made by the staff. The café is open Tuesday through Sunday, from noon to six pm.
The Great Mosque of Paris
The Mosque isn’t quite as well kept a secret as it used to be, but it’s an out of the way respite where you will be warmly and graciously welcomed, in an exotic and mysterious atmosphere. Perfect on that rainy Paris afternoon when the streets are gritty and your feet are tired!
The Mosque was founded in 1926, as a token of gratitude, after World War I, to the Muslim tirailleurs from France’s colonial empire, of whom 100,00 died fighting against Germany. And, let’s remember that during World War II (in which France was occupied by Nazi Germany) and The Holocaust, under its rector Si Kaddour Benghabrit, the mosque served as a secret refuge for Jews, being persecuted by the Axis powers, providing them shelter, safe passage, and fake Muslim birth certificates.
Many aspects of the Mosque are open to the public. There is a fabulous restaurant, where you can experience tagines, couscous and pastries. If you want a break, treat yourself to the Salon de Thé, and imagine yourself in a moorish cafe, surrounded by beautiful, intricate tile tables and walls. The waiter will bring you mint tea or coffee, and you can indulge in sweet, flaky North African pastries. The Salon de Thé is open 7 days a week, from 9:00 am to 11:30 pm.
For the more adventurous, the Mosque offers baths for men and women (strictly segregated) and a souk, or bazaar. You can get a full virtual visit at www.la-mosquee.com.
Share your favorite secret spots in France...
À la prochaine,
All photos unless otherwise noted ©Parlez-Vous Provence.
The French are legendary for many things - haute couture; pastry, bread, cheese and wine brought to the level of fine art, actual fine art, tangos by the Seine, the Eiffel Tower, the glamour of Paris and the ancient charm of its sleepy rural villages. Unfortunately, in the English speaking world, they are legendary for rudeness, snobbery, and impatience with anyone not French, or any poor soul trying to speak French as a second language. If you’ve read this Blog, you know I’ve spent a fair amount of time in France, and I can attest to the true friendliness of the people. You just need to respect them, their culture, and their dogs.
Yes, their dogs. If you want to take a short cut to a French man or woman’s heart, stop to politely and respectfully ask if you may take a photograph of his or her dog:
“Desolé [madame][monsieur], mais est-ce que je peux prendre une photo de votre chien(ne)? Il/Elle est si beau/belle!”
Then make a sincere fuss over canine cuteness, beauty, nobility, good behavior, or any other admirable trait the pup possesses. The French are passionate about their dogs. Dogs are allowed routinely in restaurants, buses, métro cars, markets and cafés. And they are surprisingly very well behaved. Perhaps they are socialized so early that they know how to behave - often better than the children in the family may be.
We met many adorable dogs in France on our last visit, and purposely tried out our theory. Of course it helps that through marriage I have been converted to a “dog person,” (still a “cat person” too of course) and have a deeper appreciation for these best friends of ours. They are entrusted to us and are helpless, so in our family we feel a great responsibility toward our two little dogs, so much so that they may at times have received as much or more attention than our daughter! As a consequence, cooing over a dog is second nature. The French are palpably proud of the delight their canines bring to Americans, and that pride melts away some of their reserve - for it is reserve, usually, and not the unfriendliness it is too often taken for. And of course, while petting an absolutely adorable little dog, smiles abound and can make for a fast bond.
We thought we’d share some of our favorite photos of our French canine friends:
A baby Keeshond we couldn’t resist fawning over in the market in Limours. She just couldn’t stay still, so we were lucky to get even this shot.
Later we learned that her owner, owner’s mother and grandmother owned the local shoe shop, and we made fast friends with them all. In fact, this is the shop that supplies us with Rondinaud slippers, so admiring this little puppy also led to a fun business deal and new friends to visit, and to have visit us.
Take a look at this monsieur’s pale green eyes! And his tongue matches the pink of madame’s coat, although that was probably coincidental. With the French, however, maybe not! He was having a good time accompanying his mistress at the semi-weekly market in Limours, and was quite happy to have his picture taken.
This Dalmation was being so well-behaved at the market. If you look closely perhaps you can see that he had one blue eye and one hazel eye. And he loved the camera.
And finally, one of the sweetest little friends we made. He traveled in style in a beautiful cart lined in a soft quilted cotton, and was the apple of his human parents’eyes. The next time you travel anywhere, try asking politely if you can take a picture of someone’s adored little dog. At a minimum you’ll have some fun travel photos, and you may make some canine and human friends.
À la prochaine,
Louise and the Team at Parlez-Vous Provence
Doesn't it look like she is having fun already?
There's always something going on in Paris. Last Saturday it was free wine tasting in Montmartre.
She doesn't look much like a martyr to me!