Saturday, February 27, 2010

Last Day in Paris

The sun was shining when we left the hotel, which seemed odd; it quickly clouded up again. But it was good to wear sunglasses for awhile, hiding the gash at the bridge of my nose and the colorful pastel bruising around it.

We headed through "our" little square, with the church of St. Germain des Près and the Café Deux Magots.

Our first stop was the legendary bakery Poilâne, where I bought little round loaves of thinly sliced walnut bread to toast and spread with soft butter and cherry preserves in Boston. On my first trip to Paris, I encountered the head of the family, Lionel Poilâne, a courtly old man, who took my hand and helped me down the steep steps to the basement, to watch the shirtless bakers shovel the bread in and out of fiery ovens. It was a scene from a Daumier drawing.

In the window today, we saw a loaf shaped like a football. A European football, that is:

Then we took the metro to to the Marché aux Puces St.-Ouen, Paris's biggest flea market, at Clignancourt. There's a huge maze of stalls blasting rap and selling cheap clothing and sneakers, but we were with an experienced friend who helped us make our way into the magic of the market itself:

Everything you might possibly want (but not need), as long as it was French, was in front of us at some point during our visit.

My husband collects a very specific type of vintage postcard, which he usually finds at Brimfield or on eBay. He found a dealer with a whole box of his specialty, and settled in to go through them. Here's the  charming sign on that stall (click to enlarge and read the threats in smaller print, in English):

Being savagely beaten didn't appeal to me that morning, so I moved on. Our friend and I were astonished to find Chez Sarah, a collection of vintage clothing and accessories beyond our wildest dreams. Almost everything was in nearly perfect condition, and could sashay right onto the set of a period Hollywood movie. I wanted everything I saw, but left with only a tiny antique pastilles tin for 3 Euros.

This is only a tiny sampling of the dresses, which stretched for dozens of yards down the building, on both sides, with racks at ground and ceiling levels, and much more stuff — fabrics, shawls, scarves, shoes, hats.... — stacked in drawers and boxes.

After Sarah, we encountered a huge stall jam-packed with enough garden statuary to overdecorate Central Park:

In other buildings in the market, we found museum-quality antiques and art, including Victorian rattan furniture sets restored to pristine condition and a lot of creepy bones and taxidermy, which we loved:

Those are real human skeletons, but the mummy hanging on the back wall is a movie prop. I spotted a small, stuffed kangaroo holding a rifle. I think it was my most-coveted find of the day, although a Victorian walnut settee covered in leopard skin (faux, I hope) was a close second.

In a store window, we spotted these flappers wearing so much jewelry that they didn't need clothing, this being the seamy side of Paris.

We explored many shops that had us wondering how the owner survived. Were they fronts for other, shadier businesses? How can anyone make a living selling acres of upside-down doll-baby heads?

My last quest in Paris was to see the light show at the Eiffel Tower, so we headed there in the rain, and then wandered underneath — it is surprisingly lacy and graceful for monumental ironwork — and on towards the Invalides, for a better view.

There are four carousels near the Tower, which looked warm, sweet, and summery, even in a soaking February downpour:

Finally, we saw the lights go on, and then the sparkling 10-minute show, and I could leave Paris content — provided there was chocolate mousse for dinner. And there was.

We went home and packed — never imagining, as we lay awake for the last time under our velvet canopy, listening to powerful winds and rain pattering on rooftops, that the airport had closed. Our flight was delayed for five hours, which seemed like an eternity all the same. It took us 19 miserable, uncertain hours (and some turbulence I'd rather forget) to get home. Had we known it would be so unpleasant, we might have flown the four cats over to St. Germain and stayed forever.

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