Strolling Without Snow

skating rink - Hotel de Ville
This is the skating rink at the Hôtel de Ville and it looks like fun.

A Downtown Paris Suitable for Not Shopping

Paris:- Wednesday, 17. December 1997:- After I closed the office at two this morning, I happened to glance out the unofficial 'weather' window. Snow was secretly falling in silence as most of the world was blissfully unaware of it.

Hours later at breakfast, this is not seen as a good event in the light of day. It wrecks my 'forecast' for one thing. For another, I have to go out in it. Maybe though, I will get a shot of Paris roofs from Montmartre, and it will make readers go gaga with the sentimentality of it all.

By the time I've taken one step backward for every two steps forward to get up the hill to the train, I don't feel sentimental about it at all. The snow is about five centimetre's worth, and it is wet and very slippery. I get to catch my breath because the train is five minutes late.

Passing along the heights over Suresnes I see there is not much of this white muck on rooftops and abandon the idea of going up to Montmartre. At Etoile, there are little bits of slush around and I think I'll give the Tuleries a whirl instead.

First though, I need some small change, in order to pay the madame of the toilets in the Drugstore; so I buy something from the Tabac. Madame becomes the good-humor lady as soon as I drop the two francs in her dish and wish Paris Tourist Office her the seasonals, which she is not expecting to hear.

It does not show up well from here, but a marquee has been added to keep rain off those standing in line.

From there I go with an over-used but late-model 50 franc note in my hand to the newspaper kiosk to get today's Le Parisien. The ladies there take it, dubiously, with the older one immediately proclaiming it to be phoney. They give it the radar-test and it fails.

I tell them to keep the paper for me and I go back to the Tabac. When my turn in the line comes up, I ask for an exchange 50 franc note - which I am given without question.

Back at the newspaper kiosk, we discuss the business of phoney money. The ladies say they test all paper that looks or feels bogus, but simply recycle the fake 10 franc pieces - because there are so many of them. The bottom line is; in the ritzy, glitzy, Manhattan-like, Drugstore on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, I get treated like a prince.

A couple of doors down the wet avenue, the Paris Tourist Office is deserted. In principle it is never deserted, but today - a fellow there says maybe everybody is staying in their hotels today. The 'PTO' has a new welcoming marquee out front, which makes it look more inviting and less like an airline office; but today there are no takers.

The poster score is good further down the avenue and I hit the métro again at George Cinq for the ride to the Tuleries stop. The big, billboard posters in the métro are nothing special and the other passengers are not eccentric types, so I read the few brochures I've filched in the PTO.

At Tuleries, up the steps, inside the gardens, the outlook is bleak and deserted. The two buvette kiosks are open and the lights make them look cozy, but two employees of one are outside, under a roof overhang, smoking cigarettes. There are no customers at either buvette. Two oriental girls drift up the garden's centre aisle towards a hazy and grey Concorde, where the outline of a giant, unrevolving ferris wheel can just be seen.

I turn towards the Louvre and there are some Italian girls taking photos of each other near the Arc du Carrousel. The line to get ferris wheel at Concorde into the Louvre's pyramid is longer than I expect and I wonder if the people in it know they can use the dry and inside underground entry, but think maybe they do and they are out here just to be in the vast place, surrounded by gloomy Louvre buildings.

It looks desolate, but you can just make out a shadow of the Arc du Triomphe.

Huddles of people form and disperse and this goes on endlessly, so it is not a dead landscape in which nothing is happening. It is a bit damp for hanging around for a long time and I am in the métro again at Palais-Royal.

Hôtel de Ville is the fourth stop further along and I come out here. At the city hall's reception on the rue de Rivoli I see some of the Gamma photography exhibition while getting the Paris resident's magazine, which comes out in mid-month.

I put the department store BHV into the viewfinder and gently press the shutter release. This store is classified as a 'monument' because it is beside the Hôtel de Ville, so anytime they want to do something to its facade, they have to get a permit. This means the BHV does without special Christmas windows and therefore has not been featured here this season; and now this lack is nearly made up.See photo in the 'Au Bistro' column.

The large and usually empty place in front of the Hôtel de Ville is very lively. There is a really large and gracefully curved skating rink, skate rental pavilion, and two brightly-lighted merry-go-rounds; and in and around these there are a lot of adults and kids having a really good time.

I cross over the brown Seine waters by the Pont d'Arcole and take the quai west to the plant dealers in the place Louis-Lépine and merry-go-round as I guessed, a lot of them are selling Christmas trees. I am not a fan of these trees but I can see there are a great variety of them; not just different sizes, but different types of pines.

Again in front of the Hôtel de Ville; there are two of these.

By the Cité métro exit I glance over at the Palais de Justice, where the trials of Carlos, and other lesser alleged crooks are going on. This is right beside the main Préfecture de Police, so there are the usual number of cops around, plus an unusual number of cops in civilian threads, in pairs. They don't make me nervous, because Carlos is inside, not out here somewhere.

The Créche de Venise in the place in front of Notre Dame is not impressive from the outside - just a low, big, white, tent; with the entry facing the church.

With the renovation scaffolding gone, I can see the whole front of Notre Dame, and I see the part to the top of the huge, arched, portals is yet to be done. It may just be city grime to be removed and as it is no great height, this will be gone by summer. Then the whole front will be the same color; and will look too new to some people.

Under the Petit Pont, the brown Seine is rushing seaward in a gush, and the Quartier Latin looks damp. I go up to the place Maubert to see if the marché is on. If it was, it is over now.

Some shops have sprigs of fir and some glitzer outside, but there isn't much. The Vieux Camper has an odd string of colored lights, looking like an afterthought - there's snow in the mountains! 'Forget Noël; it's snowtime!' The radio this morning was already talking about Friday being an 'orange' traffic day, as thousands of well-bundled lemmings head for alps, snow and ice, on purpose.

Along rue des Ecoles the bustle gets to its usual volume after the rue Saint-Jacques, and there is the usual swarm on the sidewalk of the boulevard Saint-Michel, with a flood of tin-topped traffic heading toward the river and the quais.

I keep on the rue des Ecoles to the Odéon - which is called place 'Something-Else' - and then head down the rue de l'Ancienne Comédie to the Buci corner, where there is the usual bustle.

Buci itself is full of people buying sandwiches and pastries out on the street, and the neat little Nicolas wine shop there, has a lone, small, Christmas wreath hanging in the window. My legs are out and so is crehe de Venise my film supply. I go back, up the narrow rue Grégoire de Tours, past the countless restaurants.

The créche is not much to look at, so turn around and look at Notre Dame instead.

In the middle, there is a new shop. Sober outside, in good Quartier Latin tradition; inside it has two PCs wired to the Internet, and a selection of cultural and game software for computers. It is not a café; it is like a bookshop - but a new one, with shelf space still to be filled. Maybe a bit like Sylvia's shop when she started.

This walk wouldn't have been like this if I had gone anywhere near the grands boulevards and their towering emporiums. I guess I am putting off shopping to some non-existent time 'between issues,' and have let this be a stroll through part of Paris - on a day in winter, when it is neither too cold nor too wet to be out.

Cool and grey after long enough, though, to go in some place, and give myself a café as a reward.


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