Paris in July is a very different place. The school holidays have begun and people have left to enjy their holidays in the south. Sometimes they travel with an unsuspecting au-pair.

In this picture I am standing on the beach in Royan in my absurdly heavy dark woollen trousers, with two of my three charges, their mum and a cousin. Fifty years ago. We had passed through Paris on the way down from Valenciennes, and though I can’t remember much about that apart from lunch in a small rather ornate appartement, Paris this July, with fewer cars, less rush, felt like Paris in the Sixties. Almost.

This year it was not too hot, not too busy and not much to do – a relaxed, strolling, slow kind of visit.

A trip to Les Halles led to the discovery of a really nice café – Au Père Tranquille,

where you can sit for hours over un café crème, in the quiet first floor room, surrounded by books and writers with laptops and the hum of business meetings, and watch the world go by in the streets below, with the occasional visit from the café cat.

There was a trip to Merlin le Roy to buy paint – yes, there will be redecorating in the studio! Once every 14 years, that’s not too bad. It will require a surprising amount of paint, so the journey home, walking along the banks of the Seine – somehow there were no buses – was quite heavy (man).

But no sweat, we passed posters of other worldly events.

In the midst of all the quiet flâneuserie (this may not be a word) it was Sales time. Soldes, soldes, soldes! In the VIth arrondisement every shop announced a sale, brashly or discreetly, illegibly or almost in English. Everyone was, apparently, slashing prices.





Ah, the potential for absurd purchases. But somehow, if it’s not in Monoprix I’m not interested. And Monoprix was undergoing major reconstruction work, so the shopping experience was not the same. My Euros stayed safe.

But to finish, there was the exhibition at Musee Maillol, 21 rue la Boetie, which included a fascinating piece of social history – the period from 1941-44 when the Nazis looted French art, stored it in the Jeu de Paume and transported much of it to Germany – which I have written about here

(painting below by Leger)


A fine week.

Another hot day and we decided to go to the Buttes-Chaumont park in the 19th, two bus rides away. The 96 to the Hotel de Ville was fine and then we got on the 75. All the way there the bus indicated that its destination was Pont Neuf – which was the wrong direction, which was very worrying, as its path took us on a route with many twists and turns, through Place de la Republique and across the Canal Saint Martin, by the side of the Hôpital Saint-Louis.  But in the end it all came right and we got off at the Jean Menans – Buttes Chaumont stop.

The 19th arrondisement is not one of the ‘fashionable’ areas of Paris, it is not a rich area, but it is Paris, and Paris has a very strong sense of social commitment and its parks are one very obvious demonstration of that. Lovely open spaces for everyone.

And what a park this is.  It is celebrating its 150th year this year, having been created in 1867. Then there was a little hiccup with the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and parts had to be re-organised. It has a huge waterfall, which comes crashing down on to stones that you can walk across to a little grotto where you can do yoga, if you want to.

There are other appearances of water, little bubbling brooks with stepping stones to cross. We passed a woman standing singing into a small cascade – possibly communing with some sort of water god. And there is a suspension bridge, designed by Gustave Eiffel (that’s Mr Tower to you), that wobbles as you get half way across, causing the woman ahead of us in the red dress to hurry away, clonking over the wooden slats, making it sway more.

The Mairie is very close by and we saw a happy wedding party taking photos with the beautiful backdrop. And then, round a corner a group of people were celebrating vegetables, through an organisation funded by European money, lots of little children and mums and dads and grannies, looking at the stall of the man famous for his vegetable sculptures.


And of course there is a café with a small terrace. It was a tight squeeze, on one side two big dogs with two slim women, spreading chairs and water-bowls carelessly (‘Je suis désolé que vous êtes coincée’ she said without moving an inch) and a family of 4 or 5 hundred on the other side and so we didn’t realise that for half the price (almost) of a café crème we could have had a café and a croissant.

But the coffee was good and the sun was hot and we were in the shade with a lovely view of trees and rolling slopes and green grass, and then through the windows of the café the first thin, slightly tinny notes of Sampha playing ‘No one knows me (like the piano)’. Sampha I hadn’t heard of till Joel, our guide-son, sent me the link, and I loved it. Then I played it to little Rudi my great nephew who is nearly two, and now every time he hears it a smile comes over his face and he begins to dance. So it was lovely to sit there and think of sweet Joel and wonderful Rudi and be in Paris.

What a wonderful place the Jardin du Luxembourg is. The landscape is so varied, so many acvities are on offer, every visit is different.

On this very very hot day (29 degrees C) it was a joy to walk in the shade of the trees, until we reached the corner of the garden where we heard the unmistakable tonk tonk sound and the gentle murmur of conversation that told us we were approaching the pétanque area. It was impossible to resist. We sat on one of the dark green benches and watched.

I know nothing about pétanque but it was quite hypnotique. The teams that we were watching, two women and two men were interesting. Each time it was the turn of the younger woman to throw the encouraging shout went up ‘Allez Grace!’ We began to get really into it – like tennis, if you concentrate, you begin to jump with shared frustration when a boule misses its mark.

After half an hour it was really time to go, wandering back through the garden, now filling with school children at the end of their school day, kids on the tennis courts, someone being a ball boy on a skateboard. The shadows were dappling the gravel, and the wind was blowing up small clouds of white chalky dust.

It was so hot. We wandered along rue de Vaugirard – the longest road in Paris – heading for the Carrefour Express supermarket to buy a bottle of rosé  wine for a little apero a la maison. But then we came to Café Madame. All the windows were open and folded back, so the inside was almost the outside and there were also tables arranged outside where people sat drinking beer and fruit cocktails. What could we do?

We sat down and soon two glasses of rosé sat before us. Again we watched the world go by. This time it was little people – nursery and primary – coming out of classes, harassed mothers and nannies and dogs on scooters, crossing back and forth on rue Madame with the help of their local lollipop lady.


We wandered back along hot narrow streets to Saint Sulpice.  We passed the Antiques Fair and the pop up restaurant where we ate last night

and some election posters for the forthcoming second round legislative elections this weekend – République and En Marche, and then we ducked into the cool shade of the apartment.


Then it was shocking to see on the News that the Republicain candidate Natalie Kosciusko-Morizet – a somewhat controversial figure – had been assaulted while out campaigning, and knocked to the ground unconscious. Fortunately, the next day she was fine and out campaigning again.

The forecast is that there will be a very low turnout in the second round of the elections, indicating a certain level of apathy, or possibly confusion about Macron.  His En Marche party looks likely to win the majority of seats. People make political statements in different ways.


On Saturday, on the 84 bus we passed the headquarters of the Socialist Party. It was quiet, still, no posters, no banners, no sense of excitement or urgency, so different from 2012 when Hollande was about to come to power and the country was full of hope and expectation. The mainstream parties are gone and the choice now is between the unknowable and the unthinkable.

Election fever in France is reflected in newspapersand magazines, in the kiosques and the tabacs, and on the shelves in bookshops.

Most people know they will vote for Macron – the alternative is unthinkable.  But still there is canvassing to be done.  Strolling past a metro station in the 17th we are handed a pamphlet by a young man, ‘Emmanuel Macron President – Programme’.

Around the corner, outside Monoprix another young person with a handful of pamphlets is talking to a prospective voter.

He seems to be everywhere, but there is a sense of surprise as if the media can’t quite believe it. Le Pen says, because Macron was a minister in Hollande’s government he is a socialist in disguise.  If only.  I think it’s rather more like Tony Blair’s claim to be a staunch Labour man. He came, he saw, he slid in. But he has to be better than the alternative.

And in the background the other unbelievable results, Trump and Brexit.

For some of us it is hard to understand how we have come to this. The world seemed to be moving slowly but surely towards a better life for all, a fairer life, where everyone was treated with respect and concern. But we find ourselves in a situation where certainties are gone and power is in the hands of the brazenly uncaring. The magazine Enterprise is right when it says ‘Between Trump and Brexit the world has enough to tremble about’. Let us hope the election on Sunday brings a bit of sanity to the situation.


On Place Saint Sulpice the lugubrious brown dog follows its slow lugubrious owner.  A group of art students stand and sit on the cobbles sketching the curve and lines of a dirty ventilation grill in the wall of the church.

The sun falls on the Rimbaud poem in rue Férou. Across the road in the Jardin du Luxembourg a sole tai-chi practitioner slowly extends his leg, as a jogger pants past.  Big machinery sits in a cordoned off area, digging holes and planting trees.

In the Café Rostand a crème comes with milk in a jug, so the coffee lasts longer.

A large very French man with long thinning hair and round brown framed glasses arrives and kisses a woman who is on the phone.  She stays on the phone.  The Japanese man who is vaping grows tired of waiting for service and leaves.  The distant rat-a-tat-tat of the digger syncopates the gentle  hum of conversation and the rattle of spoons and cups in the café. Men stand at the bar, drink an espresso and go.

A woman opens a gift. It is a gift. She says ‘Ah’ and flicks through the pages, meaning ‘I’ve already got this. But thank you. Although I didn’t actually like it when I first read it.  Didn’t finish it in fact.’ The barman glances at the headlines in Le Parisien.

Someone is having the Petit Dejeuner.  A frowning waitress holds a silver tray with a croissant, a glass of orange juice, a coffee and water. It is the woman with the book.  The unsuccessful gift giver says something to the barman.  The waitress walks back to the table with a glass containing a long thin blue candle.  She lights it with a lighter. Now we are all softly, uncertainly singing ‘Joyeux Anniversaire’. The birthday girl, whose hair is tied in two short, ridiculous bunches, blows out the candle. The waiter takes my money.

And then the cat comes.


95 bus Paris

People who have followed this blog for some time will know of my love for the 63 bus which runs from Gare de Lyons (and the fabulous Train Bleu restaurant) to the Trocadero and beyond.

Let us speak now of the 95 which runs from Porte de Vanves in the south of the city, up to the Porte de Montmartre in the North. For my purposes just a small section of that journey is involved – from the stop outside the Saint Germain church

Saint Germain churchalong rue Bonaparte to the River Seine,

river Seine

past the Louvre

  Louvre, Paris                arch into rue de Rivoli

to the Palais Royal.

There are currently some wonderful exhibitions on in Paris and here the 95 bus comes into its own. Jumping off the bus at Palais Royal, it is a short stroll through the Tuileries Gardens to the Jeu de Paume for Soulèvements.  This is an exhibition about uprisings – both literal and figurative.  For me the most interesting were the soulèvements relating to radical movements, images, posters, photographs, passages in books – whether that was the French revolution,

Le Salut Public 1848 Baudelaire, Courbet, Champfleury, Toubin

the Black Panthers

     Black Panthers, Chicago 1969 Hiroji Kubota







the response to the dictatorships in Argentina and Chile, or the actions around May 1968.  Some exhibits showed how art depicted revolutionary movements.

Patriot 2002 Dennis Adams

The Musée des Arts Decoratifs, which is one arch away from the Louvre, has an exhibition entitled L’Esprit de Bauhaus.

l'esprit du Bauhaus flyer

Bauhaus was a movement in Germany in the early 20th Century made up of artists and craftspeople, living and working together to create functioning, beautiful, useful things – chairs, pottery, cloth, buildings.  The aim was to combine art and crafts, so that there was no sense that one thing was more important than the other or better than the other, but where everyone was involved.  It’s a huge, rich exhibition, carefully curated to show the influences on the movement, from the Middle Ages, through to the arts and crafts work of people like William Morris.  Always rather exciting to see an exhibit on loan from Walthamstow.  The Secessionists from Austria contributed, and there were a lot of exhibits from Vienna of art work and furniture.

l'esprit du Bauhaus poster

                     Bauhaus poster 2

These exhibitions have just opened and run for a couple of months.