Iconic Paris: novel + de rigueur things to do

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Fall is one of my favorite seasons in Paris. The summer heat and tourists have declined, the climate is often overcast, but mostly dry, and the brooding skies gives it a literary mood. New fall/winter fashions have hit the stores and French cuisine seems even more satisfying in sweater weather. Since 1992 I’ve been lucky enough to visit the city over a dozen times and that has allowed me to develop a few favorites, but new and novel additions are constantly entering the scene, so I never feel like I’ve seen everything, and there are always new reasons to keep going back. There are so many attractions and events that I try to focus on just a few things each trip. Some of my favorite “to dos” are the simple pleasures: wandering the streets, shopping and eating. If I have any of the “de rigueur” museum or landmark visits planned, I go in the morning, before big tour groups arrive, then set aside the rest of my time for wandering around to discover and soak up the ambiance in Paris’ vibrant parks, galleries, cafés and boutiques.

This November is the opening exhibition of one of my favorite photographers, Jean-Paul Goulde http://www.jeanpaulgoude.com/. You might remember his ads for Chanel’s men’s fragrance, Égoïste, during the early 90’s where a villa of beautifully dressed women open and close shutters yelling “ÉGOÏSTE!” http://youtu.be/bZ5a2JH_BVE He is also known for his photos of Grace Jones, creative direction for the Bicentennial Parade for the French Revolution and numerious illustrations, photographs, commericals and other artistic work: Jean-Paul Goude: So Far, So Goude (Part 3/3) – YouTube. His restrospective show, Goudemalion, will be at the Les Arts Décoratifs museum, connected to the Louvre. Goudemalion, sa vie, son œuvre – Jean-Paul Goude une rétrospective – Les Arts Décoratifs – Site officiel

Another contemporary show on exhibition this fall is Edvard Munch L’Oeil Moderne 1900-1940 at Centre Pompdou: Centre Pompidou – Edvard Munch – Art culture musée expositions cinémas conférences débats spectacles concerts. The show is to feature eighty paintings plus numerous illustrations, photographs and film that provide new insights into the work of this Norweigian artist famous for his paintings, The Scream and The Dance of Life.

The neighborhoods of Montparnasse and Montmarte are districts known for the numerous artists who made Paris their home: WebMuseum: Artist index. I love these neighborhoods not only for their artistic heritage, but also for their multicultural roots. The Musée du Montparnasse is currently hosting an exhibition on contemporary art in Tunisia that I would like to see called Art Tunis Paris: http://www.art-tunis.com/

I love photography, but have never been to Jeu de Paume, so I hope spend some time there as well as see the current exhibition on Diane Arbus. Regardless of how one feels about her subjects, it’s an opportunity to see over 200 of her images: Diane Arbus | Jeu de Paume.

Paris is home base for legions of fashion designers and brands. The uber-luxe right bank is full of them, but I tend to be seduced more by the bohemian Parisien’s carefree, insouciant chic. Among the Paris fall fashion collections I am drawn to see are by designers Isabel Marant and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac. I love Marant’s low-key style that pairs cultural inspirations from Native American motifs and West Coast California, hip-cool casual: Isabel Marant. Castelbajac’s collections epitomize a fun, flamboyent, artsy, but not-trying-too-hard chic that characterizes Parisien culture: JC de CASTELBAJAC.com . Marant also has a boutique in one of my favorite shopping, café and walking areas, Sainte-Marguerite, just east of the Bastille and north-east of the new opéra house, Opéra-Bastille. Map: Sainte-Marguerite.

In many ways, Paris is a grand city, but getting to know it is more like getting to know a warren of villages because despite its size, the neighborhoods still manage to retain pastoral sections with rustic elements. One of my favorite parks in Paris is Parc des Buttes Chaumont. It has a lake, hills, bridges and beautiful views, expecially from the pavillion at the top. The mornings are perfect for quiet, picturesque strolls and the afternoons are great for seeing local families, children and dogs playing after school. Map: Parc des Buttes Chaumont.

One of my habitual, “de rigueur” areas to see every trip are the left bank neighborhoods of St-Germain Des Prés and the Quartier Latin (5th and 6th arrondissements.) It is compact enough to cover the entire area by walking, but I never seem to tire of these neighborhoods because they have both a depth of history, as well as continual renewal of creative spaces to explore for inspiration. The area is filled with bookshops, galleries, cafés and boutiques as well as historic sites and museums. Paris has been home to many of the most iconic literary figures, including Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Céline, Henry Miller, Proust, Oscar Wilde, Alexandre Dumas, Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs are among them and their “Beat Hotel” is located in this neighborhood in addition to some of the historic spots frequented by writers and artists: Café les Deux Magots, Café de Flore, and Brasserie Lipp. Writers in Paris.

These 5th and 6th Arrondissements also host a number of Paris’ oldest archeological sites, both predating the city and including its early settlement by the Romans. One of the museums that I plan to see on my next trip is the Musée du Cluny, also know as the Musée Nacional du Moyen Åge (National Museum of the Middle Ages.) I’ve only stepped into the courtyard and been intrigued by the beautiful Gothic mansion, but have yet to see the wealth of art and artifacts it holds. The museum has collections from Antiquity, Middle Ages, Gothic and Romanesque periods (including the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries: Tapisseries, tissus et broderies.) and includes medieval gardens, the Cluny Abbey and Roman Baths. Musée du Cluny site: Cluny.

A trend I have been noticing is the featuring of Paris underground. Literally, the city’s network of tunnels, catacombs and sites that are located below the surface. Articles: Life Below The City Of Light: Paris Underground : NPR and Subterranean Paris – WSJ.com. There’s a resurgence to explore the subterranean area, with historical sites, restaurants, taverns and entertainment spaces making use of the caverns below the streets. Restaurants: Le Spring, restaurant and Event venue – Guided tours and wine-tasting – Restaurant Issy les Moulineaux. Going back to the days of reading Hugo’s Les Misérables and the escape route of Jean Valjean, I have always been intersted in seeing what lies below, so now it seems one can do so with a guide: RFI – The catacombs of Paris and a journey into the unknown, although there are both legal and illegal sections, as noted in the article.

St-Germain Des Prés and the Latin Quarter are also the neighborhoods where you can find theaters that play films in their original language, so although the subtitles will be in French, English or the original language of the film will not be dubbed over. I often enjoy seeing archival classics as well as popular current releases because it’s a different experience seeing film among a foreign audience. List of English language theaters in Paris: English-Language Cinema – AngloINFO Paris & Ile de France (France) and another list of some of the novel and noteable cinemas in the city: Top Paris Movie Theaters – Best Paris Movie Theaters Paris – Best Movie Theaters and Cinemas in Paris, France. Paris has also been the “backdrop” to many films, as well as home to countless directors, actors and film personalities. Walks for cinefiles and some history of cinema in the city: http://parismoviewalks.co.uk/

It seems the large cities are becoming increasingly homogenized with global brands making shops and products uniform worldwide. I am a fan of contemporary art and design, but am often dismayed to find favorite spots go through “redesigns” or “upgrades” that make them look like all the other hotels, restaurants, spas, stores or locations. It makes it difficult to find anything “special” or “unique.” Despite the clichés and extensive coverage through literature, art and cinema, Paris is a city that has eternally attracted artists, writers and filmmakers because of its energy and creativity. It’s a city that never seems tired and has something to offer both newcomers as well as residents. It continually revitalizes various elements without losing its distinct personality. Every trip offers me a chance to uncover another layer, find something fresh and fall in love with the city all over again.

Notes & other references:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musée_de_Cluny

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_districts

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