Paris weekend: Friday afternoon (part 1 of 2)

wall of buildings on the Seine, Paris

After leaving Montparnasse Cemetery late morning on Friday, we walked north through the west side of the Luxembourg Gardens and up to the Île de la Cité. In August, the French are mostly all away from Paris at the beach or out in the countryside in their hometowns on their five or more weeks of summer vacation. And then because of increased terrorist acts, strikes, and recent flooding, Paris tourism is down, from which we inadvertently benefited. "How did we not wait in line for one or two hours? This is not normal!" my expat friend, S, kept saying at the Louvre, at Notre Dame, at Saint-Chappelle. Paris was thus largely empty of people. To me, though, there were still too many tourists, which means that if I ever return to Paris and it's not August, I'll be saying things like, When did Paris get so crowded? It wasn't like this in 2016!

fountain, Paris

French graffiti

woman with shopping bag, Paris

balcony vines, Paris

Paris ball sculpture

bride and groom at Notre Dame

hibiscus, Marché aux Fleurs, Paris

Anyway, I can't recall the exact order of events for most of the afternoon spent at the edges of the 4th through 6th arrondissements: St. Germain des Prés, the northwestern border of the Latin Quarter, and the Île de la Cité. We were flâneuses, women wandering central Paris with no appointments, no real agenda other than looking, experiencing, photographing.

We stopped into a bunch of little shops and boutiques on small side streets here and there. S tried on some shoes, searching for new low heels for work. (She didn't find anything since the dominant fall footwear trend is suede, not at all suitable for rainy London. It's also surreal to see the chunky 1990s heels back in fashion, which means we're definitely middle-aged.) She bought perfumed soaps as gifts from Fragonard on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. We both bought handmade olive-oil soaps made in Marseille from a street stall, where I practiced my never-fluent French. At her urging (because she would like me to move to Europe), I bought the classic French verb conjugations book at Gibert Joseph.

We ate savory and dessert crêpes at a cheap place she knew on the Left Bank. We sat in Notre Dame and Saint-Sulpice, admiring the high-flying buttresses, and stood amid the walls of stained glass at Saint-Chappelle. We walked through the Marché aux Fleurs, which was mostly closed. We walked across the Pont Neuf (the 'New Bridge' that has become the oldest Paris bridge) and the Pont des Arts (where the clunky, heavy, view-obstructing "love locks" are finally gone).

windows of Saint-Chappelle

Gothic protrusion, Saint-Chappelle exterior

Pont Neuf, Paris

Paris was between heat waves these few days, so the weather, sadly for me, was just like London's: cool and cloudy. It was overcast and windy most of the day. It even rained a little, off and on. We had left our umbrellas at the hotel since the forecast has predicted rain on Saturday, not Friday. But I had on my brown suede cowboy hat, which kept off the drizzle. And S bought a cheap black tourist umbrella printed with little purple Eiffel Towers that she shared with her daughter, E, whose favorite color is purple. The rain was soft enough not to drive us inside, so we kept moving, from shop to church to market. Paris in August was like walking through a living museum, a fossilized organism made of tan stone with a green river for a spine.

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