By Barbara Barton Sloane
“We’ll always have Paris.” Those iconic words uttered by Bogart to Bergman in Casablanca so many years ago are just as true and meaningful today. Maybe even more so. You see, recently Bertrand Delanoe, the Mayor of Paris, has created something called Paris Tourist Day, meant to encourage Parisians to adopt a more cordial view of tourists. Launched two years ago – and acknowledging that an estimated two million jobs here are linked to tourism - this project looks to become a regular fixture. This lesson in Parisian etiquette includes the vow to take the time to give information to visitors and to attempt to reply to them in their own language. Merci!
A Cemetery Extraordinaire
On a recent visit to Paris, I came with a check list of all the “must-dos” that I hadn’t done in the past. At the top of this list my first day in town was to visit a cemetery. No, not just any cemetery - the Pere Lachaise Cemetery with its starry lineup of illustrious corpses - indeed the celebrity resting place in Paris. Hopping on the Metro to the far reaches of Belleville in the northeast part of the city, I visited the graves of old-timers such as Delacroix, Proust and Bizet, as well as the more recent dearly departed Jim Morrison, Simone Signoret and Yves Montand. Opened since the 1790s, Pere Lachaise was designed as a public park and still today is a green and pleasant, albeit somewhat somber place to wander. With the help of a map supplied upon entering, one can check out the sites of almost anyone French, talented and dead. They’re all here.
Bubbles in a Glass of Champagne
That evening, local friends, knowing my love for glamour, luxe and the great American songbook, suggested we visit the very elegant Georges V Hotel (www.fourseasons.com/paris). An acquaintance of theirs, Flavien Compagnon, sings and plays piano in the Georges V cocktail lounge, and, turns out, the entertainer’s love of Cole Porter and George Gershwin matched mine exactly. Sitting on a burgundy velvet banquette, sipping some bubbly, the room low-lit by crystal chandeliers and fragrant votives, and with floor to ceiling windows giving onto a perfect formal garden in the distance, it was a pinch-me moment. My companions gladly obliged.
Twinkle, Twinkle Eiffel Tower
Departing this grand hotel, my friends had a perfect nightcap idea to end the evening: a visit to La Tour Eiffel. We timed it just right. Moments after we arrived at this most iconic symbol of Paris, the Tower began to do its thing - The Great Eiffel Tower Light-Up! Back on New Year’s Eve 1999 to mark the new millennium, 20,000 light bulbs were added to the tower and illuminated. And because we all like things that sparkle, the tower continues to be lit up every night for 10 minutes. We watched as this grand structure came alive, twinkling and dancing before our eyes! The Eiffel Tower, symbolic and special, became something magical to behold. Ever since its appearance on the Parisian skyline in 1889, the Eiffel Tower has drawn both criticism and praise aplenty. Guy de Maupassant called it a giant and disgraceful skeleton while Paul Gauguin hailed it as a “triumph of iron.” I second old Paul’s sentiment. What a kick-off to my first day in Paris! Bonne Nuit.
Going In Seine
Another day I took a Bateaux Mouches cruise on the Seine at twilight when the sky was pale mauve turning to shell pink. The lights were coming up all over the city, and each monument was bathed in its own special glow. No matter how many times you take this lazy meander down the Seine, slipping silently under Paris’ 37 bridges, gazing up at the Notre Dame Cathedral and gawking at the stately, exclusive residences on the Ile St. Louis, it never fails to thrill.
Yes You Can Can
What is a trip to Paris without visiting the neighborhood of Montmartre and experiencing the touristy but oh so fun show at the Moulin Rouge? This world-famous nightclub opened its doors in 1889, and the show that I saw was not dissimilar from what I might see in Las Vegas with one delightful exception: this is, after all, the place where the French Cancan was born over a hundred years ago, and today the Cancan dance still ends each show. I can report that the.. er.. end is quite saucy and tres French. The 60 Doriss girls sure Can! Leaving Moulin Rouge and looking forward to some quiet and calm, I retired to my hotel, the innovative Hotel Jules (www.hoteljules.com), a touch of grace in an otherwise frenetic part of town. A homey, timeless ambience was what I was seeking. I found it here.
Field of Dreams
The Champs Elysees remains a symbolic gathering place, from July 14 Bastille Day celebrations to New Year’s Eve displays – not to mention the joy of sitting at one of its sidewalk cafes, aperitif in hand, simply people watching. I stayed around the corner from the Champs at the Hotel Marignan (www.hotelmarignan.fr), a peaceful haven in the heart of this bustling business and fashion center. This property has a cozy, intimate feel, with an added plus: Alain Ducasse’s Restaurant Spoon is on the hotel’s site, serving a light and inspired menu from all corners of the globe.
One of the coolest and most colorful neighborhoods is Montparnasse with its good-time feel which recalls the area’s artistic heyday of the 1920s and 30s. Bars, restaurants and cinemas abound and it was here on August 25, 1944 that the German forces surrendered Paris. My stay in this environ was made all the more pleasant by checking into Hotel Le Littre (www.hotellelittre.com). Consisting of just 90 guest rooms with views of either the charming rue Littre or their quiet courtyard, Le Littre is equipped with all the up-to-date features you’ll need to be totally comfortable.
All too soon, it was time to say Au Revoir. Translation: “Till we meet again.” I feel confident that’s gonna happen. After all, I’ll always have Paris!
If you’re planning to go, be in the know! The most complete Paris Guide: TimeOut Paris. (www.timeout.com). It helps you find all the best spots in Paris – restaurants, landmarks and places only the locals know about. It’s essential!